Take a capsule or mix in a powder and you’ll get stronger nails. Or healthier-looking hair. Or more radiant skin. That’s the simple concept behind nutricosmetics and it is grounded in an even simpler fact: changes on the inside, especially nutritional changes, can and will lead to changes on the outside.
Just about everyone understands this dynamic. But, not all consumers apply this awareness to their shopping routines or their efforts to maintain and enhance their appearance. “While there is certainly no hard data, we believe approximately 70% of consumers are aware that nutritional supplements can provide beauty benefits,” says Kaarin Lanyi, product development manager at Beautiful Nutrition, New York, NY. That means there are many shoppers ready and willing to make purchases in this market and many more that are ripe to be educated on the inside–outside way of thinking.
Turning Awareness into Action
It will be difficult to sell shoppers a nutricosmetic products if they are unfamiliar with the idea of inside-outside beauty or if they are skeptical about the concept. Both issues present obstacles for companies in this growing market.
According to Asma Ishaq, co-founder and president of Jusuru International, Anaheim, CA, although consumers understand that appearance is influenced by diet, there is still a sizable gap in associating oral dietary supplements with beauty care.
More shoppers are beginning to understand the potential relationship between a nutritional product and hair, skin and nails, says Sandra Carter, M.A., MPH, Ph.D., CEO of Mushroom Matrix, San Marcos, CA. She attributes this to the work of well-known physicians such as Dr. Nicholas Perricone, Dr. Andrew Weil and others, who have written extensively about the importance of hydration and diet for skin care.
While awareness of beauty-from-within nutrition is on the rise, American shoppers represent only a small fraction of the worldwide market for these products, trailing Asia and Europe by a wide margin, says Naomi Whittel, founder and CEO of Reserveage Nutrition, Boca Raton, FL. She says her company’s goal is to share the longstanding beauty traditions of cultures like China and France with domestic consumers. “But in truth, skepticism is high as American consumers want hard science and fast results,” says Whittel.
In China, Japan and most of Asia, the notion of nurturing oneself from the inside for a healthy and beautiful appearance is nothing new, according to Bryan See, regional product manager at ExcelVite Inc., Edison, NJ. It is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is, therefore, not surprising, he says, that Japan is the leader in nutricosmetics, with new products being launched at a high frequency.
See adds that European consumers, particularly in France, are increasingly embracing oral beauty products for skin, including products designed to enhance skin tanning. “The United States is catching up with the rest of the world in this area and, hence, presents a significant market opportunity for branded skin health ingredients with science,” he says.
The increasing desire in the U.S. market for products that promote beauty from within spurred Lanyi’s company, which also makes traditional cosmetics, to develop a drink mix line featuring nutricosmetic ingredients like collagen and resveratrol.
The development of this product sector has been a long, strange trip, explains Hartley Pond, senior vice president of technical sales at FutureCeuticals, Momence, IL. “While there have been successful skin, nail and hair formulations on the market for many years, these were primarily specialty niche items,” he says. In 2002, Pond says that Nestle and L’Oreal made a surprising entry into the nutricosmetic market. Glowelle, a fortified drink brand featuring vitamins and antioxidants, never quite took hold, and Pond believes the percentage of shoppers who accept or are aware of the inside-outside beauty market is relatively low to this day.
Though the opportunity exists for companies to develop successful science-based products in this category, Pond says consumer expectations remain a challenge. People can see and feel an immediate impact with topical cosmetics and further improvements often emerge in the short term. With nutricosmetics, consumers have to accept that benefits may not be tangible right away, he says. In fact, the rationale for using these products is often more prevention oriented.
Natural channel consumers, in particular, are very aware that orally ingested products can benefit their appearance, says Elizabeth Poon, director of marketing, nutritional brands for Country Life, Hauppauge, NY. She says her company has a four-decade heritage in this area, and that they are making efforts to grow the popularity and product awareness of nutricosmetics. One area Poon says she sees major growth in is inside–outside products for men, and she points to her company’s hair supplement specifically formulated for men’s needs as an example.
