It is a commonsense notion--eat healthy, and the body will follow suit, but what if a pill could make someone look 10 years younger? It is the stuff of science fiction and TV infomercials, but a recent survey shows that increasing numbers of Americans are choosing to invest in anti-ageing cosmeceutical products. A July 2011 study by Cleveland-based Freedonia Group, Inc., estimated that U.S. demand for cosmeceutical products will increase 5.8% per year, reaching $8.5 billion by 2015.

As the name suggests, cosmeceutical products are a marriage of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. They are topically applied, injected, or ingested, and the majority contain ingredients that purportedly improve one’s appearance by delivering nutrients necessary for healthy skin.  Currently, cosmeceuticals are not subject to approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, nor is testing mandatory in order to buttress or disprove a product’s claim.

 Most manufacturers market their products based on the theorized beautifying properties of their active ingredients. These include antioxidants, which reduce the skin-damaging effects of free radicals; peptides, which stimulate the production of collagen, the main structural component of the skin; and growth factors, chemical messengers that function in cell division and the distribution of collagen. According to the Freedonia study, antioxidants will remain the largest cosmeceuticals category, while botanicals will see the fastest gains in demand, with consumers favoring “natural” products. 

As of 2006, over 60 botanicals were marketed in cosmeceutical formations, with teas, soy, date, grape seed, pomegranate, curcumin, comfrey, and aloe—among others—being documented as treating dermatologic conditions, according to an article in Dermatologic Surgery. Only green and black tea, soy, pomegranate, and date have published clinical trials related to the treatment of ageing.

The majority of cosmeceuticals are applied topically and claim to have effects on the skin’s appearance. However, ingestible cosmeceuticals and “functional foods” occupy a growing share of the market. A 2008 Kline Group study estimated the nutricosmetics market to be worth $1.5 billion, with Europe and Japan being its primary consumers. Most oral cosmeceuticals take the form of supplements claiming to affect one’s appearance from the inside out. Omega-3, omega-6, silicon, and vitamin E supplements, for example, all claim to regulate skin deterioration and bolster collagen production.

The American nutricosmetics market is still in its infancy, accounting for an estimated 3% of the market. According to the Kline Group, American consumers are more skeptical of “beauty-from-within” products, as well as products that lack scientific validation or fail to show instant results. The key players in the American nutricosmetics industry include Perricone MD, Murad, and Borba. Perricone and Murad have both introduced topical skin care treatments as well as supplemental pills, while Borba sells a line of supplemental waters and water soluble crystal packets containing a “revolutionary cultivated bio-vitamin complex.”

In Europe, Nestlé and L’Oréal have partnered to develop a line of nutricosmetic products. In 2009, the companies released Inneov Fermete, a small, red, sugar-coated pill which, in test groups of postmenopausal women, was shown to improve skin elasticity by 8.7%. Inneov Fermete’s primary active ingredient is lycopene, an antioxidant pigment found in tomatoes and certain other red vegetables and fruits. Inneov currently markets 13 products designed to treat specific cosmetic problems, including hair loss, dandruff, and cellulite.

Like Europe, Japan has a firmly established nutricosmetics market. Japanese products are wide-ranging and frequently updated, as well as less expensive than their European or American counterparts, selling for approximately 100-300 yen (three to four dollars). Shiseido cosmetics, along with Lion and Kracie, dominate the Japanese market. Japanese nutricosmetics are unique in that many of them function as foods, rather than mere supplements. Nippon Luna’s “Belly Reducing Midnight Yogurt,” for example, contains 750mg of collagen and aids in “good sleep and beauty support.” Cranes Child sells boxes individually wrapped collagen marshmallows containing 4500mg of collagen per piece. Fuwarinka, literally “fragrance from within,” are rose- or lemon-flavored candies claiming to alter the consumer’s body chemistry so as to emit a pleasant aroma.

Nutricosmetic ingredients to watch for include collagen, for its skin-strengthening properties; the coffee bean—caffeine can act as a metabolic stimulant and slimming agent; turmeric, which functions as a photo-protectant and antioxidant; and grapes, which also serve as antioxidants and detoxifying agents. The Kline Group projects the nutricosmetics market to reach $2.5 billion by 2012, but it will likely remain a niche subset of the cosmeceuticals industry, at least in America, considering Avon and Olay have already abandoned nutricosmetics after minimal success in the past. However, with the Baby Boomer generation aging and more Americans subscribing to a culture of youth, for the time being, cosmeceuticals are here to stay.

Philip Butta is a senior at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.