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Consumers are eager to invest in skincare products, but will today’s ingredients stand up to scrutiny?
Given the irrefutable truth that we are what we eat, it follows that the record of which nutrients we do—or don’t—ingest will ultimately wind up written all over our faces.
It also follows that given the interest in self-care the pandemic unleashed, nutricosmetics—ingestible products that leverage nutrients to the skin’s betterment—would be landing ever more firmly on skincare consumers’ radars.
Yet despite Nutrition Business Journal’s prediction that nutricosmetic sales will hit $1.6 billion by 2023, some observers still harbor plenty of doubt as to whether or not these items will reach the heights of their topical cosmeceutical counterparts.
But to nutricosmetics boosters, “plenty of doubt” looks more like “plenty of room for growth”—for beauty-from-within and topical skincare.
After all, says Katie Emerson MS, RD, LDN, manager of scientific affairs, Nutrition21 (Saddle Brook, NJ), “Nutricosmetics sit firmly at the intersection of health and beauty. The markets for them and cosmeceuticals go hand-in-hand, serving inner and outer wellness and beauty in topical and ingestible applications.”
Inner, outer, or otherwise, the obsession consumers have with beauty—or, more modestly, their appearance in general—actually intensified during COVID-19, despite their having fewer opportunities in which to flaunt it.
One source of that intensity was the much-discussed “Zoom effect,” and for good reason: It’s hard not to zero in on every facial flaw when most, if not all, meetings and social events take place on a screen that reflects those flaws right back at you.
To give magnitude to the phenomenon, Lycored (Branchburg, NJ) reports that 54% of the American consumers the company surveyed claimed that seeing themselves and others on video calls elevated physical appearance to top-of-mind status.1
No wonder, then, that they and others felt motivated to “pay more attention to their skin” under lockdown, observes Zev Ziegler, Lycored’s head of global brand and marketing for health, giving skin smoothness, tone, and “glow” or “radiance” added consideration, even from behind closed doors.
Yet in another of the ironies that the pandemic was so adept at generating, consumers’ concerns about their skin peaked right as the venues where they’d normally address those concerns were closing their own doors.
Or, as Sébastien Bornet, vice president, global sales and marketing, Horphag Research, exclusive global supplier of Pycnogenol (Hoboken, NJ), puts it, “The pandemic disrupted a lot of things, skincare routines included. Restrictions shut many spas and professional skincare services, leaving consumers without routine facials and other in-person treatments they’d relied on to maintain skin health.”
Their response: adopt at-home, DIY approaches, like consulting the “University of Google” for self-directed educations in all things skincare science; not for nothing did Google Trends track significant jumps in web searches for the terms skincare and acne from March through August 2020.
And indeed, Bornet says, “Many consumers explored new products and ingredients to help them maintain the investment they were making in their skin at home. The silver lining? Consumers learned more and took greater control of their routines.”
Their engagement persists even as lockdowns recede. “As people awaken from COVID-induced hibernation to travel, reconnect with friends, and experience whatever their new normal may be,” says Tim Hammond, vice president of sales and marketing, Bergstrom Nutrition (Vancouver, WA), “skincare, haircare, and overall body self-care are even more relevant.”
They’re more connected, too, as research into the brain/body/skin axis reveals how intimately our outward appearance relates to our inner workings.
Even the general public is catching on, says Liki von Oppen-Bezalel, PhD, consultant/director, TriNutra (Nes Ziona, Israel), who’s witnessed consumers “becoming more aware of the brain/body/skin axis and how all three interact. So, when it comes to stress, diet, exercise, and skincare, they understand that balance is critical.”
That tells her that consumers are “ready” for nutricosmetics and cosmeceuticals, and are looking for ingredients “that aren’t just well researched but are present in proper amounts and produce effects they can see and feel,” she says.
Bornet agrees, noting that consumers are “building routines that address nutrition, fitness, sleep, and beauty holistically, selecting products that tackle all at once to make those routines simpler and more effective. They understand that beautiful skin is healthy skin that reflects the body’s health and nutritional status overall.”
Younger consumers, in particular, have embraced the “from-within” mentality, Ziegler adds, which is leading them to redefine that “healthy glow” as not just a dewy complexion, but a reflection of mental and emotional harmony “that can only be achieved through the right balance of external and from-within factors,” he says.
As if that’s not enough, “Multifunctional is the theme!” says Paula Simpson, principal, Nutribloom Consulting (New York and Toronto). “Consumers want formulations that not only help with skin and hair health but also with energy, gut health, vitality, hormonal balance, etc. Tailor-focused claims are a wave of the past; providing additional wellness support goes a long way.”
Inside and Out
Assuming products can do all that, “Both nutricosmetics and cosmeceuticals have great potential,” von Oppen-Bezalel predicts.
