How many pills did you take this morning? Maybe you swallowed a multivitamin alongside your granola, or chased an iron tablet with a flat white. I palmed a cocktail of Coenzyme Q10, a probiotic, a dandelion leaf liver-cleanse capsule, a magnesium energy supplement and, just to test my gag reflex, a spoonful of fish oil. Most of us have flirted with supplements at one point or another. After a disastrous three-more-inches-off-than-expected trim, I took Viviscal until my hair grew back to Rapunzel lengths; on doctor’s orders, I’ve taken vitamin D in the winter months, and Feroglobin to stop me feeling faint. But beyond building stronger bones or boosting energy levels, the new generation of pills, powders and drinks promises more aesthetic benefits. Think glowing complexion, thicker hair, plumped-up wrinkles – benefits that, until now, have been restricted to lotions, creams and injectables.
"The appeal of nutricosmetics lies in the increasing pursuit of wellness. Immediate gratification and rapid effects remain powerful pulls for beauty, but attention is also shifting towards long-term wellbeing," explains Rebecca Smith, behavioural analyst at Canvas8. "It’s not just about exfoliating, moisturising and toning – what we eat and how we live are just as important to achieving a beautiful complexion." From collagen drinks (like skinade) to beauty cereal (such as Believe) to super-supplements (enter Lumity), diet is the next aesthetic frontier.
Maybe it began with swathes of Lycra-clad women downing grass-hued juices in the name of brighter skin, or with hot yoga promising to lengthen your limbs and clear your pores; either way, the pursuit of beauty has moved firmly into the holistic arena. Just look at renowned makeup artist Wendy Rowe’s latest book – in its Tumblr-pink jacket, Eat Beautiful details soups, salads and juices to illuminate the skin. Similarly, LA-based Moon Juice – purveyor of 'plant-based alchemy' for mind and body – has expanded its offering with a range of beauty powders with names like Beauty Dust, Power Dust and, alarmingly, Sex Dust. Alexia Inge, founder of Cult Beauty, told Refinery29: "We’ve been stocking ingestible skincare since we first launched PerriconeMD eight years ago. At the time he was a lone voice advocating diet as an important factor in the health and subsequent beauty of your skin. It was pitched then as anti-ageing but that term is falling out of favour… now it’s all about energising! We recently launched Moon Juice because they are new-gen pioneers in their fields. The results they give are astonishingly quick."
Alexia’s not alone. With sales of vitamins overtaking painkillers for the first time in a decade and the market for nutricosmetics set to hit $7.2 billion by 2020, there’s certainly no shortage of options for the holistic beauty enthusiast. Beauty Beneath, a new supplement developed by Boots, is a combination of marine collagen, biotin and omegas 3 and 6, while Lumity, developed by a Cambridge-educated anti-ageing expert, tackles all signs of ageing with a twice-daily dose that promises to boost your collagen and human growth hormone production, as well as protect against free radical damage. In addition to Moon Juice, Cult Beauty has started stocking The Beauty Chef, whose powders do everything from hydrate the skin to cleanse. No time to pop a pill or mix a powder? No problem. Try the drinkable options from Canadian brand Fountain – with Glow, Beauty and Phyto-Collagen Molecules, you can swig a spoonful and be on your way.
This brings us to the real question: do any of these work? Supplements, by their ingestible nature, promise better results, on some level, than topical skincare. When you’re sick, your doctor prescribes you an antibiotic pill, not patch, for a reason. "Some things just can’t get through the skin’s surface," explains Joe Mitchell, global head of brand for Beauty Beneath. "Lines and wrinkles start deep beneath the skin’s surface, and some of the ingredients wouldn’t work applied topically." But just because something has proven efficacy in one area, it doesn’t mean it’ll work in another. As Harley Street doctor Dr. David Jack points out: "People hear buzzwords and then automatically associate these with a particular outcome. In reality, thanks to the physiology of nutrition, certain ingredients that are promoted as being helpful don’t actually work."
A good example of this is collagen. The protein, which gives your skin tensile strength and that plump, youthful quality, is a tricky little so-and-so. Collagen molecules are too big to work when applied topically – so don’t waste your money on expensive creams – and, when ingested, may not be sufficiently broken down by your digestive system to be utilised efficiently. One way to circumvent this is by using hydrolysed collagen, which is composed of smaller chains of amino acids that your body more readily absorbs – leading, in theory, to faster collagen production. The jury’s out on whether a (usually pricey) collagen supplement does this any better than a protein powder, but it certainly won’t do you any harm to take one. Dr. Jack had some more recommendations: "Glutathione [for skin-brightening] is one that previously was dismissed, but recent evidence from a randomised controlled trial has shown that oral ingestion can increase body stores significantly, and thus does have some benefit. Antioxidants like vitamin C, resveratrol and also omegas do have fairly strong evidence behind them."
The supplements I take as part of my daily routine were prescribed to me by VITL, a smartphone app that works out a bespoke dose for your needs based on a Q&A, and I’ve noticed my skin is softer after a few months of taking Bare Biology Lion Heart Fish Oil. Beauty Beneath is rich in vitamins, and Lumity will help to defend against free radicals and repair oxidative damage. Fountain’s Beauty Molecule packs an antioxidant punch thanks to the high resveratrol content, while the Hair Molecule will help build swishier locks (no one gets enough biotin, the vitamin that maintains hair health, in their diet).
But if powders, pill and drinks aren't your bag, remember: bone broth contains loads of collagen, red grapes and apples are stuffed with antioxidants, and chicken livers (sorry) are jam-packed full of anti-ageing vitamin A. Class dismissed.