Consumers increasingly are seeking food and beverage products that promise to promote “beauty from within.” The ingredients that can help fulfill that promise (sometimes known as cosmeceuticals or nutricosmetics) are the key components in many functional foods and beverages.

As consumer awareness continues to grow regarding wellness and preventative self-care, food and beverage makers are expanding their participation in the nearly $1 billion nutricosmetic industry. These trends are part of the robust healthy overall aging market as well.

Persons seeking to maintain and even improve their outside through nutrition focus on ingredients, especially those associated with such claims, with more than the usual scrutiny. They want to know what’s good for them, are extra cautious about what might have the potential to harm them, and what science supports these ingredients’ efficacy.

The first — and foremost — emphasis when it comes to beauty from within is the largest organ of the human body, the skin. With an aging population comes aging skin that turns loose, wrinkled, and saggy. Clear and supple “youthful” skin is the goal, and dryness and wrinkles are the archenemies.

More than ever, knowledgeable and demanding consumers are driving expansion in the beauty-from-within market. According to the 2019 HealthFocus US Trend Study, which tracked consumer motivations, perceptions, and beliefs around health and nutrition, the percentage of consumers choosing foods and beverages to maintain a youthful appearance is growing.


Producing Beauty

Consumers already know how important fruits and vegetables are for overall health, and increasingly are encountering the idea that produce and plant-based eating could be associated with enhancing physical appearance. Such ingredients, with their plentiful antioxidants and year-round availability, are known to help nourish skin naturally.

Red and purple fruits like blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cherries, and plums contain concentrated amounts of such antioxidant phytochemicals that help keep skin healthy and youthful. And the richer the color of the fruit the more concentrated those phytochemicals. In addition to the aforementioned fruits, more exotic types that fit this category are gaining increased attention from product makers.

Such fruits as açai and pomegranate are being joined by the likes of aronia berries, camu-camu, and mulberries as sources for health-enhancing compounds. This identification of purple as Nature’s symbol of nutraceutical power has extended in recent years to vegetables, spurring such ingredients as purple potatoes, purple sweet potatoes, purple corn, and even purple cabbage and kale to grow significantly in popularity.

Purple and red aren’t the only colors of produce that signal glowing health benefits. Dark greens, such as kale, spinach, arugula, and dandelion leaves, are rich in biotin, a B vitamin known to support hair and nail health. Biotin also helps support cardiovascular health, and better circulation is a necessity when it comes to physical appearance too.


Hot Topics

While most consumers associate topical sunscreens with protection against harmful UV exposure, a study published in 2018 in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology found that an ingestible carotenoid-rich tomato nutrient complex allows for the proper nourishment of body and skin and also balances skin’s response to UV rays.

Another study, published last year in the science journal Nutrients, also pointed to the importance of dietary carotenoid compounds in skin health and appearance. Researchers specifically noted the emerging roles and applications of the UV radiation-absorbing colorless carotenoids phytoene and phytofluene.

Astaxanthin, a rich red carotenoid derived from microalgae, also is well-recognized for its support of healthy skin. Used in many topical creams and ointments for years, it recently has benefited from studies demonstrating that it does its work from inside the body as well.

Consumers have long been aware of the dangers of excess UV radiation from the sun and are accustomed to purchasing products that can help reduce their chances of getting skin cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids (especially vitamin A and astaxanthin, as well as lycopene and lutein), and hyaluronic acid (found in abundance in citrus fruits) have all been associated with improved skin health.


Drink it in

With research by the NDP Group revealing that some 25% of American adults are trying to manage a health or medical condition through their diet, it’s no surprise that the market for “elixirs” promoting glowing skin also continues to grow. Many of these drinkables target those DNA-damaging oxygen free radicals that are generated by UV radiation assaults.

Vegetable and fruit juices and smoothies are experiencing continued impressive sales growth, primarily due to their healthful cachet, and labels often broadcast their antioxidant benefits. For example, the combination of carrot and beet juices is especially favored for healthier skin.

Beetroot is packed with potassium, zinc, iron, folic acid, manganese, and vitamin C, all nutrients that contribute to good skin. Carrots’ protective properties include beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A, which as noted above protects against UV damage, slows signs of aging, and helps repair damaged skin tissue.

One example of a trendy beauty-from-within beverage is Kayco/Kedem Food Products Inc.’s Wonder Melon beverage, which promises to deliver a bounty of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals associated with eye, skin, and hair health as well as sun protection, weight loss, nerve function maintenance, and inflammation reduction. Currently, it’s available in Spicy Watermelon Lemon Cayenne, and Cool Watermelon Cucumber Basil varieties.

Green tea is an excellent source of antioxidants, especially flavonoids — potent antioxidants that can reduce free radicals. Beverage manufacturers have been fortifying products with matcha (Japanese green tea powder), epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) based on the overall health benefits of the different antioxidant compounds in green tea, but have not specifically targeted beauty.


