By  on April 13, 2007

LOS ANGELES — The ruby-red seeds of the hard-shelled pomegranate fruit appear to be skin care gold.

Given their high concentration of antioxodants, pomegranate seeds, rich in polyphenol antioxidant ellagic acid, are being incorporated as a key ingredient in items in existing product lines, or are at the center of new skin care collections.

"The skin care industry has picked up on the fact that pomegranates have a high ellagic acid content, which is the same antioxidant that is in goji berries and green tea," said Ian Lirenman, president of EmerginC, a New York maker of natural skin care products. Late last year, EmerginC introduced a pomegranate gel cleanser and toner.

"Because it's a powerful antioxidant, it will have better free radical scavenging abilities and is good for helping with pigmentation issues and the production of collagen," said Lirenman.

His products also contain extract of lemon peel, blackberry and chamomile. The cleanser sells for $45 and the toner sells for $44. Lirenman said that since their launch, the pomegranate items had been enthusiastically received at several local spas and dermatology practices. His company is also working with a doctor to produce and co-brand several new products that will include pomegranate.

Skin care experts agree that the category tends to take a "flavor of the month" approach to active ingredients, but the wave of interest in pomegranates appears to be a lasting one. One study, conducted at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, at South Dakota State University in 2003, shows consumption of pomegranate to be beneficial to the body. Skin care makers have extrapolated from these findings that topical applications can also be helpful for many conditions.

One academic said research at his university revealed positive results, too.

"The research I've done based upon its internal use has shown effectiveness in helping reduce plaque in arteries, 'bad cholesterol' levels and blood pressure," said Gene Bruno, dean of academics at the Huntington College of Health Sciences in Knoxville, Tenn., and also the vice president of Great Earth in Farmingdale, N.Y., a manufacturer of health supplements and vitamins. The company is launching a pomegranate supplement at the end of April."Given the antioxidant benefit alone, we could speculate that the topical properties would be as beneficial as taking the product internally," he said.

The popularity of the fruit as a drink or as an ingredient in foods is on the increase, too, helping to drum interest in it as a skin care product.

Pam Holmgren, corporate communications manager of Pom Wonderful, a Los Angeles maker of bottled pomegranate juice and tea, said that when her company first started marketing Pom Wonderful in 2002, many didn't what a pomegranate was.

"Now, every industry show I go to, there are more products introduced with pomegranate in them," she said, citing that 400 new pomegranate food and beauty items came out last year alone.

Patricia Schneider, media relations manager for the Pomegranate Council, the San Francisco association of Californian pomegranate growers, said the interest in the food was definitely not a flash in the pan.

"From soaps to bubble baths, moisturizing creams to exfoliants, this is a natural source of vitamin C and polyphenols," she said. "It's good for the skin and good for you internally."

Pomega5, which is being billed as the first comprehensive pomegranate-based line of skin care and supplements, started shipping last summer to a handful of health food stores. Now, according to founder Tzeira Sofer, the line is sold in 100 doors on the West Coast, and several more in other parts of the country, including Las Vegas and Utah. In June, the San Anselmo, Calif., line will be available internationally at Harrods and Selfridges. The skin care end of the range includes a Cold-Pressed Oil for dry or cracked skin, a Healing Cream that includes oils from calendula, arnica and carrot seed, and a Healing Cleansing Bar made with olive oil and organic pomegranate seed oil. Retail prices start at $18 for the bar and go to $68 for the cream.

"Pomegranate is much more expensive than other oils because it is difficult to process and cold-press," said Sofer. "Getting the seeds out, drying and pressing them for oil, is a very involved process and it's costly."

Other brands are incorporating the ingredient in existing lines.Abrioné, a skin care line from VB Cosmetics in Chandler, Ariz., has a Red Root Chakra Masque with pomegranate as a key ingredient. Founder Vivian Valenty said the fruit added a deep red color to the product.

"It has a lot of moisturizing and antioxidant properties, which is the reason I included it," she said. "Historically, pomegranate has a lot of benefits attached to it."

Panpuri, a line out of Thailand that recently became available in the U.S., last month added a pomegranate hand cream that also has jasmine and wild honey.

"It's a brand new piece of an existing line, but the company is very optimistic about the future of it," said Randy Boba, vice president of sales for Alcanz, based in San Francisco, the U.S. distributor for Panpuri.

Sam Margolis, president of D'Vine Therapy, a wine-based skin and body care brand in Cedar Falls, Iowa, said the company would launch five products with a higher concentration of pomegranate this summer; the ingredient already exists in many of the 34 stockkeeping units produced by the label.

"When people discover that pomegranate extract is already in the product, they appreciate it," he said. The five new products will be targeted specifically for sensitive skin and skin that has just undergone laser or microdermabrasion treatments.

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