Granted, consumers’ familiarity with topical applications gives cosmeceuticals a head start; in fact, analysts project the global cosmeceutical market to reach a value of $96.23 billion by 2029.2 Yet while nutricosmetics brought in a relatively demure $7.4 billion in 2021, they’re still set to grow at a compound annual rate of 8.2% through 2028.3
Thus, von Oppen-Bezalel concludes, “As more people become aware of beauty from within and understand the science behind it, there’s great potential to drive this latter market.”
And that science is compelling. As von Oppen-Bezalel explains, “When using an ingestible for beauty, the effects are systemic, affecting the whole body, and thereby the skin, from within. This happens not only by reaching the skin but by activating multiple functions in the body.” Topicals, by contrast, work via direct and concentrated contact with skin tissue.
Yet when used routinely and continuously, “both have long-lasting effects,” she continues. “And when both are used at the same time, the benefits seem to be enhanced, more prominent, and in many cases faster.”
That’s why Samantha Ford, MS, director of business development, AIDP (City of Industry, CA), sees “such a great opportunity for ingestible solutions to provide synergies with topical treatments and even boost or prolong their effects.”
All of which underscores a point Nutrition21’s Emerson is keen to make: “Nutricosmetics and cosmeceuticals need to be formulated with ingredients that produce visible results and are backed by science.”
She offers biotin as one such ingredient. A veteran of hair, nail, and skin formulations, biotin exerts its effects at the cellular level; yet its poor absorption hinders its efficacy and has been a “longstanding issue” limiting its success, Emerson says.
Nutrition21 stabbed at the issue with its Lustriva ingredient. A patented complex of magnesium biotinate and bonded arginine silicate designed for nutricosmetic use, the formulation’s biotin is 40 times more soluble than the D-biotin found in most hair, skin, and nail products, with clinical evidence showing that it improves skin elasticity and overall appearance, reduces facial wrinkles and fine lines, and improves skin texture compared to baseline.4
Beyond that, Emerson says, an efficacious dose of 160 mg is easy to incorporate into “a wide variety of dietary supplement and functional food or beverage applications, including ready-to-drink and dry-mix beverages, gummies, capsules, and tablets,” which she feels leaves the ingredient “well positioned to replace traditional biotin forms on the market today.”
Sulfuric Skin Support
Another skincare staple—particularly in dermatologic practice—is the mineral sulfur, which Bergstrom’s Hammond notes is both a key component of skin’s collagen framework and a building block of the keratin that lends structure to hair and nails.
Further, he claims that Bergstrom’s methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) ingredient OptiMSM—34% sulfur by weight—is a potent sulfur donor to skin, where it not only supports collagen but inhibits the crosslinking that can lead to tissue “hardening.”
Instrumental analysis suggests that MSM may bolster the skin’s barrier function, “providing for a greater exchange of water and nutrients in the dermis,” Hammond adds. “And MSM has also been identified as one of a few select ingredients that effectively improve skin’s appearance by supporting the extracellular matrix—critical to skin’s strong yet flexible characteristics.”
A study published in 2015 reported that participants receiving oral supplemental OptiMSM experienced improved skin elasticity and firmness, as well as an average wrinkle reduction of 38%.5 Results of a follow-up study published five years later also noted significant improvements from baseline in facial-wrinkle severity as well as skin hydration, firmness, and elasticity among participants in the supplement group, leading the authors to conclude that just 1 g daily effectively reduced signs of skin aging and yielded visible benefits within four weeks.6,7
Finally, Hammond hints at an as-yet-unpublished study indicating that a combination of 1 g of OptiMSM and 2.5 g of marine collagen may significantly improve skin smoothness and texture at six weeks, with reductions in the number and appearance of fine lines and wrinkles appearing upon clinical evaluation at 12 weeks.
Beyond minerals, Bornet notes that antioxidants “have become a staple in the nutribeauty space,” and that Horphag’s “flagship” ingredient, Pycnogenol—an antioxidant derived from French maritime pine bark—selectively binds collagen and elastin to protect them from oxidative degradation and, by extension, from the fine lines and wrinkles that degradation can cause.
Participants in a recent study who supplemented with the ingredient experienced retention of skin hydration, increased skin elasticity, reduced air-pollution-induced skin pigmentation, and reinforced skin-barrier function, even upon exposure to urban environmental pollution and seasonal temperature and humidity variations, he says.8
This builds upon earlier studies showing that the ingredient enhances photoprotection to reduce hyperpigmentation and improve skin-barrier function9, all while increasing hyaluronic acid production by upping activity of the enzyme that synthesizes it by 44%. The upshot: Improvements in skin hydration and elasticity of 21% and 25%, respectively.10 And of import to formulators, Bornet adds, the ingredient complements both topical and oral formulation.
Good as Gold
Sticking with the antioxidant theme, Ziegler emphasizes the “growing evidence for carotenoids’ many skincare benefits,” including a recent study showing that supplementation with these antioxidants—as well as with polyphenols and estradiol—reduced oxidation-induced skin damage and improved skin health and appearance.11 “The findings may have particular relevance to efforts at reducing skin damage from UV radiation and environmental pollutants, as well as natural aging,” Ziegler hypothesizes.
