From IV drips to stick-on patches, there are a lot of options for people looking to supplement their vitamins. If you’ve spent any time at all on #healthtok, you’ve probably seen that whether you’re dealing with a brutal hangover or you’re struggling with sleep, there’s a vitamin patch for that. The claim? Just peel and stick one on your skin, and get the nutrients you need to feel better.
Eh, not so fast. Experts are skeptical on whether vitamin patches even work, or if a traditional pill is still the best route.
Back up. What are vitamin patches?
Vitamin patches are small, stick-on pieces of material that deliver nutrients and vitamins through your skin. You can find a vitamin patch for hangovers, period cramps, sleep issues, and even some vitamin deficiencies. They work a few different ways, including with heat or tiny painless needles that allow ingredients to pass through the skin barrier. One purported benefit of using a patch is that you’re able to get the supplement directly into your bloodstream — instead of needing vitamins to travel through your digestive system first. Meaning, you can skip triggering your gag reflex on a huge supplement pill.
“They can be helpful for those specific individuals who need an effective way to receive additional nutrients,” says dermatologist Naana Boakye M.D. For example: someone who is cognitively impaired, has difficulty swallowing, or has GI issues, Dr. Boakye says.
So, do vitamin patches really work?
There’s just not enough research to definitively say whether vitamin patches work or not. There have been some studies that indicate vitamin patches may be able to deliver certain vitamins such as vitamin D to the bloodstream. Afterall, the concept behind the patch isn’t new (see: nicotine patches and birth control patches). But many experts are skeptical about the efficacy.
“Not all micronutrients can pass [through] the skin barrier,” says Dr. Boakye. That’s because one of your skin’s main jobs is to keep foreign substances out. And the active substance in the patch has to meet very specific requirements — namely being a very small molecular size and fat-soluble — in order to actually get through your skin, says Crystal Scott, a nutritionist with Top Nutrition Coaching.
So, if the formulation in a patch doesn't fit the bill, they can’t get to your bloodstream to have any effect. And for the average person, that’s not something you can really distinguish when you’re buying them, says Scott.
The other catch is that some vitamins are better absorbed through the gut when taken orally, says Scott. That may be hard to determine, so it still may be more effective to take your supplements in pill form.
It’s worth noting that while some manufacturers may promote their patches as a supplement, the FDA says something cannot qualify as a dietary supplement unless they can be consumed orally.
So, how should you be taking your vitamins?
Experts generally say that if you’re experiencing a nutrient deficiency, sleep issues, or anything else you might consider turning to a wellness patch for, your doctor should be your first stop instead. “It's crucial to identify and address the root causes of nutrient deficiencies,” rather than going straight for patches or supplements, says Scott. If you do want to try them, she says it’s wise to get a recommendation from a healthcare professional to make sure you’re at least opting for a reputable brand.
Getting adequate vitamins from a patch might be a reality one day. But today, oral supplements (and a well-balanced diet), are still the best bets to meet your nutritional needs.
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