When people see and feel the difference after trying these products, word-of-mouth is helping them spread quickly, says Timothy Mount, CN, CCMH, director of education for NeoCell, Irvine, CA. “The category is driven by a strong grassroots consumer base that recommends the products to family and friends,” Mount says.
Bridging the Gap
Demographics in the nutricosmetic market can pose a bit of a conundrum. Although older people, particularly Baby Boomers, may be among the most interested in the benefits these products claim to deliver, it may be difficult to overcome the skepticism and ingrained buying habits of some in this generation.
Those buying habits include routine purchases of traditional cosmetics. “Beauty from within” is a fundamentally different approach from cosmetics and makeup, which involve applying substances to the face or body to enhance appearance, says Sébastien Bornet, vice president of global sales and marketing at Horphag Research (exclusive worldwide supplier of Pycnogenol), Hoboken, NJ.
Bornet reminds us that beautiful skin is, first of all, healthy skin. And, health conscious consumers already understand the connection between nutrition and health. So, the way to target consumers that are still not on board with nutricosmetics is clear. “It is our job as manufacturers of safe, evidence-based and efficacious branded ingredients to communicate the research and skin care benefits to consumers, including older generations,” says Bornet.
If consumers can be made to recognize that cosmetic improvements are simply the result of improved cellular health, it makes the concept of nutricosmetics much more approachable for older and more skeptical consumers alike, says Lanyi.
“Baby Boomer consumers are beginning to realize the importance of antioxidants and free-radical damage, which can lead to skin damage,” says Carter. Ishaq says that in the case of her company, a majority of customers actually happen to fall into the Baby Boomer age group.
In certain ways, Baby Boomers may be more diligent about their wellness routines, says Whittel. Often, they are open to and actively pursuing high-quality products that will help them stay more youthful, she says. They do their research to find supplements that fit the bill, and nutricosmetics are now turning up in these searches on a regular basis.
Whittel goes on to say that her company is sensitive to the fact that mature consumers don’t want to feel they are being “sold” anything. They like to discover the benefits of products themselves, and education plays a crucial role. “We believe in making the science available whenever possible, and communicating through trusted channels like experts,” she says.
People must be made to trust that they are being provided with ingredients that are not only safe in ingestible form, but also backed by research on human subjects that shows significant results in a timely fashion (in some cases within weeks), says Whittel.
In See’s opinion, “Older consumers may be persuaded to use nutricosmetics if they can truly see an effect, or observe a visible sign of improvement in their appearance.” He agrees that quality research and human study data is needed to convince older generations to embrace oral beauty products. If a product can provide additional health benefits, they may fare better in the marketplace, See believes. He says one of his company’s vitamin E-based ingredients (EVNol SupraBio) can help protect the health of the brain as well as improve skin and hair.
Younger consumers, namely the Millennials, are a different story, says Bornet. They are aware of the benefits of taking preventive steps before they hit their older years to maintain healthy skin. Poon says that her company receives significant feedback from younger customers that are familiar with inside–outside beauty supplements, adding that much of this interaction takes place through the company’s social media.
Though younger consumers may be more vocal, Poon says she also sees interest and engagement coming from the older set. Mantras like “50 is the new 40” are more prevalent than ever, and these consumers are striving to be open to new technologies, foods and solutions, she says. This openness means it has not been too tough to make older consumers aware of their options.
The category is attracting a wide range of interest, from young to old, and everyone in between. “Often,” says Poon, “the consumers interested in or familiar with beauty supplements extend beyond the typical supplement consumer.”
Converting this interest into sales will depend in part on innovative approaches. Pond says the industry should be shaping consumer expectations for the inside–outside market around the notion of prevention. One way to do that, he believes, is to establish a clinically studied supplements and topical regimens for improving hair, skin and the like. “I believe this approach has yet to be fully realized, but could help bridge the gap and turn makeup and personal care product shoppers into nutricosmetics buyers as well,” says Pond.
