The pandemic changed the very complexion of how we “do” skincare.
Among the many neologisms to come out of the pandemic, “maskne” stands apart in conveying just how widely COVID-19 has reverberated. Now part of the lexicon, maskne, or mask-related acne, is just one of the reasons consumers may have adjusted their skincare and beauty regimens over the past year.
The pandemic changed the very complexion of how we “do” skincare. As Elyse Lovett, vice president, marketing, Nutrition21 (Harrison, NY), puts it, “COVID-19 gave everyone a pause when it came to beauty routines.” While many discovered self-care, others “ditched full-face makeup entirely,” she says. And with the closure of salons sending Google searches for “how to cut your own hair” into the stratosphere, an entire class of amateur hairdressers was born.
Now, as life starts stumbling back to normal, it’s anyone’s guess as to how long these shifts will stick. But Lovett bets that “skinimalism”—yet another new coinage connoting a lighter touch toward makeup and skincare—won’t go away. She even sees it as “an opportunity for companies to help consumers love the skin they’re in, and provide solutions that keep skin and hair free and clear from the inside out.”
Built into this pandemic-era skin- and haircare refresh is an ever-so-slight twist in product positioning “to be more positive,” Lovett points out, “and less about fighting the aging process.”
Particularly among younger consumers, who already embrace a more inclusive model of beauty, the goal isn’t so much to “improve” skin as to protect it—turning features like UV defense and the promise of increased elasticity and a glowing tone into popular perks, Lovett says.
“The language in the market is changing,” she observes. “Before it was all about antiaging and combating the aging process. Now, it’s much more positive, directed at the root of the issue.”
Seeing the Whole Picture
All of which reinforces what Zev Ziegler, head of global brand and marketing, health, Lycored (Branchburg, NJ), calls “the big theme” in beauty today—namely, “a more holistic approach.”
Consumers, he says, “understand outer beauty as something intrinsically linked to inner wellness and reflect that in their beauty goals.” Lycored research from 2019 found that the 72% of skincare consumers who seek a “healthy glow” view it as a “holistic quality” that “can only be achieved through the right balance of external and ‘from-within’ factors,” Ziegler claims.
Krutika Sen, business affairs manager, Marinova Pty Ltd. (Tasmania, Australia), agrees, calling holistic skincare “where wellness meets beauty.” And like others, she thinks it’s creating exciting opportunities.
How so? “Consumers are embracing the gut-skin connection and accept that skin reflects inner health,” she says. “Ingredients backed by scientific evidence supporting attributes like bacterial balance, anti-inflammation, and immunity are thus seeing higher demand.”
That’s goosing sales of nutricosmetics—which, in the U.S., at least, have historically ceded the spotlight to skincare products that work from the outside in. Yet Nutrition Business Journal’s 2020 Condition Specific Report charted 2019 domestic beauty-from-within sales of more than $1.2 billion and projected a market value for the sector of $1.6 billion by 2023.
This doesn’t surprise Douglas Jones, global sales and marketing manager, BioCell Technology (Irvine, CA), who calls beauty-from-within “one of the growing trends in health and beauty over the past few years.”
Global Cosmetic Insider recently published survey data1 showing that 82% of consumers believe the best means of meeting their beauty objectives involves adopting an “inside-out approach using supplements,” Jones notes. Up to 88% percent of respondents counted supplements among the regular features of their daily skincare and body-care routines, with the top-four preferred dosage forms being capsules (72%), tablets (60%), pills (57%), and gummies (50%).
Ziegler concludes: “There’s no question that consumers, especially younger ones, now see beauty-from-within as mainstream.” He even thinks 2020’s lockdowns increased trial of “ingestible skincare” and “encouraged people to turn to nutrition and supplementation as part of their beauty journeys.”
The Oxidation Equation
Doing so makes sense when one considers how skin ages in the first place.
As Abdul Alkayali, vice president, Certified Nutraceuticals (Temecula, CA), notes, “Genetics, hormones, UV radiation, pollution, and habits like smoking all age the skin.” And what do those factors have in common? “All generate reactive oxygen species that damage the skin’s antioxidative defense mechanisms,” Alkayali says.
