Beauty Foods & Cosmeceuticals: Alive and Well in Europe

By Joerg Gruenwald, Analyze-Realize AG | September 15, 2007

Analyzing the active ingredients, claims and science behind some of market’s leading cosmeceutical and beauty food formulations.

Functional cosmetics and targeting beauty from the inside are among the fastest growing segments in the cosmetics and nutraceuticals market in Europe, with anti-aging, anti-wrinkle and anti-cellulite among the top claims made for many products containing a variety of mostly natural substances.

There is a long tradition of beauty products for internal use, starting in 1964 with the marketing of Merz Spezialdragées and its marketing slogan that “natural beauty comes from inside.” In recent years, however, more food ingredients have been discovered for their benefits in topical and internal cosmetic applications.

By clearing up the relevant mechanisms, research has brought the anti-aging action of various foods to the consumers’ awareness. The new category of “beauty foods” has since been formed. These beauty foods boast a multitude of claims, but can they deliver?

The Global Market Situation

The connection between healthy foods and beauty is not a new realization. And taking supplements to improve appearance is not a particularly new idea. Therefore it comes as a surprise that it has taken so long for beauty foods to enter the market as a category.

At present, the world cosmetics market is worth approximately $60 billion. Cosmeceuticals, being regulated as supplements, are estimated to be worth between $14 and $20 billion, with a growth rate of 8-12% annually. The U.S. cosmeceutical market is estimated at about $5-6 billion, while in the EU the market is worth between $ 3 and $5 billion. The Japanese are a bit more advanced on this front, which is reflected in a market worth of about $ 6-8 billion.

The market value of oral beauty supplements in key markets in Europe varies, ranging from $13 million in Sweden (9% growth) to $223 million in France (7% growth). The U.S. market, on the other hand, is estimated at about $740 million, posting a growth rate of about 10%.

In Europe, The Netherlands is expected to experience the most growth in the over 60 population between 2005 and 2010. Japan, the U.S. and France are also expected to experience significant growth in the over 60s population during the same period.

Worldwide, herbal ingredients are preferred over chemical ingredients, and, as the market segment continues to develop, new active ingredients have a lot of potential. Also, consumers are prepared to pay a premium for anti-aging products. At the same time, a growing awareness of the link between diet and health, in addition to physical appearance, makes the consumer more open to the concept of “beauty from within.”

Leading Ingredients

In an attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-aging ingredients currently on the market, Analyze-Realize, Berlin, Germany, conducted in-depth research, including contacting manufacturers for clinical data. Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is found in liver or yeast. It is an anti-inflammatory that improves collagen production, leading to a reduction of the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. There is a double-blind, randomized clinical trial with 33 women aged 40-75 to support a significant effect for reducing signs of photo-aging.

Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) is an amino acid naturally occurring in omega 3-rich fish like wild salmon, sardines and anchovies. It is claimed to help increase skin integrity. According to the results of preliminary in vitro studies, DMAE may decrease protein cross-linking, which is a hallmark of cellular aging possibly due to free radical damage. There clearly is room for more substantial clinical evidence to support this claim.

Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) is found in a variety of sources, including vegetable oil, nuts, turnip greens and certain fruits like mango. A well-known antioxidant used in cosmetics for conservation purposes, it has recently been discovered as a topical anti-aging compound claimed to reduce skin aging through its impact on oxidative processes. However, the only conclusive results supporting this claim have been achieved in animal studies, where vitamin E was shown to be effective in decreasing skin wrinkling associated with UV damage. Human studies, so far, have yielded more conflicting results. This is another ingredient that would benefit from further scientific study in the realm of skin health.
Rosmarinic acid, an antioxidant found in herbs such as oregano, lemon balm, sage, marjoram and rosemary is thought to help provide protection from skin aging. To date, there is little evidence to support this, despite the fact that the antioxidant effect is well documented. Other benefits attributed to rosmarinic acid include anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-mycotic effects, which make it a valuable ingredient for cosmeceutical products.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is primarily found in citrus fruits. A well-known antioxidant, it is claimed to protect against skin aging by stimulating collagen formation. Indeed there is evidence for some beneficial effect, but ascorbic acid is difficult to stabilize in topical preparations. So far, there are no data to be found supporting any effect of vitamin C ingestion on the skin.

Grape seed extract is claimed to relieve erythema caused by UV radiation. Indications for this claimed action have been shown in a randomized, double-blind study with 42 subjects receiving placebo or a grape seed extract supplement. The verum group showed 13% less erythema than the control group. The results of the study were published in Pharmacology and Physiology.

Flavanols like epicatechin and catechins are found in cocoa and tea. There is evidence to support a claim that ingesting cocoa-rich beverages may reduce skin response to UV radiation by increasing subcutaneous blood flow. Results substantiating this claim were obtained in a study with 24 female volunteers who either received a high flavanol cocoa beverage or a flow-flavanol beverage.

Brands with Claimed Anti-aging Effects

One of the oldest oral beauty products, Merz Spezialdragées has been marketed since 1964. It contains 14 active substances, among them vitamins A, C, E, the B vitamins, biotin, beta-carotene, iron-II-fumarate, and the amino acid N-acetyl-DL-methonine as basis for keratin. The claimed action of Merz Spezialdragées is improving the appearance of skin, hair and nails. Forty years after its first introduction to the market, the two-step positive effect on capillary circulation was clinically proven and patented.

