Nutricosmetics – beauty products you ingest rather than apply – promise everything from firmer skin to thicker hair. But do they actually work?
Words: Claire Coleman
Imagine a holiday without sun cream – no white streaks or sticky skin acting like a magnet to the sand. Instead, your protection has already been delivered neatly and efficiently by a daily pill, leaving you to relax, unfettered by worries about whether you’ve missed a bit on your back.
That’s the future, according to trend forecasters, who predict that global sales of ingestible beauty – stuff you swallow, rather than apply – will reach £5billion by 2020, more than double the £2.3billion we spent in 2013. Dubbed ‘nutricosmetics’, these powders, drinks and pills are set to radically change our beauty routines. While the sun protection pill and a tablet that will apparently stop hair going grey are still in development, shelves are already heaving with ingestible products that promise to smooth skin, strengthen nails and give you hair worthy of its own shampoo advert.
In many ways, this isn’t surprising. The link between what we eat and how we look is a given and, from contraceptives to isotretinoin (for acne sufferers), we know pills can have a huge impact on our skin – often proving more effective than something we apply topically. “If you think about how few drugs are delivered in patch format, and how many are by pill or injection, that gives you an idea of how difficult it is to get something through the skin,” says Dr Gary Moss of the School of Pharmacy at Keele University.
Of course, some of the biggest names in skincare have been saying this for years. In 1995, Dr Howard Murad expanded his skincare range to include supplements, believing that “topical skincare products address only 20% of your skin. The other 80% is affected by what you eat and drink, including your dietary supplements.” So why the excitement now? According to Global Industry Analysts’ 2015 report, the trend is being driven by a number of factors, including the “rapidly ageing population”, “the rising significance of the beauty- from-within concept” and “growing concerns over side effects posed by topical cosmetics”.
Nutritionist Gabriela Peacock, whose range of supplements are stocked in Selfridges, also believes that in an increasingly time-poor society, we’re looking for fast and easy options to enhance our lives. “In an ideal world, we’d get all of our nutrients from our diet, but most of us don’t live ideal lifestyles. Stress, alcohol and pollution all deplete our bodies of vitamins and minerals that our hair and skin rely on to function. That’s where supplements come in.”
The problem is that it’s not a simple equation. “Just because we know that, for example, inflammation is associated with ageing, and that coenzyme Q10 (an antioxidant found in the body) can reduce inflammation, doesn’t mean that taking lots of coenzyme Q10 will make you look younger,” says Lucy Jones, dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.
It’s this uncertainty that led Sara Palmer Hussey to create Lumity (£79/month, lumitylife.co.uk), supplements that promise to significantly improve the tone and texture of your skin and the way you feel. “Ageing is a multi-faceted process, but the body has systems in place to deal with all aspects of it,” she says. “So rather than, for example, giving the body antioxidants, it’s about giving the body the nutrients it needs to support its own antioxidant-generating process.” In other words, your body already has the tools to deal with the problems we face as we age, and the solution is not to give it more tools, but to help it use its existing tools more efficiently.
Which nutricosmetics are right for you?
But how do the new beauty supplements differ from everyday multivitamins? Well, these may contain vitamin D and B vitamins, which are essential for healthy hair, skin and nails, but a supplement that specifically targets hair, skin and nails is likely to contain higher doses of these vitamins to ensure they take effect. The new generation of supplements go a step further still, with ingredients such as collagen and hyaluronic acid designed to make your body, skin and hair behave optimally, and look good in the process.
According to Jones, though, more does not always mean better. “The European Food Safety Authority suggests upper limits for vitamins and minerals and you should abide by these.” Excesses of water soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C will simply pass through the body, but fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A and vitamin E can in extreme cases build up in the body to toxic levels, where they can result in symptoms including nausea, headaches and blotchy skin. Essentially, if you want to take multiple supplements of any kind (beauty or daily vitamins) you need to check with a qualified nutritionist or GP that you’re not cumulatively exceeding safe levels. Ultimately, it pays to do your research first.
And look for the pills that have clinical trials to back them up. Despite impressive testimonials from women who have used her products – “my skin feels softer”, “my hair has got fuller” – Palmer Hussey is investing in trials to prove the efficacy of her supplement. Because, while a luxurious face cream might get away with scant evidence for efficacy, with pills, it’s about whether it can do what it promises.
“If there’s no robust evidence that a supplement works, it won’t be successful,” says Emily Saunders, beauty buyer at Selfridges where nutricosmetics are a keystone of the store’s new everyBODY campaign. “Shoppers now extensively research products before investing, so they will lean towards those with proven results.”
