A Fresh Look at Nutricosmetics: Where Are We Now?

By Paula Simpson, Nutribloom Consulting | September 4, 2013

Advancing technologies and emerging clinical data have helped propel the market over the last decade.

The appearance of your skin (and how well it ages) is influenced by many factors, including genetics, environmental toxins, hormonal changes and metabolic processes. Today we know a combination of these factors leads to cumulative changes of skin structure, function and appearance. Basically, the lifestyle you lead can accelerate or delay how well your body ages (including your skin).

Evolving from the nutraceutical and cosmeceutical markets, nutricosmetics are oral based natural health products containing targeted nutrients and antioxidant mixed elixirs that can have a preventative or treatment effect on the skin, hair or nails.

Figure 1

The founder of nutricosmetics was the Swedish biochemist Ake Dahlgren, who launched the first such product (Imedeen brand) in the late 1980s. He proposed that skin cells were capable of absorbing available nutrients (bioavailability), thereby improving the appearance of the outside of the skin. His catchphrase was: “Beautiful skin begins within.”

Many were skeptical of such claims and saw his theory as more of a marketing ploy. However, in the past 10 years advancing manufacturing technologies and growing clinical data have created a favorable body of evidence to support the efficacy of nutricosmetics. And within this past year we have seen an upswing of nutritional beauty products launched within North America.

Unlike previous products, nutricosmetics today come in many forms, including tinctures, beverages, powdered stick packs, gummy bears or functional foods (as opposed to the traditional capsule or soft gel). Although the therapeutic value of such formulas may be compromised, the flexibility and convenience of these types of beverages and functional foods are resonating well with the hectic lifestyles consumers lead today.

Market Analytics
In 2011, global sales of nutricosmetics reached $4.5 billion (70% of these sales came from just two countries, Japan and China). According to Eurormonitor, year-on-year growth did not fall below 5% over 2006-2011, but for further global growth nutricosmetic manufacturers need to target markets with an aging population and where the annual disposable income (ADI) is rising.

Since the eastern markets retain the majority of market share, many experts still believe North America to be a virtually “untapped market.” With an aging population, rising medical health care costs and increased desire to “age well and look well,” North America is expected to shift from lifestyle treatment to prevention interventions (making nutricosmetics a primary player within the healthy aging marketplace). (For key consumer drivers that will grow this sector see Figure 2.)

Figure 2

Positive Research Continues for Oral Photo-Protective Nutrients
As clinical research strengthens, with favorable data on oral antioxidants and their potential protection of skin from ultraviolet radiation (UVR) induced reactive oxygen species (photo-aging), nutricosmetics may offer suitable benefits to complement topical SPFs. Polyphenols in particular—including flavonoids, flavonols, catechins and stilbenes—are present in the diet from plant based sources acting as antioxidants and protecting the plant from damage by bacteria, fungi and UVR. Additionally, carotenoids continue to show promising clinical evidence toward systemic photo-protection.

Look Well, Feel Well, Do Well
Since 2005, natural skin care has been the fastest growing segment within the personal care sector. Consumers today are more educated about the ingredients in their products and how they may impact their health. Mass beauty brands that historically monopolized the market are beginning to pay attention to this upcoming natural health/beauty market, developing or acquiring brands along the way and building parallel strategies.

Nutricosmetics have gained traction within this sector. These consumers believe in holistic principles in managing a healthy rate of aging. Sustainability-conscious brands with a genuine mission, beyond beauty, are gaining popularity because of their strong moral values toward beauty, wellness and environmental responsibility. According to Nielsen, 63% of consumers under the age of 40 are willing to pay more for socially responsible products and services.

Management of Atopic Skin Conditions
More than 50 years ago, traditional dermatology practices believed nutrition had an influence on occurrence of chronic skin conditions (such as acne vulgaris). Ongoing industry debate eventually offset this belief whereby there was little regard and interest between nutrition and atopic skin conditions. More recently, promising human clinical studies are shifting the paradigm again, causing many to look more closely at nutrition/nutrient deficiencies and the influence on skin health.

Food-friendly bacteria (pre- and probiotics) have been well documented in effectively treating infection, promoting healthy immunity, managing systemic inflammation and in the treatment and management of atopic dermatitis and eczema. Recent studies have also shown that oral therapy with pre- and probiotics is effective in the prevention and treatment for both atopic dermatitis and eczema in children and adults. Although the biochemical pathways have yet to be identified in relation to acne, pre- and probiotics may offer an alternative to traditional treatments through their strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-pathogenic effects within the body (these being critical issues related to acne).

Consuming healthy bacteria through diet and/or supplements helps to neutralize toxic byproducts, defend the lining of the intestine, increase the bioavailability of nutrients and protect the digestive tract against infectious microbes. Promoting optimal health of the digestive system can be a primary defense to restore health and balance of the gut-skin axis.

Other ingredients of interest within this sector in managing oxidative stress and inflammation include endogenous antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase), omega 3 (alpha-linolenic acid, ALA) and more recently omega 7 (palmitoleic acid) and omega 9 (oleic acid).

So is aging an inevitable process? Yes. Aging cannot be reversed, per se, but rather we can manage how well we age, and can help to control those factors that may prematurely age us (i.e., sun exposure, diet, supplementation and our environment).

As we have become more concerned with managing the signs of aging, the cosmeceutical and nutricosmetic markets are responding by combining their expertise to offer both topical and internal products to bring a wholesome and responsible approach toward healthy beauty and aging.
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