Natural Foods Merchandiser

What to take in for healthy skin

Whether we like it or not, getting older means getting wrinkles. For retailers this means you might be fielding questions from baby boomers concerned about the health of their skin. According to a 2005 healthy aging survey by The Natural Marketing Institute in Harleysville, Pa., though, only 16 percent of boomers say they're always looking for the next "fountain of youth" remedy.

"They're much more realistic about health goals and objectives," says Steve French, vice president of The Natural Marketing Institute. What 90 percent of this generation is looking for, according to the survey, are health-related products backed by science. And when it comes to the science of skin care, what they eat is of utmost importance.

"We lose more of our collagen as we get older, and we lose some of the elasticity of our skin," says Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, director of botanical medicine at the University of Arizona's integrative medicine program. "A lot of people think that all you have to do is put certain things on the skin, but there's a lot we can do with diet." In fact, says Low Dog, most scientific evidence shows that what we put into our body impacts our skin more that what we put on it.

Point your skin-concerned customers toward foods that contain the following nutrients. They may not erase wrinkles, but making them a regular part of the diet will definitely lead to healthier, glowing skin.

Lycopene protects cells against oxidative damage. Low Dog recommends lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes, papaya, apricots, guava and watermelon to those seeking to rejuvenate their skin. "Lycopene seems critically important for skin," she says. "It is one of the most fragile antioxidants when the skin is under stress, so it can deplete very easily." Research suggests that fat enhances lycopene absorption; so, for example, fresh tomatoes sautéed in olive oil make for the ultimate skin-healthy treat.

Foods like carrots, squashes and sweet potatoes, which contain beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, are also great for the skin, says Kevin Conroy, N.D, a professor of naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle. "Beta-carotene is a precursor for vitamin A, which can be toxic [in high doses], but when taken in the form of beta-carotene, your body only takes what it needs," says Conroy. "And vitamin A is responsible for healthy, full, mature skin."

Vitamin C
Another potent antioxidant, vitamin C increases the synthesis of collagen, the most abundant protein in the skin. The loss of collagen that occurs as we age, explains Low Dog, leads to "thinner, paper-like skin." Vitamin C reduces this breakdown. "Vitamin C feeds into connective tissue repair, helping to produce collagen and elastin," says Conroy, who recommends dark-colored berries and chili peppers as rich sources of this vitamin.

Fish oil
You've probably already heard the buzz about the many health benefits of cold-water fish, like salmon, herring and sardines, so it's not surprising that eating more of these will also help your skin. And, of course, the elements in fish that produce all these amazing benefits are essential fatty acids. "Essential fatty acids enhance the vitality and balance the moisture of skin," says Conroy. "They help to establish a perfect hydrophobic barrier in your skin."

Low Dog agrees. "There's no question that fish has anti-inflammatory properties, which probably help to reduce redness and irritation," she says, though she notes that more research needs to be done on the link between EFAs and healthy skin.

Selling skin food
"Boomers don't really want to be marketed to as 'older boomers,' " says French. "They don't want to be reminded of that." So setting up a special "aging skin" produce section probably isn't the route to take. The best tactic, he says, is to prepare your staff to answer questions about healthy eating and skin care. Offering cooking demonstrations or handing out samples of skin-healthy food might also be attractive to the baby boomers, who are most likely already looking for healthy solutions in your aisles.

Low Dog, a baby boomer herself, sums up well the skin-health philosophy of this generation: "The skin is an outer reflection of inner health. The healthier one is in their diet, that's going to be reflected in their skin." But, she adds, "I like wrinkles. We all get them. They're a sign of character and a life well-lived."

O'rya Hyde-Keller is a Madison, Wis.-based writer.

Take a magic pill, and the wrinkles will disappear. Most of us have heard some variation of that line before, but most naturals retailers know it's not a line that will necessarily appeal to their clientele. The message that will appeal to baby boomers in particular is much more holistic, says Marty Baird, a national retail consultant and founder of Phoenix-based Nutritional Marketing. "What you want to tell them is, 'Not only can we make you look younger, we can do it in a healthy, natural way,' " he says. "It's an inside-out approach versus the mainstream, which is outside only."

Marketing research supports this notion. A 2005 healthy aging survey by Harleysville, Pa.-based The Natural Marketing Institute found only 12 percent of baby boomers think it is more important to look good than feel good. In the same survey, 72 percent of baby boomers said they think taking nutritional supplements is a way to promote healthy aging.

When it comes to skin care, Baird recommends selling holistic packages rather than individual products. A skin care system might include various lotions, cleaners and supplements that all contribute to skin health. A skin care system is more helpful to your customer, Baird says, and also to your bottom line, because you'll be selling multiple products instead of one. Here are some supplements that may be good additions to such a package:

Antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, the carotenoids (such as beta-carotene), flavonoids and selenium—in addition to having benefits for the heart—may also aid the skin by reducing oxidative damage that causes wrinkling. In addition, some research has shown that vitamins C, E and A (taken in the form of beta-carotene) may actually protect the skin as well. "Oral intake [of these vitamins] reduces the severity of sunburn," says Kevin Conroy, N.D, a professor of naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle. "Supplementation with these vitamins might also protect against future sun damage."

Fatty acids
Promoting healthy skin is yet another reason to supplement with these powerful anti-inflammatories. Conroy treats extremely dry skin, a common condition in older patients, by prescribing fish oil, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids. "Dry skin is caused in part by the body's inability to metabolize fatty acids, so taking more helps," he says.

Other oils containing essential fatty acids in the form of gamma-linolenic acid are evening primrose oil and black currant seed oil. "There is some evidence that evening primrose oil and black currant seed oil helps with eczema," says Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, director of botanical medicine at the University of Arizona's integrative medicine program. "And it probably benefits normal skin, too." Eczema is a condition that can be particularly hard to manage for older people whose skin is often dry and fragile.

Vitamin B
A vitamin B complex can do a lot to help with skin problems often experienced by older people, says Conroy. "There's pretty good evidence on B6 topically and internally for treating seborrheic dermatitis," also known as dandruff, a common skin issue for older adults, he says. Vitamin B2—also known as riboflavin—is used to treat rosacea, possibly by helping to improve the skin's secretion of mucus. Vitamin B also plays an important role in general skin maintenance.

If your customers are interested in an herbal approach, John Douillard, D.C., Ph.D., a Boulder, Colo.-based Ayurvedic practitioner and author of The 3-Season Diet (Three Rivers Press, 2001), recommends neem (Azadirachta indica), a supplement made from the leaves of the neem tree, an evergreen native to India. Neem, he says, offers powerful healing for the dry, irritated skin commonly experienced as people age. "Neem works so well because it is both water- and fat-soluble," he says. "By being fat-soluble, it can enter the lipid layer in the skin. Inside the cell, it works because it is water-soluble."

Regardless of what you put in a skin care system aimed at your baby boomer customers, Baird suggests testing it out yourself or offering it at a discount to a few regular customers on the condition that they give you weekly reports on its effectiveness. "The most important thing is having good solutions," says Baird. "Don't take the manufacturer's word for it."


Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 64, 70

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