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IV Vitamin Therapy: Are The Beauty Benefits Real? Our Experts Weigh In
They're being administered in specialty spas and roving “hangover revival” buses throughout the nation. IV vitamin drips are what they sound like: intravenous cocktails of customized vitamins. They're pumped directly into the bloodstream with the promise of a pumped-up immune system, instant boost of energy, and more youthful appearance. Pricey? Yes. Weekly drips can run anywhere between $100 to $1,000 depending on the mix. But the benefits are being touted for their redeeming values by professional athletes, worn-out Wall Street types, and always-on-the-go celebrities. But what about the beauty benefits? Can direct doses of B-12 and shots of special minerals rid the skin of fine lines and wrinkles? Can injections of vitamin C and calcium strengthen hair and nails? For many nutritional and holistic experts, the advantages of IV vitamin therapy are still up for debate.
How did the vitamin drip get its start?
Invented more than 50 years ago by Dr. John Myers, the original vitamin drip consisted mainly of B-6, B-12, and magnesium. It was concocted to battle depression and fatigue. Most doctors still use Myers’ primitive mix as a guide, and add on other vitamins depending on a patient's ailments.
What role do vitamins play when it comes to beauty?
"Vitamins certainly can offer beauty benefits," notes Jessica Katz, a registered dietitian who practices on the Upper East Side in New York. "But it's hard to isolate and dose one vitamin that is responsible for beauty alone," Jessica continues. According to Jessica, vitamins C and D are involved in the production of collagen and therefore play a role in skin elasticity. Increased amounts of B-6, meanwhile, ward off pimples and other imperfections caused by hormone imbalance. “Selenium and Omega-3 help protect our skin and definitely have an anti-aging effect," Jessica explains. "Beta carotene is an antioxidant that is involved in the growth and repair of body tissues and therefore helps protect the skin from sun damage." So, what's the catch? If we need these vitamins to look and feel beautiful, that means vitamin drips have lots of benefits, right? Not exactly, Jessica tells us. "The best way to absorb vitamins and minerals is through food sources. From a nutrition standpoint, it's advisable to derive them from a balanced diet of whole foods, and then enjoy the benefits of beautiful skin, hair, and nails."
Why aren't IV drips effective?
Jessica's not exactly sold on the efficiency of pumping vitamins directly into the veins to solve deficiencies. "I think there’s a larger picture that needs to be examined first," she tells us. "And people who use such a treatment should definitely take a closer look at what’s being injected into their bloodstream.” "Based on my experience working in a hospital setting, patients are only given nutrition through an IV as an absolute last resort," Jessica says. "You always want to feed through the gut because it's the best way to absorb nutrients. The only reason for injecting nutrition is if the patient is physically incapable of swallowing or eating food.”
Okay, so vitamin drips aren't the best way to get glowing skin. But are there risks?
While vitamin drips seem harmless (albeit not all that effective), the truth is that there are potential negative side effects. Infection, bruising, and incorrect dosing are possible, especially if the person administering the drip isn't an expert. “Every vitamin has some sort of associated danger and there’s always the risk of taking too much,” Jennifer says. "Of course vitamin injections are not as harmful as injecting yourself with illegal drugs, but this is not evidence-based medicine. There are no randomized or controlled studies on this type of therapy.”
So, at the end of the day, are IV vitamin drips worth it?
Jessica tells us that we shouldn't be enticed merely by clever marketing. "I think a lot of it is a placebo effect," she tells us. "The treatment forces you to sit for a couple of hours, relaxing in a pretty, quiet spa-like room with this solution dripping into your arm. And when people pay for any sort of beauty treatment, it convinces them that an effect is imminent." Instead, Jessica advises us to "take that money you're pouring into skin and beauty treatments, buy a ton of fruits and veggies, and schedule regular visits to your dermatologist." That's way more likely to give us beauty benefits, she says.
Acupuncturist Stephen Cohen agrees.
Stephen Cohen is a board-certified acupuncturist in Manhattan’s Chelsea section who focuses on helping his patients understand why illness or disease manifest in their lives and how to holistically heal their discomfort. "Your skin is a means of evaluating what's going on internally," he says. “The skin is very much a means of venting the body’s toxicity,” Cohen continues. “In the Chinese model of wellbeing, a pimple, blemish, or the white dots associated with acne are all signs that there’s an intestinal heat venting. When the body is unable to dismiss something through urine, fecal matter, or sweat, it will go through skin. That’s why many skin issues are often digestion- and diet-based.” Stephen tells us that it's more important to address the underlying issues, rather than look for quick-fixes like IV drips. "I think you need to address whatever is causing a deficiency before you can fix it," he says. "If you have a compulsion for smoking, drinking diet soda, or eating very little fluid-based foods, you have to understand that's why your skin is lacking the elasticity and collagen it needs." A regimen of IV nutrition might be able to restore some of the nutrients your skin needs, but "it will not entirely resolve those issues if you continue to exhibit the self-deprecating behavior that originally caused them."
Are the drips good for hangovers?
The use of these vitamin drips as an anti-hangover remedy in some party hotspots is beginning to damage the health reputation that certain practitioners are trying to achieve. “I know there are groups in Las Vegas and Miami that operate party buses that drive around offering IV drips to the party crowd,” Cohen said. "It’s a bag of saline and B12 plus a few other things, all tailor-made to help restore energy and alleviate sickness and lethargy post-hangover, Dr. Cohen tells us. "These nutrients are perfect for someone who is dehydrated from a night of drinking, or who spent too many days out in the sun with a drink in their hands. But I think those behaviors are part of a larger constellation that needs to be corrected first.” And that's the moral of the story, according to Dr. Cohen. “Skin is the ultimate reflection of what’s going on inside," he concludes. "Diet and lifestyle changes need to be addressed in order to obtain the most beautiful results.”
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