When cosmetics giants L'Oreal and Olay jumped into the supplements business in 2002 and 2003 with a "beauty from the inside out" message for facial skin beauty, many saw it as vindication of the supplements model of cellular wellness. A couple of years on, with the bloom off the rose, the supplements industry has not exactly been rejuvenated — yet that has not stopped what is likely a fundamental transformation in marketing supplements to a consumer sector trained on high-dollar topical skin creams.
"The mass market big guys have given a big thumbs up to what we've been saying in the dietary supplements community for more than 25 years—that dietary supplements support healthy function of the body's tissue," asserts Kenn Israel, marketing director for Soft-Gel, based in California, which markets Injuv, a branded ingredient comprised of oral hyaluronic acid for skin health. "It's my hope that the large marketers will deliver effective products that provide results for consumers. That way the consumer has a good experience. And some of them are going to like what they try there, realise that other people have decades more experience and they'll come to the experts."
Big-name credibility does not come without its caveats. Some in the supplements trade have concerns that less-reputable health-and-beauty firms will not be so diligent in making sure the science lines up with the marketing.
"This is clearly a growing category, where beauty from the inside out is the basic theme," says industry guru Loren Israelsen, president of LDI Group in Utah. "You're going to see credibility growing out of that when well-known names women shoppers have been using forever start offering supplements. There's going to be a lot of activity in this area [though] I don't think there's a lot of data to support the current offerings."
Product developers trying to design a bioactive formulation for any condition-specific or organ-specific area are faced with a host of issues. First is overcoming partial degradation of supplements during digestion, absorption and transport into the bloodstream; then their further degradation by oxidising and reducing enzymes during transport to various organs in the body where their action is desired; and finally their lack of selectivity in terms of body part or organ.
To some companies, capitalising on the trend trailblazed by Olay and L'Oreal is a quick end in and of itself. "It's a profit centre for them," says Guy Langer, vice president of marketing for California-based ingredients supplier DD Chemco. "These companies are trying to marry two products when they have a skin-care regimen. Does 'inside-out' work? Topically there are strategies, orally indirectly. The only thing I understand is a small amount comparatively gets absorbed into the bloodstream and used in organ tissue and other reactions; not a lot ultimately gets to the skin."
But some assert the evidence base is present and growing. "It's not just marketing; there is sound science to support that," says Greg Ris, vice president of sales at botanicals supplier Indena, based in Italy. "Leukoselect grape seed extract has studies to support UV protection, which is certainly one target with solid science to support oral supplementation in addition to topical."
Despite a state of the science that perhaps lags behind the marketing, raw materials suppliers advocate for the efficaciousness of their offerings from an oral perspective. That's not to say the issue is closed. The question remains whether there is enough material there to be efficacious.
"A lot of people sell chamomile in shampoos, and it's in there only for a label claim," says Jennifer Higgins, vice president of sales and marketing for botanicals supplier Draco, based in California. "Those same manufacturers, because they see this as a big industry, are now trying to sell extracts for the ingestible side, but they're not backing it up with science. It's the same problem the industry had in 1996, so we're really careful to bring the science in on both the topical as well as the dietary supplements sides."
In the case of hyaluronic acid, issues abound over purity and whether its particle size is small enough to get absorbed by the intestinal tract. These ultimately relate to bioavailability and performance. BioCell Technologies offers BioCell Collagen II, a matrix of ingredients derived from chicken combs with 10 per cent hyaluronic acid, 20 per cent chondroitin sulfate and 70 per cent collagen type II. Company studies demonstrate good absorption of the ingredients.
Colorado-based Caliber Holdings, meanwhile, just launched an oral hyaluronic acid product to go with its topical line that is upwards of 98 per cent pure.
"Purity levels really are key," says Steve Petrucci, CEO. "Also, is lower molecular weight preferred? There's some argument about that. We don't know what lower really means. Some folks out there say they have 5,000 daltons, others have 3.5 million, so what is low molecular weight? Is 750,000 daltons low? Probably. That really determines what's going to get absorbed and what's not."
