Alex Apatoff
November 27, 2014 11:00 PM

Hi! I’m Andrea Lavinthal, PEOPLE’s Style and Beauty Director, and like most of my stories, this one starts with my hair. It was shedding more than usual and no dermatologist, endocrinologist, gynecologist or any other -ologist could tell me why. So like any desperate person, I turned to drugs. My friend Amber was taking a cocktail of supplements (enough to “rival Valley of the Dolls’ Neely O’Hara’s daily allotment” as she puts it) and garnering impressive results. I consulted an expert (and by expert I mean Google) then did a virtual Supermarket Sweep of the vitamins and supplements section of Amazon, adding a handful of hair growth pills to my regular regimen of a multivitamin with iron and vitamin D.

It got to the point where I had to buy one of those plastic pill containers that grandparents use to organize their medications. (I felt like Katy Perry; in the photo below, holding her daily supplement intake which is more than 20 pills. She posted that pic on Twitter last year along with the caption, “I’m all the about that supplement & vitamin LYFE.”) Then, like most things that require time and discipline, I lost interest after a few weeks and moved my stash of half-empty bottles to the beauty product graveyard under the bathroom sink.

Courtesy Katy Perry

Several months later I received an email from a beauty publicist friend who wanted me to meet with her client, Naomi Whittel, founder of Reserveage Nutrition, which makes high-quality supplements, including several specifically for hair and skin. After telling Whittel about my unexplained hair loss and my brief foray into the world of vitamins and supplements, she made several recommendations based on my age (mid-thirties if you must know) and my beauty needs (more hair and skin that will never wrinkle, please). I decided to recommit to a regimen, only this time I knew exactly what to take and why.

Before you start popping pills, it’s crucial that you do quality control since regulations around vitamins and supplements are notoriously murky and what you see isn’t always what you get. Whittel’s suggestions:

1. Go to a reputable retailer like Whole Foods, the Vitamin Shoppe or QVC, all of which have strict guidelines.
2. Make sure the main ingredient(s) are the active or standardized forms (it should say on the bottle).
3. Look at the other ingredients. If there are a lot of binders, fillers, artificial colors and flavors, skip it.
4. Once you find the brand that works for you, stick with it.

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Everyone’s needs are different, but here’s some general takeaway that applies to women of all ages who want to maintain a youthful appearance for as long as possible.

1. A multivitamin. “You can’t get all of the nutrition your body needs just from the food you eat,” Whittel explains. “You would have to eat, like, 30 different things on a daily basis, which is unrealistic.” And while a multivitamin won’t make up for a poor diet, says Whittel, it’s a good way to prevent deficiencies. She recommends one with a B complex that contains methylated forms of folate and B12 to help boost energy.

2. An antioxidant. Antioxidants fight free radicals, which are molecules that form in the body when you’re exposed to UV light or environmental pollution. Free radicals cause inflammation which in turn, leads to fine lines, wrinkles and blotchy skin. You should already be eating fruits and veggies that are high in antioxidants, but that’s not enough to fight all the free radical-causing toxins you’re exposed to everyday. Whittel’s recommends a supplement that contains Resveratrol (which comes from red wine grapes) or French Melon extract (which comes from the fruit).

3. Fish oil: Fish oil contains Essential Fatty Acids EPA and DHA, which are essential for our brain, hence the name “essential fatty acids,” says Whittel. “It’s very hard to produce your own fatty acids in your body, so you need to take it in supplement form.”

4. A beauty supplement: If your goal is longer, thicker hair go with something that contains keratin, a protein neutrally found in the body that protects hair, skin and nails (I like Reserveage Nutrition Keratin Booster with Biotin). Whittel is also a fan of collagen supplements, which help keep skin elastic and firm (something you need to start worrying about in your thirties).

5. Probiotics: These are the naturally occurring good bacteria in your gut and are necessary for a healthy intestinal tract and strong immune system. The most common forms are lactobacillus and bifidobacteria and you want 10-30 billion “live” units in each capsule.

I’ve been swallowing half a dozen pills a day for two months and while I haven’t seen a dramatic improvement in my hair or my skin, I feel like the supplements act as a kind of wellness safety net, especially during the holiday season when I’m sleeping less and drinking and eating more.

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