Beauty Foods or Beauty Fad?

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that with our ageing population and highly globalised society, at some point or another many of us may fall prey to beauty products that claim you can achieve “beauty from within”, longevity and reverse signs of ageing. Beauty foods are a lucrative niche within the beauty industry. According to various recent market reports, the global beauty foods market is expected to reach US $7.1 billion (AU $9.9 billion) by 2023. This extraordinary hype begs the question- do beauty foods really live up to their seductive claims?

What are beauty foods?

Beauty foods are also commonly known as beauty supplements, nutraceuticals or nutricosmetics. They are essentially orally-consumed nutritional supplements that purport medical or health benefits. Nutricosmetics are marketed as mixtures such as elixirs, capsules, gummies, powder mix-ins and even snack foods. Products exist to suit virtually any lifestyle. You are likely to find them in the cosmetic aisles of higher-end department stores, in health-food stores and some pharmacies, but most commonly, posted across the profiles of social media influencers. Popular brands include The Beauty Chef, Moon Juice, and HumNutrition. Celebrities and social media influencers who endorse beauty foods include Miranda Kerr, the Kardashian-Jenner Clan and Elle Macpherson.

Why are people taking beauty foods?

Beauty foods promise outer beauty and vitality (i.e. healthy skin, hair and nails) through inner nourishment. Aimed particularly at women, those with busy schedules and inadvertently the higher socioeconomic classes, nutricosmetics offer these demographics a chance at maintaining ‘toxin-free’ and ‘natural’ lifestyles that get to the root of their beauty fears. The logic behind skin products for instance, is that by ingesting essential nutrients or proteins such as hydrolysed collagen, the gut will absorb these ingredients and deliver it to the dermis via the blood. The dermis, being the living layer of our skin with collagen and elastin fibres, will be replenished, and voila- our epidermis (i.e. the layer of skin we actually see) will be hydrated and firmed up as a result. This eliminates the need for superficial ointments, serums or creams that supposedly only give the illusion of hydration and elasticity.

What are in beauty foods?

Depending on the problem you want to treat, beauty food products will contain a mixture of ‘potent’ and ‘targeted’ ingredients to solve your beauty woes. They are often based on the premise that healthy hair and nails would require protein solutions to achieve strength, growth and restoration. Healthy skin would require hydrolysed collagen, carotenoids, various micronutrients or polyphenols to target numerous concerns such as DNA damage, premature ageing or uneven pigmentation. The most common ingredients in beauty foods include derivatives of ‘super-fruits’ such as noni berries and acai, green tea phenolics, cocoa flavanols, hydrolysed collagen, coenzyme Q10, Marine Complex, alkalised water and the Vitamins A, B, C and E.

Do beauty foods work?

If you take a quick look at the ‘About Us’ webpage of many beauty food companies, you’ll notice a common story- a person struggling with common issues such as acne, dermatitis, ageing skin, brittle hair and weak nails. They find their solution through a healthy diet packed with the aforementioned nutrients and now look and feel as healthy as ever. They claim that because a certain combination of nutrients worked for them, it must work for you too. Moreover, they cite scientific studies that support the efficacy of each ingredient in their beauty concoction, giving credence to all their claims.

Unfortunately, just because a certain combination of nutrients worked for the issues of one individual, it doesn’t mean it would work for everyone. Studies on skin, for instance, are only relevant to the population tested. This is because different ethnicities, age groups and demographics all have an extremely varied skin make-up. Pre-menopausal women would have a different skin structure to menopausal women (due to hormonal influences) and Asians would have different pigmentation to Caucasians. A recent literature review published by the British Nutrition Foundation revealed that there has been no conclusive evidence to date to support any of the structure/function claims for common ingredients in nutricosmetics. Hydrolysed collagen, for instance, is a staple ingredient in skin nutricosmetics as it is understood to be more bioavailable for our skin in this form. A review of the literature, however, revealed insufficient evidence to support such claims. Traditional methods of sun protection and reducing risk factors such as smoking, fared far better in terms of slowing the skin-ageing process. Additionally, most of the available studies in the nutraceuticals area have been in-vitro or murine in-vivo investigations. Their results evidently cannot translate directly to human hair, skin or nails.

Are beauty foods safe?

The aforementioned literature review surprisingly revealed that the nutrient quantities in many beauty foods are actually lower than what is found in whole foods. A mug of green tea for instance, typically contains 161 mg of polyphenols. However, nutricosmetics touting polyphenol benefits for skin will often contain only a mere 20 mg. The nutrient quantities in these foods are significantly lower than the upper safe limits for micronutrients. The benefits of these micronutrients are essentially lost as a result. What may be unsafe, however, is taking multiple nutraceuticals as the sum of several micronutrients can reach toxic levels.

The bottom line

The beauty foods industry is still evolving and as such inconclusive evidence exists on the long-term efficacy of many of their nutrient combinations. Micronutrient requirements can vary between individuals depending on their biochemistry, lifestyle and medications. As such, a GP, dietitian or other relevant health professional should be consulted if you are concerned about your micronutrient intake. In terms of general health, there is conclusive evidence that a plant-based, varied diet low in processed foods is your best bet at health, whether that be for beauty or general wellbeing. Taking a supplement curated specially for your skin, hair and nails in the absence of a deficiency won’t counteract an otherwise unhealthy diet.

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Nadia Mazari

Nadia is a final year Bachelor of Science student, majoring in Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Sydney. Her passion for dietetics, health and wellbeing began as a young foodie with a love for helping people in need, and grew into a dream to become a dietitian.

As an aspiring health professional, Nadia’s long-term goal is to complete a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics and gain a wealth of experience in all aspects of dietetics – from fertility and gut disorders to mental health. In the meantime, Nadia can be found brunching with friends, binge-watching chick flicks with her Mum and sisters, soaking up the sun between classes and avidly reading fiction and non-fiction books.