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Nutricosmetics: Real science or scientific rhetoric?

Article-Nutricosmetics: Real science or scientific rhetoric?

For generations, the immortal quest to defy the effects of aging has produced countless remedies, treatments, and “cures.” It is big business with a captive audience and a sometimes well-deserved illustrious reputation. At the same time, some ingredients and products have proven themselves in the test of time.

Nutricosmetics — defined as supplements that can help support skin, hair and nail health — back the old adage you are what you eat with U.S. sales approaching $10 billion. Still, there remains the challenge of setting realistic expectations, understanding the science behind the approach, and finding quality products.

Dr. JackninJeanette Jacknin, M.D., a board-certified San Diego, Calif.-based board-certified dermatologist and an expert in conventional and natural skin care therapies and cosmetic dermatology, wrote the book — literally — on the topic. This author of Smart Medicine for Your Skin, points out that nutricosmetics alone are not a magic bullet. She says doctors need to emphasize that nutricosmetics work together with a healthy diet, sun protection and avoidance of environmental pollutants, stress reduction, topical antioxidants and other topicals to affect a more youthful, healthy appearance. “One cannot expect to see results from nutricosmetics alone without approaching the problem from a holistic viewpoint.”

In This Article

The Known & Unknown

Who Should be Using Nutricosmetics?

The Challenges of Choosing

Key Ingredients


The Known & Unknown

Dr. Jacknin says doctors need to know that the FDA does not monitor or regulate nutricosmetics; unsubstantiated claims abound; the quality of the products varies tremendously by brand and often the list; and dosing of ingredients on the outside of the bottle do not correlate with what is inside the bottle.

Dr. SchlessingerJoel Schlessinger, M.D., FAAD, FAACS, a board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, says that uncertainty is a huge factor doctors — and their patients — need to consider carefully. “We know that certain supplements are highly regulated and the contents are clearly correct. On the other hand, we have others that are on the fringe and we don’t have any idea whether they’re supplying what is claimed. It’s a difficult arena and I would shudder to be one of the companies in it that is doing the right thing along with the less reputable who clearly play in the same sandbox.”

Scientific studies identifying the efficacy of some specific ingredients do exist; Dr. Jacknin says, “Oxford Press’ 2014 Integrative Dermatology textbook is a great resource for nutricosmetics as well as other integrative dermatology topics,” written by board-certified dermatologists and based on the double-blind studies from the medical literature.

Dr. Jacknin says a search of the PubMed database cites studies on probiotics and prebiotics, “as well as many individual supplements and plant extracts, documenting their skin repair and anti-oxidant properties to aid in the appearance of more youthful and clearer skin.”

Dr. Schlessinger cites a flip-side to the research coin. “Some products have ‘reasonable’ studies behind them, but the challenge is if a study does show significant results, the concern is that it will be addressed by the FDA as a drug and there will be a day of reckoning for the company that provides it. For this reason, it becomes a catch-22. Companies then have to wonder if any benefit comes at the expense of poking a stick in the eye of the FDA.”

And while contemporary science may in many cases be able to support or refute industry claims, the onus remains on the consumer to detect and avoid questionable products marketed with impressive-sounding scientific rhetoric. Dr. Schlessinger thinks it would be “exceedingly difficult for companies to do that with the current FDA framework. Having said that, it would be great to have a head-to-head trial on some of these supplements and see if there really is a difference in the products that are out there.”

NEXT: Who Should be Using Nutricosmetics?


Who Should be Using Nutricosmetics?

Dr. Jacknin says nutricosmetics are right for people who are otherwise generally healthy, and don’t have gastrointestinal, liver or kidney problem, and she recommends patients always check with their internist and pharmacists for any drug reactions before starting any course of oral supplements and plant extracts. If a patient is nursing or pregnant, no supplements should be taken unless the patient’s obstetrician is in agreement. Also, if a patient has developed melanoma or any type of internal cancer, additional supplements would not be recommended.

“Nutricosmetics are also right for the type of patient who doesn’t overdo,” she says. “Too many supplements will either be eliminated from the body or toxic. Of course, a healthy balanced diet, and plenty of water are the starting points before nutricosmetics are added in.”

Dr. Schlessinger agrees that it’s a balancing act. “We do have some supplements, such as the protein supplements we see responsible for significant acne, particularly back acne in adolescents. It has always been my feeling that most of these powder-based ‘protein’ supplements contain some form of steroids — legal or otherwise — that cause acne and seems related to steroid-related acne.”

That said, he’s quick to add, “As with any questions, the answers aren’t always black and white. With supplements, there are significant benefits I’d be loathe to lose if we simply painted supplements as bogus and threw them out the window.”

NEXT: The Challenges of Choosing


The Challenges of Choosing

Dr. Jacknin and Dr. Schlessinger agree there are challenges.

Dr. Jacknin says, “Challenges include consistency, cost, visible results, and anticipated time frame for any results to actually take effect. If I could only recommend one line, it would be ZSS Skincare’s Method #1 for Radiant Skin,” which utilizes zeaxanthin and green tea polyphenols for more youthful-appearing skin and contains lesser amounts of plant based ceramides, sea buckthorn fruit oil, gotu kola seed, pine bark, red clover, vitamins C, D3, E, n-acetyl-cysteine and alpha-lipoic acid. “ZSS Skincare’s Method #2 for Clear Skin has a nutricosmetic whose key ingredient is, again, the powerful carotenoid zeaxanthin. Other supplements include a combination of fish, borage and pomegranate seed oil, turmeric, n-aceyl, cysteine and zinc.”

“It all comes down to manufacturer and personal faith in that manufacturer. It’s a very difficult thing,” Dr. Schlessinger says.

What would he say if he could give a single piece of advice to patients? “Buyer beware.”

LIST: Key Ingredients


Key Ingredients

  • Oral collagen
  • Probiotics
  • Prebiotics
  • Biotin
  • Vitamins
  • B vitamins
  • vitamins C, D, E, K
  • Minerals
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • selenium
  • zinc
  • copper
  • Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil or plant ceramides
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • DMAE
  • N-Aceyl Cysteine
  • alpha-lipoic acid
  • Plant extracts which act as antioxidants
  • green tea
  • grape seed extract
  • resveratrol polyphenols
  • centella
  • pine bark
  • algae and chlorella
  • sea buckthorn
  • Carotenoids
  • beta-carotene
  • lycopene
  • lutein
  • zeaxanthin
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