Beauty chocolates and yogurts and drinks … oh my! Welcome to the magical world of nutricosmetics, a place where supplements and foods make your hair shiny, nails strong, and skin clear. Beauty isn’t only skin deep, claim the proponents of nutricosmetics—defined as foods, beverages, and supplements containing ingredients that support skin and body structure. The industry exploded in Japan in the 1940s and in Europe more than two decades ago (both still hold most of the market share) but is relatively new to the United States, where the science is young, the claims are bold, and many consumers are skeptical, research shows. Should you believe in the power of beauty-from-within? Yes—and no. Don’t expect immediate results. And do heed this advice for finding the most legitimate beauty-enhancing nutricosmetics.

 

Know the science

Much of the research supporting nutricosmetics is still industry-sponsored, according to Robert Blair, PhD, coeditor of Nutritional Cosmetics: Beauty from Within (William Andrew, 2009). But that doesn’t necessarily make it illegitimate. “All cosmetic manufacturers are required to substantiate the safety of and the claims they make about their products,” says Farah Ahmed, vice president and associate general counsel for the Personal Care Products Council. “Many companies will have peer-reviewed, published data publicly available and supplement it with their own data. The industry is working on increasing the level of transparency.” Ingredients such as collagen, lycopene, and omega-3s show promise for long-term beauty support. 

 

Delivery systems count

Products like beverages, yogurts, cookies, chocolates, even marshmallows (a notorious Japanese nutricosmetic) may sound delicious, but their credibility as delivery systems for oral beauty products has been one of the main barriers to industry growth and consumer acceptance, according to Tom Vierhile, director of product-launch analytics for market research company Datamonitor.  To determine a product’s merits, weigh the quantity of beneficial ingredients against the not-so-healthy ones. First, look for high quantities of the desired nutrients. Next, remember that even if a nutricosmetic does provide high amounts of research-backed ingredients, it could also pack added sugars, artificial flavorings, and loads of calories, which don’t help in the beauty department. A good rule of thumb is to shop for products with fewer ingredients formulated at therapeutic doses. And taking your nutricosmetic in pill form may be the smartest choice. Never choose a food product just because it’s marketed as a supplement, Ahmed cautions. 

 

Go from within—and without

Don’t ditch your tried-and-true beauty regimen in favor of nutricosmetics. Instead, complement your go-to skin, hair, and nail care products with well-researched supplements and foods. “Companies are looking toward what will really work, and that’s why the trend is moving to bundling nutricosmetic supplements with topical products,” says Jen McCord, NutriCosmetic Summit conference manager. For example, not only are supplemental probiotics now touted for beauty benefits, but they are also appearing in topical beauty products such as face creams and shampoos. For UV protection, for example, continue slathering on sunscreen but also look for supplements featuring ingredients such as cocoa flavonoids, lycopene, and resveratrol. Take this dual approach with antiaging formulas and hair and nail products as well. “Just like diet and exercise, with your beauty regimen there are a number of things that work in concert,” says Ahmed. 

 

Science-backed nutrients

Sun protection: Lycopene (found in tomatoes), polyphenols (in green tea and pomegranates), resveratrol (in red wine, grapes, and peanuts), and cocoa flavonoids can prevent damage from UV rays.

Antiaging: Hyaluronic acid, coQ10, collagen, and vitamins A, C, and E may support skin-cell health and collagen production to stave off environmental damage that can cause wrinkles.

Dry or irritated skin: Omega-3s and probiotics may help soothe from the inside. Research shows that in addition to digestive benefits, friendly bacteria may fight dermatitis.

Hair and nails: As natural components of skin, hair, and nails, collagen and silica strengthen and grow these areas.