Nuts About Beauty

Nuts already have earned their health food badge for their concentration of protein, unsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Research is bringing them recognition as beauty aids as well. For example, a daily handful of almonds was shown to boost skin health.

In a pilot study conducted by dermatologists at the University at California-Davis, 28 healthy, postmenopausal women with Fitzpatrick skin types 1 or 2 (a skin type characterized by increased tendency to burn with sun exposure) consumed 20% of their daily calories from either almonds or a calorie-matched nut-free snack (cereal bar, energy bar, pretzels).


After 16 weeks, high-resolution photographic image analysis showed that women in the almond group had significant reductions in wrinkle severity (9%) and width (10%) compared to the control group. There were no significant changes in skin barrier function between the groups.

According to Raja Sivamani, MD, an integrative dermatologist and lead researcher on the study, the results suggest that daily consumption of almonds could play a role in reducing wrinkle severity in post-menopausal women.

Almonds are often cited by consumers as their “number one” nut for good health, as they are nutritious, provide energy, and, assist in managing weight and maintaining heart health. Almonds, in their many forms, are an ideal ingredient for “beauty food” product formulations because they offer fatty acids, polyphenols, and antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E and selenium.


The Matrix

Many women of a certain age may recall their mothers revealing a beauty secret that came in a package of Knox gelatin (now owned by Kraft Foods, Inc.). Promoted as a way to look beautiful and have strong hair and nails, this little packet of powder could be considered a precursor product to the beauty-from-within category.

Gelatin is a well-known source of collagen, the structural protein found in the connective tissues of the body. It forms the extracellular matrix and makes up about 80% of the skin’s dry mass. Collagen is commonly included in formulations as smaller chains of amino acids called hydrolyzed collagen peptides.

Dietary collagen has been shown to help slow down the skin-aging process and mitigate the effects of these various assaults on the skin. Gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen peptides are typically applied in powdered form. It comes as a flavorless, colorless, and odorless soluble powder, making it an excellent ingredient for a variety of food and beverage formulations.

Collagen reduces the appearance of wrinkles, and pairs well with vitamin C, a nutrient necessary for the production and formation of collagen and the collagen matrix that supports skin. Vitamin C also helps reduce inflammation.

A study published in 2019 in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology examined the efficacy of using collagen to enhance skin quality, its anti-aging benefits, and potential application in medical dermatology. The study’s researchers reviewed literature and assessed available randomized-controlled trials in an effort to fill the gap between the heavy use of nutraceuticals such as collagen for skin care and the lack of regulations on quality, absorption, and efficacy.

After reviewing eleven studies with a total of 805 patients, the researchers concluded that in two of the studies, use of collagen tripeptides resulted in notable improvement in skin elasticity and hydration. Another study in which collagen dipeptides were administered suggested that anti-aging efficacy is proportionate to collagen dipeptide content.

The mineral calcium, while important for building and maintaining the skeletal framework upon which healthy and beautiful skin is draped also plays a role in the structure of skin itself. Calcium is needed to add support to the collagen framework that underpins the layers of skin. The form of calcium within these matrices is calcium phosphate, demonstrating that phosphorous also is a key mineral in skin health.


Good Fats

Essential fatty acids, such as omega 3 and omega 6, protect all cells from oxidation damage, and this applies to skin as well. But lipid-based nutraceuticals also help as emollients to help support suppleness and minimize the appearance of age. Ingredients that are good sources of omega oils include fatty fish, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. Fatty fish such as salmon, of course, are excellent sources of omegas, as are avocados and olives.

Avocados have enjoyed a boom in popularity (avocado toast, anyone?) and avocado oil is a new favorite of snack chip and cracker makers, with its flavor and nutrient profile so close to olive oil. Avocados also are a good source of vitamins C, E, K, and B6, as well as riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and potassium.

Other lipid-soluble nutrients associated with better health for the wrapper we all come in include not only the carotenoids but curcumin. This powerful compound most commonly derived from turmeric has strong anti-inflammatory properties as well as its superior antioxidant capacity.

Recent research has indicated curcumin can help delay skin aging by protecting skin’s structures and proteins — including collagen and elastin — from oxidative and inflammatory damage. Studies have shown curcumin can aid in countering the effects of advanced glycation species (AGEs), molecules of fat or protein in the body that become corrupted by interacting with sugar molecules. AGEs are a known a factor in aging as they interfere with the regulation of gene expression of receptors in the cells.

Including such lipid-based ingredients as curcumin in water-based beverages has become easier due to technological advances in microencapsulation. These new encapsulated lipid compounds are colorless, flavorless, and highly soluble. Vitamins A, D, and E also are available in microencapsulated formats.

Coupled with improved ingredient technology, the ingredients that support health from the inside out are offering processors more opportunities to combine proven ingredients into products. Such products, while inclusive of whole-body benefits, can be applied successfully toward serving the booming market catering to staving off the effects and appearance of aging.

Originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Prepared Foods as The Skin You're In.