In-store demos and sample packets are a primary means of introducing new delivery systems for nutricosmetic products, according to Mount. He notes that everyone loves a free sample when shopping, and that customers are often hesitant to purchase something edible without trying it out first.
Behind the Benefits
The education process in this category centers on familiarizing consumers with the underlying biology of beauty. Whittel explains that three “beauty proteins” are naturally produced by the body, and each play a role in our physical appearance: collagen, elastin and keratin. “Levels of these three beauty proteins begin to diminish as we age,” she says, adding that her company has debuted a product that provides support for all three of these proteins.
A significant layer of this discussion involves the effects of aging. Kathy Lund, vice president of marketing and business development at AIDP, Inc., City of Industry, CA, says that the youthful qualities of skin can deteriorate rapidly if they go unsupported with age. The process of aging, Lund says, involves both intrinsic (genetics, hormones) and extrinsic (smoking, UV radiation, pollution) factors. Extrinsic and intrinsic aging both work to reduce the number and quality of collagen fibers, she says.
Collagen is the main structural protein in skin, says Lanyi, and low levels of collagen can result in wrinkling and loss of skin firmness. On the bright side, she explains that supplementing the diet with collagen peptides, like those found in her company’s collagen drink mixes, has been shown to reduce wrinkles, increase production of pro-collagen (precursor molecule to collagen) and improve skin elasticity.
Lund says type I collagen, the most abundant type throughout the body, maintains an especially large presence in the skin. “Type I collagen plays an essential role in maintaining skin tone, suppleness and elasticity,” she says. As a result, the external effects of falling collagen production include wrinkles, fine lines and dry skin, according to Lund.
Every human being on Earth, Mount says, is constantly in the process of breaking down and rebuilding collagen. “However, after the age of 25 years old, our collagen production system slows by a rate of about 1.5% per year, meaning we break down more collagen than we rebuild,” he says.
But advancements in manufacturing have made it possible to produce hydrolyzed collagen that is more bioavailable, which has positive implications for those looking for anti-aging benefits, according to Mount. He says that collagen peptides in his company’s collagen line help stimulate worker cells to produce new collagen. This increases the rate of new collagen production in the body, so the balance of collagen breakdown and rebuilding is influenced for the better.
Collagen supplements, according to Whittel, should come from reputable sources and feature hydrolyzed molecules that are small enough to pass through the digestive barrier. Tracy Kreider, N.D., board-certified naturopathic doctor and educator for Country Life, says her company’s collagen products utilize an ingredient (Verisol from Gelita) that includes collagen types I and III. It is hydrolyzed into peptides to aid in quick absorption, and when paired with skin-boosting vitamins A and C, Kreider says it should appeal to those looking for a complete layering effect on the skin.
Kreider goes on to say that there are many common nutrients in everyday foods that help support healthy hair, skin and nails. These include other familiar vitamins like vitamin E and B-complex vitamins, particularly biotin. She says that minerals like calcium, zinc, selenium and others also provide support, and even amino acids, such as methionine and cysteine, help provide sulfur to support the skin.
According to information from Alta Health Products, the mineral silica (which Alta Health extracts from horsetail herb for its products) is a component of collagen. It can therefore support collagen production and help improve the condition of skin, hair and nails.
Taking these vitamins and minerals as supplements can help those that either have a deficiency in these nutrients or those that don’t have the ability to fully absorb them, according to Kreider. “Many pharmaceutical drugs deplete B-vitamins, and often create significant changes in the health of hair, skin, nails and the body as a whole, so supplementation is needed,” she says.
As a member of the B vitamin family, biotin (also known as vitamin H) plays a key role in cell growth as well as the metabolism of fats and proteins, says Lanyi. “Insufficient intake of biotin from dietary sources can lead to thinning, weak hair,” she says. Many products, like one offered by Lanyi’s company, use biotin as a central ingredient for its role in hair growth. Kreider adds that loss of hair color can also accompany biotin deficiency, as well as a red, scaly rash around the eyes, nose and mouth (1).