More recent research12 involving Lycored’s own carotenoid ingredient—its Lumenato golden-tomato extract—demonstrates not only the antioxidant’s fast action but its durable results, as well. Twenty-four healthy volunteers supplemented with the complex for four weeks, with researchers noting a nearly fourfold increase in skin phytoene levels after only one week and levels almost five times baseline by week four. “There were also significant increases in other carotenoid levels, such as phytofluene and zeta-carotene, indicating Lumenato’s high bioavailability,” Ziegler says.
After 12 weeks of supplementation, participants continued reporting significant improvements in skin hydration, firmness, brightness, tone, and overall condition, plus reductions in fine lines, dark spots and circles, and wrinkles. “Interestingly,” Ziegler notes, “assessment of these parameters showed continued improvements after treatment ended.” Namely, while 19% of participants rated their facial skin as attractive at baseline, that percentage had increased to 65% following 12 weeks of supplementation and to 69% two weeks post-trial. Ziegler’s take: “It’s exciting to see consumers noticing a lasting effect, which demonstrates the continuous skin nourishment that carotenoids can provide.”
Seeds of Change
“Another ingredient formulators should consider is Nigella sativa,” von Oppen-Bezalel suggests. Also known as black seed oil, it’s appeared in traditional pharmacopeia for millennia, with science now substantiating its benefits as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, pigment-controlling, barrier-protecting, wound-healing, and all-around “detoxing” ingredient for skin.
TriNutra’s black seed oil preparation—cold-pressed and standardized to 3% of the main active thymoquinone with low free fatty acids—has scientific backing for its ability to hydrate, boost age-related mitochondrial function, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, and simply “energize” skin, von Oppen-Bezalel says, “thus revitalizing and rejuvenating it and contributing to a flawless appearance.”
What’s more, research on its mitochondrial effects as expressed in ATP production links it “to efficient energy production through improved respiration and metabolism of sugars and fat,” von Oppen-Bezalel explains, adding that a recent study13 shows that the formulation—which TriNutra brands B’utyQuin for use in cosmeceuticals—“can play an important long-term role in maintaining skin homeostasis” by regulating growth of the Malassezia furfur, Candida albicans, and Staphylococcus aureus pathogens associated with seborrhoea, dandruff, and other skin conditions.
Proprietary TriNutra research found that B’utyQuin even helps regulate the balance between the skin and gut microbiomes—landing it at the epicenter of a trend celebrating the microbes inhabiting our gut, our skin, and a whole lot more.
“The world of microbes is definitely on minds these days,” Simpson says. “With our overly hygienic practices and daily use of multiple products on our skin, chronic skin conditions are on the rise. Consumers are considering the skin-microbiome approach because they’re interested in how it affects the gut-skin axis and because of the ‘minimalist’ and ‘balancing’ effect it can have both from within and when applied topically.”
AIDP’s Ford agrees. “Consumers are increasingly aware of the gut-skin axis,” she says, noting that by impairing the skin’s barrier function, an imbalanced gut microbiome can allow toxins to enter circulation and accumulate on the skin, causing oxidative stress, inflammation, discoloration, and collagen and elastin breakdown.
That’s why she promotes use of AIDP’s BeautyOLIGO prebiotic in nutricosmetic formulations. Clinical data shows that the galacto-oligosaccharide helps optimize the gut environment by stimulating growth of beneficial bacteria and stanching growth of the bad, strengthening the immune system, eliminating toxins, and inhibiting activation of collagen- and elastin-degrading enzymes. The result, she says, is proven wrinkle reduction, improved skin tone, and hydration.
“New research within our Naticol type 1 natural marine collagen line demonstrates gut-health and inflammation benefits, as well, due to its unique composition,” Ford continues, which hints at a new frontier for this skincare active with a lengthy history of research and use.
Naticol, for example, helps rejuvenate the body’s own collagen system, leading to tighter, firmer, and smoother-looking skin, Ford says. Sourced entirely from fish skin and scales, the ingredient is also bioavailable, “allowing the body to circulate necessary amino acids used to synthesize collagen fibrils and other connective tissues.” Clinical results show improvements in skin hydration, firmness, elasticity, and wrinkle reduction with as little as 2.5 g daily.
Ford also highlights the benefits of AIDP’s Keragen-IV vegetarian keratin, a digestible powder that amps up the body’s innate mechanism for producing collagen types IV and VII between the dermis and epidermis, targeting deep wrinkles, nail strength, and hair-follicle strength.
“If you look at formulations across the nutricosmetic and cosmeceutical space,” Ford concludes, “you’ll notice many ingredients that cross into both areas—not just keratin and collagen, but hyaluronic acid, pre- and probiotics, and even certain vitamins and minerals. So, there’s room to grow and diversify in this space.”