Oenobiol Anti-age is claimed to significantly reduce imperfections on the skin’s surface. It is part of a line of supplements with a separate product for each claim. Its main active ingredient is the antioxidant actilycopene; it also contains lutein and selenium. Its efficacy has been clinically and dermatologically tested in a mono-centric, placebo-controlled post-marketing study, showing an 89% reduced activity of free radicals from the first month of treatment. Imperfections of the skin surface are visibly reduced after three months of treatment. Observed parameters were skin density, skin thickness, skin surface (roughness), and serum concentration of antioxidants. Each observed parameter was improved in a statistically significant way compared to placebo.

Imedeen Time Perfection is a product that contains as its main ingredients proteins and polysaccharides isolated from a deep-sea fish in a composition closely resembling the skin’s. Other constituents include a complex based on natural lycopene, grape seed extract and vitamin C. The product’s claims to improve skin elasticity, hydration and texture were proven in a scientific trial with 144 women and four-skin quality measuring systems. This mono-centric, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study took place over a period of 12 months. According to the results, more than 50% of the study participants experienced significant improvement of the observed parameters after 12 months. The study was published in J Eur ACad Dermatol Venereol in September 1998.

The combination pack Lierac Système Global Minceur contains a cellulite gel with caffeine and licorice extracts, plus two supplements for reduction of fat and water in the body. The product is mainly based on conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and green tea extract, both substances that have been shown to aid in losing weight. The oral formulation also contains vitamins C and E, selenium, evening primrose oil and borage oil. The claim is to reduce cellulite and to slim the body. However, while a corresponding effect has been reported for the constituents, no research data could be found to substantiate the claim for the product itself.

Innéov Firmness, a product coming from the joint venture between Nestlé and L’Oréal, is a supplement claiming to improve skin firmness. It contains lacto-lycopene (a proprietary form of lycopene with claimed higher bioavailability than other forms of lycopene), isoflavones from soy, and vitamin C. The effectiveness of the product was proven in a self-assessment test of 305 women; also in in vitro tests proving increased production of collagen fibers and increased cell reproduction rates. A clinical study including 90 menopausal women for a duration of 6 months proved significant increase of skin density as measured by ultrasound scans and skin surface (measured by 3D skin replication technique) in the verum group after 6 months of taking the supplement.

Inversion Femme is a supplement with two formulations, one to be taken in the morning and one in the evening. The “morning capsule” contains green tea extract, borage seed oil, vitamin C, zinc, and selenium, while the “evening capsule” contains grape seed extract, shark cartilage, vitamins B2, B5, B6, B8, as well as copper, iron and fish oil. The product claims to promote nail and hair growth, improve skin firmness, reduce wrinkles, improve skin hydration and facilitate losing body fat mass. Each proposed action was confirmed in a separate clinical trial, each over a sampling time of 8 weeks.

The branded ingredient Praventin consists mainly of hydrolyzed whey protein. Cysteine and cysteine peptide, both constituents of whey protein, are precursors to glutathione, which is an important antioxidant. Previously marketed as an energy ingredient and for liver health, it now claims to improve skin smoothness and softness. Two placebo-controlled trials, one with 64 consumers and another with 44 teenagers, have shown efficacy. The participants were supplemented with Praventin for 8 weeks. There was an overall considerable improvement in skin condition in the teenagers, with a median decrease of 71% in blemishes after 4 weeks and 95% after 8 weeks. Seventy-six percent of participants saw visible differences in their complexion, and 83% stated that they would like to continue taking Praventin. Further research into the product’s UV-protection properties is planned.

Another branded ingredient, Tonalin, contains CLA. It is claimed to influence fat metabolism towards the reduction of stored fat. The effectiveness of the ingredient has been proven in randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies. One study showed that mean body fat mass in male and female overweight participants was significantly reduced in the CLA group compared to placebo after 12 months of supplementation. In another study, this one on 20 participants with a normal BMI taking the supplement and doing standardized physical exercise, those in the CLA group had their body fat significantly reduced after 12 weeks. Both studies were published in peer-reviewed journals.

Norélift by Laboratoires Noreva is a functional anti-wrinkle jam designed to be used in conjunction with Noreva’s anti-aging cream and capsules range. It contains essential fatty acids, antioxidants, lycopene, noreline, and vitamins E and C. The claim is that one spoonful of Norélift a day for a month will reduce wrinkles and signs of fatigue. Research data supporting the claim could not be found.

The last and perhaps most whimsical example is a functional marshmallow product by Eiwa Confectionery. Not a European product, it nevertheless warrants mention for originality. These marshmallows are enriched with collagen, and the claim is that eating them is as effective in reducing signs of aging as a collagen injection. Of course, it is questionable if oral uptake of collagen will have any effect on the skin at all, and no data exist to support the claim.

More Evidence Could Boost Category

Cosmeceuticals and beauty foods contain low levels of active components, which in some countries, especially in Europe, is necessary since they are regulated as food or dietary supplements, and maximum dosages are fixed much lower than, for example, in the U.S. They often boast exorbitant claims without backing them up with proof of any kind.

Nevertheless, there is encouraging scientific evidence for the effectiveness of some products, even if the methodology often leaves room for improvement. More well-controlled clinical trials could improve the image of the products, and thus of the whole segment in the future.