Consumers are often familiar with biotin for hair and nail support, but Whittel points out that the hair and nails are primarily composed of keratin. The conversion of natural keratin into a more functional, bioactive form for use in supplements is a relatively recent breakthrough, according to Whittel, and it is this form of keratin (Cynatine HNS from Roxlor) that her company uses in its products.
As a protein, keratin is composed of amino acids, and many products, including the line of liquid nutricosmetics from Ishaq’s company, deliver amino acids to the body. “The increased level of amino acids in the blood aids keratin production, which helps in the growth of hair and nails,” says Ishaq.
Another important part of the beauty equation is hyaluronic acid (HA). As we age, Ishaq says we lose HA, which is responsible in part for skin’s suppleness and for holding moisture within tissues. As mentioned previously, the collagen synthesis rate also declines sharply in our thirties. “All of this leads to wrinkled skin and weaker hair and nails,” she says.
An ingredient in her company’s line of liquid nutricosmetics (Liquid BioCell) helps replenish levels of collagen and HA, and can inhibit hyaluronidase, the enzyme that breaks down HA, according to Ishaq. One study on the ingredient showed a reduction of facial lines and wrinkles, a reduction of dryness and scaling, an increase in the skin’s collagen content and enhanced blood microcirculation in the skin (2). She adds that the scalp is similar to the rest of the skin, except that it features specialized hair follicles. HA and collagen can also help nourish and hydrate the dermal layers of the scalp for healthier hair.
Andrew Wheeler, director of marketing at FutureCeuticals, says his company developed a nutricosmetic ingredient after looking at how food consumption affects our skin. “It is known that elastase production increases when we eat, and it is also known that elastase breaks down elastin in the skin,” says Wheeler. He says the company searched for natural compounds that could impact this process of “aging while you eat,” and was ultimately able to engineer a blend of natural ingredients (Dermaval) that inhibits elastase production after food consumption. Wheeler says it is proving to be a desired inclusion for formulators looking for “preventative maintenance” ingredients rather than the typical approach of “topical triage.”
The potential of antioxidants to help protect skin means that many well-known antioxidants can double as nutricosmetic ingredients.
A standardized French maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol from Horphag) is used in both topical and oral skin care products, according to Bornet. It can help reduce physical signs of aging, skin pigmentation and dryness by protecting against free radical damage and promoting skin hydration, he says. It can also help prevent UV damage and photoaging from taking place.
Another way this ingredient produces benefits, Bornet says, is by selectively decreasing the enzymatic breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin. It also stimulates HA production in the skin. “Hyaluronic acid binds large quantities of water in the skin and in other tissues, such as cartilage,” he says, which explains the benefits to skin hydration, elasticity and smoothness seen with HA.
Vitamin E tocotrienols are a potent class of antioxidants with many benefits for skin health, according to See. His company’s full spectrum palm-derived tocotrienol ingredient (EVNol SupraBio) has been studied for these types of benefits. One randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that 50 mg of the ingredient taken twice daily brought about a 34.5% increase in the number of hairs in human volunteers with androgenic alopecia (3). Another study cited by See provided evidence that the tocotrienols in this ingredient are delivered to and accumulate in vital human organs, including the skin (4).
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is another antioxidant that can help support healthy skin from the inside out, says Gene Bruno, M.S., MHS, VMS formulation, Twinlab Corporation, New York, NY. It helps cells to utilize oxygen as part of its vital role in cellular energy metabolism, he says. It has also been shown to be a free radical scavenger, thus protecting the skin from the effects of aging. Levels of CoQ10 decline naturally with age, so Bruno says supplementing with it can be a powerful tool in support of healthy skin.
“Astaxanthin, a carotenoid similar in structure to beta carotene, has significant antioxidant activity,” Bruno says. He cites a human clinical study from the journal Carotenoid Research that found four mg/day of astaxanthin, over the course of six weeks, improved fine lines and wrinkles, improved the moisture content in dry skin and significantly improved skin elasticity in women (5).