Liki von Oppen-Bezalel, business development director, TriNutra (Harrison, NY), goes so far as to call the inflammatory conditions that prematurely age skin “inflammaging,” adding that consumers who understand the concept likely also understand that products formulated both to moisturize skin and to ward off inflammation have a better chance of success.
Power from Plants
The ingredients that do this, explains Shaheen Majeed, president worldwide, Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ), act on different pathways, “perhaps inhibiting the formation of advanced glycation end products—or AGEs—protecting cells against free-radical damage and singlet-oxygen-induced lipid peroxidation, preventing the fragmentation and degradation of collagen and elastin fibers, and acting in an anti-inflammatory manner.”
As it happens, adds Ziegler, a growing body of evidence suggests that by shoring up the body’s free-radical-fighting reserves with plant-based antioxidants—popular ingredients with contemporary consumers in any category—“we can balance the skin’s response to environmental and other stresses.”
For example, a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled trial2 exploring how Lycored’s Lycoderm ingredient affects visible beauty parameters found that after 16 weeks of supplementation, the proprietary blend of plant-sourced lycopene, phytoene, phytofluene, and carnosic acid—all optimized for skin—generated “significant reductions in wrinkle severity and fine lines” in the supplementation group, Ziegler says. “The vast majority also reported that their skin felt smoother.”
Brien Quirk, director of R&D, Draco Natural Products (San Jose, CA), notes that his team is exploring the potential of whole-grain antioxidants in skin protection. He cites one study3 showing that three novel quinoa phytoecdysteroids proved effective in scavenging free radicals and chelating iron ions, “and might prevent or delay both collagenase-related skin damage and oxidative stress.”
Draco is also looking at how black rice extract might protect against UV radiation, how corn silk might repair and hydrate skin—“based on its naturally occurring allantoin content,” says Quirk—and what, if any, benefits barley antioxidants might deliver.
The team’s even exploring anti-inflammatory components in sandalwood-nut oil and how they might mitigate eczema and rosacea. As Quirk explains, “The active compound—the fatty acid ximenynic acid—potently blocks the cyclooxygenase and arachadonate inflammation pathways involved in these conditions.” Encouragingly, gene-chip analysis performed by Draco’s Australian partner revealed “powerful antiaging effects at the genomic level.”
On the topical side, compounds called fucoidans, which appear naturally in the cell walls of brown seaweeds to protect the algae against waterborne pathogens and environmental assault, may display bioactivity in us, says Marinova’s Sen. And the company’s investment into dermal research “paved the way for the topical use of fucoidans in skincare.”
One study4 involving Marinova’s Maritech Synergy—a complex of organic fucoidan and marine polyphenols that Sen says has twice the antioxidant power of vitamin C—found “great potential” for deploying high-purity fucoidan in the topical treatment of inflammatory skin conditions like eczema. “Given the unmet global need for effective, nontoxic treatments for debilitating inflammatory skin conditions,” Sen says, “our fucoidan’s potential to offer relief to millions is exciting.”
Strengthening the Skin’s Matrix
Tim Hammond, vice president of marketing and sales, Bergstrom Nutrition (Vancouver, WA), says that for years, Bergstrom noted anecdotal evidence suggesting that the company’s OptiMSM brand of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) could improve skin health. “But only recently has the science supported this claim,” he says.
The compound appears to work via several mechanisms, including by enhancing the body’s ability to fight oxidative stress and decreasing the damage that internal inflammation—caused by stress, diet, or even normal bodily processes—can inflict upon skin.
But in light of the fact that MSM is 34% sulfur, the company is exploring its role as a donor of this “beauty mineral,” as Hammond calls it, believing it could participate in everything from collagen, hyaluronic acid, and keratohyalin synthesis to promoting collagen’s disulfide bonding and proper crosslinking.
Why does this matter? Because collagen is the skin’s most important structural protein. But when age slows cellular renewal, and collagen breaks down due to external, internal, or time-related factors, the skin loses moisture, elasticity, and firmness—and starts looking old. Thus, ingredients that strengthen collagen are hot commodities.
Consider the results of a 2015 clinical trial5 demonstrating the benefits of oral supplementation with OptiMSM. According to Hammond, all participants in the supplement group exhibited a 38% decrease, on average, in the number of wrinkles. “Along with that, the study reported improvements in skin elasticity and firmness,” he adds.
