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