According to a book on astaxanthin by William Sears, M.D., this antioxidant can also provide protection from damaging UV light exposure. Sears explains that sunburn results when UV light reddens the skin. Photoaging (which is characterized by wrinkled, blotchy, thinned, darkened skin) occurs with repeated overexposure to the sun, he writes. Astaxanthin has been found to lengthen the amount of time it takes UV radiation to redden the skin.
Mushroom-derived antioxidants can also do the trick. “Medicinal mushrooms are rich in a unique antioxidant called L-ergothioneine,” says Carter. This highly stable antioxidant, she says, has its own cellular transport mechanism called ergothioneine transporter (ETT). ETT enables this antioxidant to be transported across the cell membrane when free radicals and inflammation are present. Carter says Dr. Oz recently discussed the king trumpet mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii) in the context of anti-aging.
Carter adds that all mushrooms are rich in biotin, and that the cordyceps mushroom her company uses can enhance capillary circulation, helping to deliver nutrients to hair follicles and nail beds. Carter’s final note on mushrooms is that since immune health can impact our appearance, her company includes a blend of eight species and their immune-supporting beta glucans in its product.
Alan Cheung, executive manager at Belle and Bella LLC, Lexington, MA, tells us that certain strains of oral probiotics can help to improve the appearance of skin. Since the causes of acne and blemishes are frequently related to the growth of bad bacteria in the gut, introducing the right type of beneficial bacteria can help address skin issues where they originate. His company launched a supplement that is formulated to help minimize bacteria and yeasts that cause blemishes, featuring two specific probiotic strains (Lactobacillus rhamnosus R0011 and Lactobacillus helveticus R0052).
Cheung notes that creams, lotions or other topical products can be washed away and have a limited coverage area. Nutricosmetics, on the other hand, are a way of bringing beneficial ingredients for skin, hair and other issues inside the body, where they can work comprehensively.
Once shoppers have accepted the concept of swallowing a supplement to enhance their appearance, questions may linger about which supplement delivery format its best to choose. The answer, in part, is that it depends on the supplement.
For products with active ingredients that take up a high volume of space, Lanyi says powders are the dominant format. She says one of her company’s products comes in individually packaged powdered drink mixes, as this format can deliver more actives per dose than a pill. A hair support formula from Lanyi’s company, however, comes in vegetarian capsules because the full daily dose fits in just two capsules. Tablets and capsules are great for convenience, she says, adding that while very few nutritional ingredients need to be delivered in liquid form, some consumers may prefer it. None of this tends to impact product performance. “Instances where the form impacts the effectiveness of the ingredients are few and far between. Mostly, it’s a matter of volume, convenience and preference,” says Lanyi.
Some special considerations, however, must be made. For his company’s vitamin E ingredient, See says that a hermetically sealed liquid inside a softgel capsule is the format of choice because its antioxidant capacity needs to be protected.
Lund walks us through some of the obstacles inherent in producing collagen supplements. Depending on the source, it can have a strong taste or odor and can be tough to dissolve. Liquid formats can be tough to execute with some forms of collagen, and bioavailability is also an issue. Lund says that a collagen ingredient produced from fish skin and scales (Naticol) profiles well in terms of bioavailability, and has a clean taste, neutral smell and dissolves easily in liquid. In Asian countries, like Japan, Lund adds, fish collagen is associated with enhanced mineral content and good absorption rates.
Whittel says her company also chose to source a patented collagen ingredient that is tasteless and odorless, and that can dissolve easily in food or liquids. She says this collagen is offered in capsules or a chewable format, which allows people to reach clinically validated dosages without having to take multiple capsules.
The bulkiness of collagen in tablet form has historically made powder the more attractive option, according to Mount. He says powder is the top-selling format for his company, but two tablet sizes come in second and third, as many prefer not to take the time to mix a powder into liquid. The convenience of tablets, he says, is hard to match in terms of portability, shelf stability and simplicity of use.