A 2020 follow-up study6 showed that oral supplementation with MSM yielded “significant improvement from baseline in facial-wrinkle severity and improvements in skin hydration, firmness, and elasticity,” Hammond continues. “A key takeaway is that OptiMSM effectively reduces visual signs of skin aging at doses as low as 1 g.”
Sabinsa’s Majeed emphasizes that while crosslinking improves collagen’s mechanical properties and increases biocompatibility, blending the protein with other proteins and polysaccharides may also increase its stability. “And collagen peptides in their hydrolyzed and most bioavailable forms are finding favor in nutricosmetics,” he adds.
To that end, Alkayali says that Certified Nutraceuticals’ hydrolyzed fish collagen supplies 18 amino acids that “promote healthy connective tissue at the cellular level.” The ingredient enters the body through the small intestine’s epithelial cells and goes into circulation as smaller peptides and free amino acids that “provide protein building blocks for healthy skin, hair, and nails, including high percentages of the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline,” he says.
Spreading the Wealth
All of which is a feat for an ingredient whose legacy is rooted in its joint and bone support. But collagen’s skincare crossover illustrates how research into a nutritional compound’s benefits to one system can pay dividends in others that no one could have anticipated from the start.
Indeed, says von Oppen-Bezalel, “Sometimes we look at an ingredient, place it in a category, and leave it at that—forgetting the influence it might have on other areas of the body. But as we broaden our perspectives and dare to innovate, we’ll continue to find that some ingredients from the wellness sphere may have strong links to skincare.”
Such is the case with TriNutra’s B’utyQuin, a full-spectrum, cold-pressed black seed oil that arose from a deeper dive into studies on its sibling ingredient, ThymoQuin.
As von Oppen-Bezalel explains, the company knew that ThymoQuin acts strongly on mitochondrial function and metabolism while also supporting the inflammatory response—and, she adds, “there’s increasing interest in boosting cellular metabolism and improving mitochondrial energy production because of links to a key antiaging theory: the caloric-restriction theory of aging.”
Standardized to 3% thymoquinone, TriNutra’s black seed oil “affects the functions of aging in ways similar to the caloric-restriction theory,” she continues. It enhances mitochondrial rejuvenation to improve cellular respiration, metabolism, and energy production while also acting as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Clinical results show that when formulated into a cream, the ingredient increased skin hydration, luminosity, firmness, and elasticity compared to placebo, von Oppen-Bezalel says, while in supplement form, it has “excellent bioavailability, as evidenced by blood tests only three hours after consumption.”
Similarly, Lustriva, Nutrition21’s proprietary bonded arginine silicate, got its start in sports nutrition, where it increased blood flow, raised nitric oxide levels, and reduced markers of exercise-induced muscle damage. But when the company adapted the formula into a patented complex of bonded arginine silicate plus magnesium biotinate—a biotin form with 40 times the solubility of the D-biotin more commonly found in beauty supplements—it discovered that both the biotin and the silicon’s greater bioavailability provided nutritional and structural support for hair and skin, Lovett says.
Results of a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study7 show that the ingredient, trade-named Lustriva, increased hair thickness and reduced facial wrinkles and fine lines relative to baseline after three weeks of use. With 160 mg providing an efficacious dose, Lovett assures that it’s “versatile and easy to use,” with potential applications running from traditional supplements like capsules and tablets to gummies and functional beverages.
So which other ingredients are waiting for their beauty debut?
Quirk says Draco has its eyes on “bioactive fermentation products,” and found in internal in vitro research that Baikal skullcap extract in particular exhibited increased anti-inflammatory activity following fermentation relative to before. “The probiotics generate metabolites with unique bioactivity,” he continues, “and we hope at some point to have more data to support offering innovative new ingredients.”
As for beauty trends themselves, Majeed thinks the future lies with products that “put the customer first,” addressing choices like vegan, cruelty-free, fragrance free, and organic, in addition to meeting core skincare needs. “This embraces individuality and uniqueness,” he says. “The increase in cultural diversity means that the one-size-fits-all concept that targets mass demographics is no longer enough.”
Ziegler agrees—and applauds this “more inclusive approach to beauty that embraces all skin types and genders.” After all, he says, products that generate beauty from within “don’t see gender, race, or age—only users at a cellular level, offering a liberating platform for inclusivity and equality.”