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Beauty beverages: myth, miracle, or marketing scam?

Initially, I assumed the concept of a beauty beverage was a fountain of youth--a myth we would gladly buy into (and thus gladly purchase with our dollars) because we were curious about its waters. But many of us have relied on fortified foods and beverages for years, believing that juices, yogurt, and milk fortified with antioxidants, calcium, vitamin D, omega 3s, and probiotics can help us be healthier. Why, then, can't nutricosmetics, the nutrient-rich beverages or foods meant to offer beauty benefits, do good things for our hair, nails, and particularly skin (the body's largest organ)? Many companies are hopping on board, according to market researcher Mintel, which reports that the number of new soft drinks and dairy products marketed as providing some form of beauty benefits doubled in 2008. And Cosmetics Design reports that beauty waters are leading the pack. Popular ingredients in beauty beverages include aloe, lychee, probiotics, pomegranate, acai, and other sources of antioxidants, generally in some combo, one aspect that sets them apart from, say, fresh-squeezed orange juice. A good product should also have doses proven to be therapeutic, says Paula Simpson, a medical spa nutrition director and nutricosmetics expert. The trend is probably here to stay, or at least stay through 2010; so I asked Simpson to offer more tips for sorting through the baloney and finding a product that may actually work.

1. Make sure the products offer nutrients and antioxidants known to promote healthy skincell turnover and protect the skin from environmental stressors, which is what will help them fight signs of aging (beauty from within offers some of the best ingredients). The more specific the claim, the more likely the product will work--for example, if a product that says it helps with "anti-aging," don't bother drinking it up.

2. Don't use nutricosmetics instead of other skin care products. They should complement topical skin care regimens and treatments. They're are also not meant to replace a healthy diet and should only be targeted at healthy skin, hair, or nails.

3. The most effective nutricosmetics are products that combine fewer ingredients formulated at therapeutic doses.

4. Do your research on the product to make sure its ingredients have proven benefits.

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