Positioning & packaging
Draco is sold on the idea — and the science — of botanicals for both topical and oral uses. They offer a body lotion that consumers apply in the morning and night, and a supplements line also taken twice daily. Store positioning is key.
"It's more of a system," says Higgins. "For the woman looking for 'hope in a bottle' in a cosmetics aisle, there are supplements right there. They're more likely to buy that with the existing eye creams and lotions than if they bought the Olay night cream and then try to head over to the vitamin aisle for Olay vitamins."
The positioning issue is indeed critical, though not everyone agrees. Olay's vitamin line is manufactured and managed by California supplements maker Pharmavite. In canvassing nearly 2,000 consumers about the concept behind Olay vitamins, they found a majority would go to the supplements aisle to find the Olay brand instead of locating them next to the Olay creams, lotions and balms. Olay cites AC Nielsen research that 14 per cent of category growth is due to Olay vitamins. Yet some observers assert that sales are less than stellar. Perhaps placement matters are not yet an exact science.
"Oral formulation really does make an impact, but it'll take a long time to convince people," says Petrucci. "This is why we've done a product in conjunction with each other, packaging them together, so you get the maximum benefits both from oral absorption and then for tougher problem areas where you want to apply something directly, you have the cream as well."
Because the health-and-beauty business is predicated on beauty, packaging is paramount. Draco offers its beauty supplements in a coloured liquid encapsulation delivery system patented by Capsugel, a division of Pfizer, called Licaps.
"Consumer data says three out of four consumers prefer the liquid dosage form," says Higgins. "When you're doing cosmeceuticals, that's a premium product, consumers are more willing to spend money. And Capsugel/Pfizer has a good reputation; Johnson & Johnson recognises that."
Appearances are one thing; convenience is another. The Olay line has taken pains to make their supplements a breeze to take. "Olay has combined nutrients for easy use with women," says spokeswoman Helen Mah. "There are two sub-lines: wellness nutrients like multis, and Bs and calcium for inner health. And the beauty nutrients, which come in a daily packet travel pack. You won't find a packet with all the specific minerals and vitamins to combat ageing. You won't find a supplement with ester C and alpha-lipoic acid."
Ingredients & applications
Probably the top reason why skin ages prematurely is prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. This insult damages collagen fibres — the major structural protein in the dermal layer of skin — and accumulates abnormal elastin, which is the protein that causes tissue to stretch. During this process, explained Draco technical director Brien Quirk, enzymes are upregulated that remodel the sun-injured tissue by synthesising and reforming collagen. As this is an imperfect remodeling process, wrinkles result.
And so, companies strive to research and develop ingredients such as boswellic acid that inhibit the elastase enzymes, or antioxidants like vitamins C and E and procyanidins like grape seed that counter the inevitable cascade of UV-induced free radicals, or herbs like rhodiola and ECGC from green tea that stimulate the performance of DNA-repair enzymes, or nutrients like lycopene and pycnogenol that enhance the process of cell renewal.
Perhaps the hottest new ingredient marketed today for skin beauty is hyaluronic acid, which fills the intercellular space between collagen and other cells, providing support and the essential framework for tissues. Simply stated, it holds water. When the skin retains moisture, it's more flexible and resilient and looks healthier.
"This is going to be the next alpha-hydroxy acid of the cosmetics world, co-Q10 has been huge and now hyaluronic acid," says Asma Ishaq, vice president of marketing for BioCell Technologies.
"Hyaluronic acid is the wave of the future, there's no question in my mind," says Petrucci. "You have two different issues. As an oral supplement for skin is one play. Another is from a cosmetics standpoint with creams — that's clearly going to be a huge business and probably the L'Oreals will do that. They probably will win that battle — but we'll win the oral battle."