Editor’s Note: “Nutricosmetics” debuted on Wikipedia on May 6. The date is personally meaningful, as it was the day before I turned 25 for the 17th time! The concept of nutricosmetics is alive and thriving, and I personally know many consumers willing and ready to purchase products that promise we will look 25 for another 17 years. Read on … P.S. Belated birthday presents can be sent to the Fountain of Youth foundation.

The Wikipedia authors limit the term “nutricosmetics” to nutritional supplements that support the function and structure of the skin, the largest organ of the body and the one that is visually most susceptible to showing the signs of aging. Ingredient suppliers say this term is expanding to the food and beverage category, with milk-based products - inherent powerhouses of nutrients that contribute to overall health and wellness - an ideal carrier of anti-aging ingredients.

“There is a large and growing market of consumers who are eager for easy-to-use, multifunctional food and beverage products that address both health concerns and appearance,” says Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice president and chief scientific officer, Fortitech, Schenectady, N.Y.

According to the hot-off-the-presses Datamonitor report entitled Seeking Beauty through Nutrition: Opportunities in Oral Beauty Products, the advancement of functional foods and the benefits that they can deliver has meant that the line between diet and beauty is increasingly blurred. Ingestible products claiming to have a positive effect on personal appearance are rolling out with the intention of providing consumers with a convenient way of improving facets of their appearance.

The skinny on skin

As the body’s outermost layer of protection, the skin is constantly exposed to stresses that cause it to age. External and internal sources of stress include air pollution, smoking, humidity, diet, hormonal fluctuations, and the most damaging - ultraviolet radiation from the sun. All of these stresses deplete the skin’s natural antioxidant defenses such as vitamin C and E, carotenoids and certain enzymes, increasing the skin’s susceptibility to losing elasticity, thinning, wrinkling, drying and blemishing.

In the past 30 years, scientists have learned a great deal about how UV rays damage skin, and today’s youth does a much better job of protecting the skin. Unfortunately, for most adults, the damage has been done, and it is now time to restore and slow further aging from life-long exposure to the elements.

In Food Cures: Treat Common Health Concerns, Look Younger & Live Longer, nutrition expert Joy Bauer writes that in addition to avoiding too much sun and smoking - the two worst things for your skin - fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins C and E nourish and protect the skin. Bauer also advocates eating foods that contain selenium, a mineral used in making a type of protein with antioxidant properties. Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain cell membranes so they allow water and nutrients in and keep toxins out. Foods rich in omega-3s also seem to be able to protect skin against sun damage, according to Bauer.

“The market for ingestible, nutritional skin care products is being driven by increased media exposure and a growing number of young and older health-conscious consumers who want to maintain or achieve a youthful and beautiful outward appearance,” according to Chaudhari. “The largest component of the nutritional skin care business is in anti-aging products with their promise of rejuvenation of aging skin, hair or nails, which is of particular interest to the aging baby boomer generation. However, growing numbers of younger people are becoming aware of the importance of nutrition on how they feel and look and have accepted the concept of ‘beauty from within.’”

Rob Bailey, marketing manager, Cognis Nutrition & Health, Cincinnati, adds: “Consumers want skincare products that deliver beauty benefits through nutrition.”

With experts estimating that in 2020 there will be 58 million Americans over age 65, interest in age-defying, skin-rejuvenating foods and beverages will increase. Further, research shows that consumers are prepared to pay a premium for effective anti-aging products. In particular, women over 50 are willing to spend the most, followed by men in the 25 to 34 age bracket.

“The increased number of older people in the world and their concerns for rejuvenation and the maintenance of a more youthful appearance will provide a strong demographic foundation for the future growth of sales in nutricosmetics,” says Chaudhari. “Additionally, the growing concern of younger people to achieve a generally more healthy diet and lifestyle and who feel the growing pressures to ‘look good’ in order to succeed will help to supply new sales opportunities in this product area. This need to outwardly project the vigorous strength and beauty of their youthfulness, particularly in the context of an aging demographic environment, should be an important spur to continued growth for the nutricosmetics market.”

Science supports oral skin solutions

“There is a continually growing body of evidence to support the use of ingested nutrients to promote skin health,” says Caroline Brons, senior marketing manager, DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, N.J. “The majority of the studies on ingestible nutrients demonstrate their ability to protect from the damaging effects of the sun. However, in addition to UV light, there are many other internal and external sources of oxidative stress to the skin. Emerging research is identifying a number of nutrients that can protect the skin from such stress. Other nutrients have been shown to hydrate the skin and even support skin metabolism.”