And this is having an impact. In recent years, manufacturers of a number of products have had trials published in peer-reviewed journals. One piece of research showed that Perfectil Platinum protected skin against the ageing effects of cold weather, leaving women with fewer fine lines. Another found that Imedeen Time Perfection can improve the appearance and moisture levels of sun-damaged skin. While liquid Gold Collagen (£69.99 for one month’s supply, gold-collagen.com) significantly reduced the depth of wrinkles.
There seems to be good evidence that omega fatty acids can improve the texture and hydration of skin, and that beta carotene has a protective effect against sun damage. However, as Jones points out, many supplements contain multiple ingredients so it’s hard to know specifically what is having the effect, and that trials are usually small scale and often funded by the companies making them. “That doesn’t mean they can’t be trusted, it’s just they are publishing the trial to sell a product,” she says.
In fact, nutricosmetics could be just the beginning of a much wider beauty revolution. While the simplicity of ingesting a pill is always going to appeal, Lucie Greene, worldwide director of The Innovation Group at J Walter Thompson, believes that in the future, we’re also going to see a move towards hybrid products that blur the line between food and beauty, health and aesthetics.
“Beauty stores are starting to stock coconut water and chefs Hemsley + Hemsley have been touting the skin-preserving powers of bone broth for a while,” she says. “Then there’s Australian brand The Beauty Chef (stocked in Selfridges), which produces drinks ‘designed to increase production of collagen and promote a radiant, naturally plumped complexion’.”
Victoria Buchanan, Trends Analyst at The Future Laboratory agrees and says that increasingly, food and drink brands will be adding beauty benefits to their products. “In Asia, we’ve seen a collagen beer and recently I saw cooking oils designed to have beauty benefits. We can expect to see a wave of beauty boutique-cafes focusing on inner and outer beauty and pairing cosmetics with a skin-nurturing menu.”
The trick is to ingest enough of the good stuff so it has a fighting chance of making its way though to the skin. “Your skin is the last organ to benefit from the nutrients you consume,” says Peacock. Indeed, the body allocates nutrients according to where they’re most needed. The brain is prioritised, then your heart, lungs and kidneys take precedence. Fundamentally, good skin will not make the difference between you living and dying, so it's low down on your body's list of priorities. Beauty supplements seek to redress the balance, to make sure the skin gets a look-in too. “To get your skin really glowing,” adds Peacock, “You’ve got work from the inside out.”
The wonder stuff
Stylist tested 12 hair and beauty supplements over six months. Many left us underwhelmed but these four made an impact…
H30 Night Repair
As tested by Kitty McGee, Stylist’s executive fashion director
They say: “Diminishes puffiness, grey circles and tired-looking skin.”
We say: “I noticed that my skin was much more even in tone. Plus, my visia scan [multi-spectral imaging that reveals damage on and beneath the surface of the skin] shows a noticeable improvement – I now have less wrinkling and a slight reduction in redness.” £30 for one month’s supply, Rejuvenated (cultbeauty.co.uk)
As tested by Sarah Crowley, Stylist’s senior content solutions manager
They say: “After a 14 week treatment cycle, Collagen Renew reduces wrinkles by up to 25%.”
We say: “Luckily, these tablets have an orange taste, so they aren’t unpleasant to take. While my Visia scan didn’t show up any drastic change after six months – my pore size improved by a modest 6% – my skin started to look more even and more awake almost immediately.” £89 for one month’s supply, IOMA (boots.com)
Women’s Max Strength Supplements
As tested by Natasha Tomalin, Stylist’s art director
They say: “Proven to reduce hair shedding by 18% and increase hair thickness by 7%.”
We say: “Once I had stomached the taste of rotten fish and oranges, these supplements have made my hair feel a lot thicker and fuller. After six months, my scan revealed that my hair consists of 20% more strengthening vitamins and minerals and hydration levels have risen by 40%.” £51.99 for one month’s supply, Viviscal (boots.com)
Tricho Complex Hair Nutrition Formula
As tested by Gemma Crisp, Stylist’s associate editor
They say: “A mix of vitamins for healthy hair. 79% of women said their hair felt fuller after two weeks.”
We say: “These did make me feel slightly queasy, probably because they contain 100% of your daily recommended iron intake. However, the six-month scan showed that my hair is growing 35% faster than before.” £45 for a 45 day supply, Philip Kingsley (net-a-porter.com)
Photography: Sarra Fleur Abou-El-Haj/thelicensingproject.com, Getty Images, iStock
Additional words: Becca Pratt