A lot of things people do in the name of wellness are unpleasant (looking at you, 5:30 a.m. workouts), and choking down super-sized supplements is definitely on that list. Fortunately, a growing number of brands are making daily vitamins easier to swallow…by eliminating the swallowing part altogether.
Proponents of supplement sprays—which deliver vitamins and minerals either sublingually (under the tongue) or transdermally (through the skin)—say they result in better absorption and lead to an all-around more pleasant experience. And while they’re not mainstream yet, many major vitamin players are staking their claim: Garden of Life (which has a partnership with Alicia Silverstone) offers sprayable vitamins B12, C, and D3; the doctor-developed brand Instavit has a line of functional spray blends to address issues like sleep and immunity; and the UK-based company BetterYou has won awards for its oral vitamin sprays and topical magnesium mists.
But do spray supplements live up to the hype? Keep reading to find out what a doctor says—and what you should look for.
The 411 on oral sprays
Proponents of oral sprays say they allow nutrients to be absorbed more rapidly. Integrative Medicine expert Tiffany Lester M.D. agrees that’s true—at least in theory. Sublingual nutrients are absorbed in much higher amounts than capsules, she says, and they do better on the bioavailability front.
“When you take a pill, it first has to be digested and metabolized through the liver or kidney through what is called the ‘first-pass’ effect,” Dr. Lester explains. “If any of these systems are off—like in someone with leaky gut syndrome—the supplement or medication can be even less effective.” (Several studies back this idea up.)
“The company’s goal is for people to actually enjoy taking their omegas.”
Another big plus of oral sprays? They’re way more pleasant to consume. Erica Bryers—the co-founder and CMO of Ora Organics, which debuted a vegan omega-3 spray in 2015—said the goal is for people to actually enjoy taking their omegas. “Like our customers, we really couldn’t stomach the fishy burps, acid reflux, and giant pills traditionally associated with fish oil,” she says. The brand enlisted a chef to create a sustainable micro-algae mist with a tasty “Hawaiian mai tai” flavor using organic plant powders and oils.
Plus, many sprays also have a way cleaner ingredient list sans the “random gelatin” and binding agents used in many capsules, Bryers says. “A spray is far more natural that way.” Some do contain artificial flavors and questionable preservatives, however, so be sure to check.
The case for spraying supplements on your skin
Research also indicates that vitamins and minerals can be effectively absorbed when applied to the skin in spray or cream form—particularly magnesium. The buzzy mineral is said to relieve everything from muscle and joint pain to menstrual cramps.
Again, the primary benefit of spray-on magnesium is how quickly it goes to work, says Ian Clark, founder of Activation Products, which sells a pharmaceutical-grade magnesium chloride spray called Ease. “Whenever you consume anything, it has to go through your digestive system and get filtered by your organs,” he explains. “And then your body has to wait for the circulatory system to distribute whatever gets through.”
Clark recommends different applications depending on what you’re trying to address. For example, if you’re feeling anxious, he recommends spritzing magnesium on the thin skin on your chest. If you’re trying to sleep more soundly, he’s found it best to spray the entire abdomen, from the tops of the shoulders all the way down to the waistline. For her part, Dr. Lester agrees that topical magnesium can be effective for helping with muscle pain, insomnia, migraines, and even constipation.
“In my ideal world, I would have a spray or cream that contained every nutrient my body needed.”
But while magnesium is an effective transdermal spray, other nutrients may not be. “I haven’t found any [other vitamins or minerals] that can go into a spray—and are more effective than an [oral] supplement—because you have to be sure that the particulate is getting into the body and also able to be used on a microscopic level,” Clark explains.
But as technology advances, that could change—and Dr. Lester, for one, is excited. “In my ideal world, I would have a spray or a cream that contained every nutrient my body needed—after being tested for nutrient deficiencies—with doses that could be easily adjusted as necessary,” she says. “Until then, my medicine cabinet will continue to overflow!”