By  on September 4, 2007

A burgeoning interest in wellness has ushered in dietary supplements as the latest beauty frontier.

Nobody puts beauty in the corner. The notion of what it means to be beautiful has extended beyond just a pretty face and now requires having supple skin, shiny hair and (heavy sigh) strong nails, too.

This emerging, holistic standard has prompted the spillover of supplements from pharmacies and health stores to department store beauty counters. On top of that, several leading U.S. dermatologists have given the internal beauty movement an additional giant push forward by decreeing it’s not enough to simply slather lotions onto your skin.

“You can only do so much by applying a cream,” says Nicholas Perricone, a dermatologist who practices in Meriden, Conn. He suggests taking a three-tiered approach of topicals, an antioxidant-rich diet and supplements, including coenzyme Q10 and omega-3. Perricone practices what he preaches: He takes 15 capsules three times a day. He first became interested in supplements in the Eighties and has found that coenzyme Q10 can diminish wrinkles, and vitamins A and E can be used to treat sun damage.

El Segundo, Calif.–based dermatologist Howard Murad also takes a whole-body approach, declaring: “Skin care, in my mind, is topical and internal because your skin and your body are connected.”

Murad, who introduced supplements in 1989 along with his eponymous skin care range, acknowledges that, while the average person may not understand the clinical data that supports supplements’ effectiveness, she will see results, particularly for skin conditions such as acne. In Murad’s view, supplements carry nutrients to layers of the skin that a cream cannot penetrate. The epidermis, or the outer layer that topicals treat, accounts for only 20 percent of the skin, while the dermis—which contains blood vessels—makes up 80 percent, he points out.

Murad’s personal regimen consists of a morning and nighttime dose of supplements that includes a daily shot of coenzyme Q10. Before long flights, he pops Wet Suit, a supplement from his line designed to hydrate cells and brighten skin.

Europeans, it seems, have cozied up to the idea of ingestible beauty more quickly than their American counterparts, which is precisely why this fall Sephora plans to unveil an in-store concept featuring pills, drops and liquids designed to promote beauty in 27 of its French stores. “In Europe, people have come to understand that beauty is not just a matter of cosmetics and topicals,” says Natacha Dzikowski, global brand director at Sephora in France, adding that Europeans have found some truth to the old adage, “You are what you eat.”

“I prefer preventing overtreating,” shares Dzikowski, who takes omega-3 when she travels to stave off stress. Referring to the supplement approach, she adds: “It’s not a gadget. It’s not fashion. It’s something that you really need for skin health.”

But not all wellness experts advocate the hope-in-a-pill approach. In the U.S., beauty supplements are not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration because they do not claim to change the structure or function of the body, as drugs do, says an FDA spokeswoman. The current leaders of the beauty supplement market include N.V. Perricone M.D., Dr. Brandt, Murad, Kinerase and Borba.

“I’m a disbeliever,” declares New York dermatologist Dennis Gross, who has a skin care range called MD Skincare.

“The amount of supplements you’d have to ingest can’t compare to the amount [of creams] you put on your skin.”

His findings suggest beauty supplements are 100 to 1,000 times less potent than a topical product. “It’s a cultural part of human behavior to think that a pill can change your life,” says Gross.

There is another avenue, says New York–based dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot—simply eat colorful fruits and vegetables for antioxidants, grains to keep food moving through the digestive system and healthy fats, such as olive oil, nuts and salmon. “In some ways, beauty supplements are glamorized multivitamins,” says Zuckerbrot. “We love the idea of a simple solution.”

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