Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay
Certain supplements are best known as building blocks for cartilage, and are thus mostly associated with joint health, particularly glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and hyaluronic acid. But these are building blocks for more than just the joints.
I wrote here on supplementation for building blocks of the glycocalyx, critical for cardiovascular health in particular, which include supplements traditionally considered aids for joint health. I also wrote here on hyaluronic acid for skin, as it helps with water retention in tissues.
It turns out that the other three, glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM, are also great building blocks for the skin as well, both orally and topically. This may be largely because they all include sulfur-containing amino acids, which are necessary for formation of a number of important anti-aging skin proteins.
It seems that of the three, there’s the most data behind glucosamine for skin health either in the same glucosamine sulfate form found in most joint supplements, or in the form of N-Acetyl Glucosamine.
Glucosamine actually stimulates the body to synthesize hyaluronic acid. It also blocks production of melanin, the protein that causes skin darkening from tanning as well as age spots.
This study shows that a topical formulation of N-Acetyl Glucosamine (NAG) with niacinamide helps to protect against the irregular pigmentation associated with aging.
This separate study of topical NAG cream showed impressive improvements to texture of skin as well as pigmentation on the neck and décolletage of female test subjects, over a period of a few months.
Oral supplementation was likewise shown to have anti-aging effects. This study on glucosamine sulfate showed that it increased hyaluronic acid and collagen production, while this study showed that the NAG form improved skin roughness and hydration.
Generally glucosamine and chondroitin go together, so I could not find any studies that tested chondroitin separately. But this study tested an oral combination product including collagen, hyaluronic acid, chondroitin, and glucosamine. The study showed that by about 6 wks (two weeks after the study ended), skin hydration, tone, and pigmentation improved.
Methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM, appears to be a good sulphur donor for skin health as well, both orally and topically.
This study shows that oral supplementation of MSM at 1-3 grams per day can reduce skin roughness, wrinkles, and improve skin firmness, elasticity, and hydration.
This study on subjects with acne rosacea shows that a topical formulation of MSM and silymarin (milk thistle) can help to manage symptoms as well. (Rosacea in my experience usually has a digestive root cause, which should be worked up and addressed. However, MSM’s usefulness topically suggests that it does have a benefit in skin healing generally.)
There are only so many building blocks our body needs to repair itself, so it should come as no surprise that the same ones are used over and over in different places. We’re mostly made of protein and water; there are only 20 amino acids, and only two of them contain sulfur. In theory we should be able to get all the amino acids we need from our food—but if we have an increased demand for a certain building block, which may happen as sulfur-containing compounds break down as we age, sometimes supplements can be helpful to rebuild. This is particularly true if they can be delivered right where we need them.