At least in the case of collagen, he says that the delivery system doesn’t significantly affect the absorption rate. He says his company guarantees a certain baseline absorption rate and dissolve time for its collagen tablets, and that absorption generally increases slightly for powders, liquids and chews. Ishaq adds that unlike tablets and capsules, liquid formats can begin to absorb in the mouth, at which point digestion begins. A good-tasting liquid can also provide a significant boost to consumer compliance with dosage and frequency requirements, she says.
While collagen ingredients may have neutral taste covered, Mount says other products like herbal extracts can have an off-putting taste, so powder becomes less of an option. Premixed liquid products tend to have shorter shelf lives and are also more costly to produce, ship and package, he explains. So the convenience factor of a ready-to-drink liquid comes at a higher price to consumers. “A similar consideration occurs with soft chews and flavored powders, or formulas with multiple ingredients, because of the increased manufacturing costs,” says Mount.
Both in the case of collagen and hyaluronic acid (HA), Ishaq emphasizes that molecular weight is an important consideration. Both collagen and HA are macromolecules (i.e. large molecules), and bioavailability studies support the notion that there is an optimal molecular weight range for ingestible collagen and HA. In addition, Ishaq says that the body will recognize a naturally occurring matrix of collagen and HA at the right molecular weight, easily absorbing and utilizing it.
Since studies revealed that their elastase-inhibiting ingredient had the best effect when taken 15 minutes before eating, Wheeler says his company needed to find delivery materials that could be applied across a broad spectrum of beverage and other products. He says the versatility of being able to use the ingredient in gels, capsules, effervescents, shots and other formats has worked well for formulators and marketers.
As with many supplements, capsules have been the primary delivery method for nutricosmetics, but there is a growing dislike for them among many consumers, says Carter. In contrast with the limitations of capsules, she says her company’s powder can be added by consumers to juices, smoothies, salad dressings, hummus, soups or sauces.
Indeed, “pill fatigue” is a focus in the industry, as many people are reluctant to add on to their prescription drug regimen and want something that’s easy to swallow and that they can actually look forward to taking, says Mount. “Soft chews, flavored powders and premade liquids have seen the fastest rise in the nutricosmetic industry,” he says, adding that supplements like his company’s often taste good enough that it can be hard to tell them from a piece of candy or sugary drink mix. But, being in the natural channel means that companies like Mount’s take care to use non-caloric sweeteners, like stevia and erythritol, that reduce calories while still offering an enjoyable flavor.
In summary, Poon argues that there is no dominant format, and that choices can be based primarily on consumer preference and convenience. “Like many product categories, consumers are looking for beauty supplements that fit their lifestyle and daily demands, not a one-size-fits-all solution,” she says. WF
1. “Vitamin H (Biotin),” University of Maryland Medical Center, June 26, 2011, http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-h-biotin, accessed Apr. 20, 2015.
2. S.R. Schwartz, Park J., “Ingestion of BioCell Collagen, a Novel Hydrolyzed Chicken Sternal Cartilage Extract; Enhanced Blood Microcirculation and Reduced Facial Aging Signs,” Clin Interv Aging. 7, 267-73 (2012).
3. L.A. Beoy, W.J. Woei, Y.K. Hay, “Effects of Tocotrienol Supplementation on Hair Growth in Human Volunteers,” Trop. Life Sci. Res. 21(2), 91–99 (2010).
4. V. Patel, et al., “Oral Tocotrienols are Transported to Human Tissues and Delay the Progression of the Model for End-stage Liver Disease Score in Patients,” J. Nutr. 142(3), 513-9 (2012).
5. E. Yamashita, “The Effect of a Dietary Supplement Containing Astaxanthin on Skin Condition,” Carotenoid Sci. 10, 91-95 (2006).
6. W. Sears, Natural Astaxanthin Hawaii’s Supernutrient, William Sears, M.D. (2015).
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2015