According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition (2003, 133: 98-101), carotenoids are useful oral sun protectants, and supplementation with high doses of beta-carotene protects against UV-induced erythema formation, a red inflammation of the skin. Scientists compared the erythema-protective effect of beta-carotene (24 milligrams per day) to that of 24 milligrams per day of a carotenoid mix consisting of the three main dietary carotenoids: beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene (8 milligrams of each). In a placebo-controlled, parallel study design, carotenoid levels in serum and skin (palm of the hand), as well as erythema intensity before and 24 hours after irradiation with a solar light simulator were measured at baseline and after six and 12 weeks of treatment. Serum beta-carotene concentration increased three- to four-fold in the beta-carotene group, whereas in the mixed carotenoid group, the serum concentration of each of the three carotenoids increased one- to three-fold. No changes occurred in the control group. The intake of either beta-carotene or a mixture of carotenoids similarly increased total carotenoids in the skin, with no changes occurring in the control. The intensity of erythema 24 hours after irradiation was diminished in both groups that received carotenoids.

Another study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology (2006, 19: 224-231), showed that antioxidant supplements can improve skin structure in humans. “We investigated the influence of two different antioxidant supplements composed of carotenoids, vitamin E and selenium on parameters related to skin health and skin aging,” according to the  lead researcher  Ulrike Heinrich, a professor with the Institute of Experimental Dermatology, University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany.

Thirty-nine volunteers with healthy, normal skin were divided into three equal groups and supplemented for a period of 12 weeks. Group one received a mixture of lycopene (3 milligrams per day), lutein (3 milligrams per day, beta-carotene (4.8 milligrams per day), alpha-tocopherol (10 milligrams per day) and selenium (75 micrograms per day). Group two was supplemented with a mixture of lycopene (6 milligrams per day), beta-carotene (4.8 milligrams per day), alpha-tocopherol (10 milligrams per day) and selenium (75 micrograms per day). Group three was the placebo control.

“Upon supplementation, serum levels of select carotenoids increased in both experimental groups,” says Heinrich. “Skin density and thickness were determined by ultrasound measurements, and a significant increase for both parameters was observed in the groups receiving the oral antioxidants. Further, roughness, scaling, smoothness and wrinkling of the skin were also improved by the supplementation with antioxidant micronutrients. In the placebo group no changes were found for any of the parameters.”

For those with sensitive skin, research published in the Journal of Applied Cosmetology (2002, 20[2]: 137-142) suggests the condition is mainly related to dietary lipid inadequacies such as insufficient omega-3 fatty acids and too much omega-6. Balance can be restored through increased intake of dietary omega-3.

Global Innovations

Many of these nutrients studied are the same ingredients that cosmetic companies use in their anti-aging wonder creams. They are now being formulated into foods and beverages and promise to deliver the same results - from the inside out.

Some recent introductions include You, which is a line of fortified dairy products from Israel’s Tara Dairy. The products are aimed at women 30- to 40-years old, as they are fortified with a vitamin and mineral blend described as being designed to protect women in such areas as bone, brain, skin, heart health and digestive health. Active ingredients include calcium, iron and vitamins B, D and E. The You line of functional foods includes a drinkable yogurt, 2% fat milk and a soft cheese.

“Our goal is to develop new concepts in dairy fortification that provide the added value of health and innovation,” says Nir Kanias, deputy marketing manager. “This new line is the result of our innovative move to develop, for the first time in Israel, the concept of ‘dairy just for women.’ We found out that there’s a real need for a dairy line that is tailored specifically to suit the hectic lifestyle and specific needs of the Israeli woman.”

In Spain, the Mercadona supermarket chain introduced in private label Hacendado Leche Semidesnatada. This semi-skim milk is fortified with a number of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Specifically, the labels state that the antioxidant vitamin E has been added to slow the aging process.

France’s Sodima International markets Yoplait Light Collagen Yogurt Drink and Yoplait Light Grape Seed Yogurt Drink. The company says that collagen helps moisturize the skin and make it more elastic. The grape seed extract is an antioxidant that helps regulate body functions, prevent fatigue and maintain a youthful looking skin.

Who needs a spa treatment when there’s dairy?   

Ingredients Recognized for Possessing One or More Anti-Aging Properties (antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and/or hydrating)

Aloe Vera
Grape Seed Extract
Green Tea Extract
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Vitamin B1
Vitamin B6
Vitamin B12
Vitamin C
Vitamin E