Skip to main content

Beauty Supplements Scooping Up a Movement

Young consumers are gravitating away from traditional anitaging skin-care creams in favor of ingestible products that tout overall wellness qualities.

For skin-care woes, consumers are turning to nutritional pills over traditional antiaging creams. It is the marriage of wellness and beauty that has been a long time coming.

Already established in Europe and Asia, ingestible products in the form of pills, powders, drinks and teas touting beauty-enhancing claims are the latest category to pique the interest of U.S. consumers, particularly Millennials, who are taking a proactive approach to skin care.

“It’s kind of exploding right now,” said Karen Grant, global beauty industry analyst at the NPD Group. “It’s the smallest but fastest-growing category we track.”

Sales gains in the prestige facial skin care supplement market have increased fivefold since 2013, reaching $4.1 million in 2015, according to the NPD. The firm projects sales to reach $6 million by the end of 2016. Mintel research last year found that 80 percent of those surveyed between the ages of 18 and 34 either have taken or are interested in taking an ingestible addressing concerns like dry skin or acne.

Related Galleries

“Looking at what’s going on in grocery with natural and organic, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of retail heads in that direction,” said David Olsen, chief executive officer of Cos Bar, the upscale beauty specialty retailer. In October, Cos Bar began stocking 8G, a $12 vial of water-dissolving tablets said to promote collagen growth. “I don’t even want to call it a trend — a trend means it’s going away.”

You May Also Like

Grant added the growth of the supplements market is especially significant given lackluster sales in prestige skin care. Last year, sales were sluggish and growth flat-lined, and Grant projects similar momentum for the category as 2016 closes.

The number of players in the market is certainly expanding, with products like Hum Nutrition beauty supplements, Dirty Lemon collagen water, detox teas by Edible Beauty, Moon Juice beauty dusts and The Beauty Chef powders adding to the buzz this year.

For the 2016 holiday season, WelleCo, Elle MacPherson’s line of supplements and protein powders, teamed with Aerin to design a $250 gold caddy containing its Super Elixir, an alkalizing greens powder that touts skin-clearing, brightening and plumping benefits. “When your body is functioning well, it shows on the outside,” said MacPherson.

“Health is very important to me,” said Aerin founder Aerin Lauder of the collaboration. “It’s more relevant than ever before, with changes in the environment, people traveling more and multitasking. There is more opportunity [for business growth] in wellness — it’s a key part of everyone’s lifestyle.”

The growing influence of supplements can even be found in the marketing of new topical skin-care items. Glossier founder and ceo Emily Weiss just launched The Supers, a line of serums touting vitamin, mineral and antioxidant ingredients, priced at $28 each. Weiss stated the line is like “supplements for your skin.” The concept is similar to Japanese serum line V 10, sold in Asia and in Paris at Le Bon Marché, which is marketed as a “supplement concept for skin” and offers vitamins like A and C in dropper bottles, to be applied topically with other skin care.

Other retailers agree with Cos Bar’s Olsen, noting that consumers are increasingly blaming skin woes on the state of their nutritional health, and are interested in looking inward to fix the problem or prevent a problem from happening, rather than relying on corrective antiwrinkle creams.

“It’s the whole idea of a holistic approach,” said Jessica Richards, owner of Shen Beauty in Brooklyn and the head of beauty at Free People. “If you have cystic acne, you can’t fix it with lotions and potions. You have to fix what’s going on inside.” Richards says ingestibles at Free People, which caters to a Millennial clientele, are booming — they currently make up about half the retailer’s beauty business.

Ingestibles are gaining traction at mass as well.

“We’re going to keep a close eye on it,” said John Butcher, senior vice president of beauty merchandising at Target. “There’s something there.” Target last year exclusively launched Olly Nutrition, a Millennial-minded supplement and vitamin line.

Other mass retailers are also jumping on board.

Last month, Walgreens Boots Alliance launched Beauty Beneath in the U.S., a preventative antiaging supplement line formulated with marine collagen and vitamins. Priced at $39.99 for 60 capsules and merchandised in the skin-care aisle next to antiaging items, the brand is in 8,000 Walgreens doors.

One criticism of ingestibles is that consumers don’t understand them. “I don’t think we’re at the point where consumers have caught up to the various technologies,” said Martin L. Okner, managing director and cofounder of SHM Corporate Navigators. He added that ingestible brands should prioritize marketing of nutritional value. If there’s an overall vitamin story that’s overarching, that’s more viable,” said Okner, “If it’s just ‘take a certain pill to get a desired beauty look,’ that becomes a less compelling story.”

To combat that, educating the consumer is a critical part of Hum Nutrition’s strategy. “We built a platform where consumers could connect with nutritionists and get advice on what to eat and which supplements were right for them,” said Walter Faulstroh, ceo and cofounder of Hum Nutrition. Faulstroh noted that Hum, sold at retailers like Sephora and Nordstrom for $25 a bottle, is growing rapidly at 30 to 40 percent sales gains per quarter.

At Free People, Richards launched ingestibles with a content-heavy web site highlighting how to use the powders and pills. “We really focus on giving content and education — things like recipes. You understand what you’re buying and how to use it,” said Richards.

Susie Rogers, founder of U.K.-based Beauty Works West, has found that a streamlined product approach works best. Her supplement line, formulated with vitamins and plant extracts, is available in just three varieties that address a clear issue — Energy, Sex and Youth — for $110 each. Beauty Works West launched during the summer at Net-a-porter.

Despite the onslaught of brands hitting the market, some industry sources are skeptical as to whether the trend has staying power. The early Aughts saw the rise of nutriceuticals and nutricosmetics, but that growth never sustained. One source in banking cited strict Food and Drug Administration regulations as a barrier for big companies wanting to enter the ingestibles market. “Most people are worried the feds are going to jump in.” The FDA enforces strict guidelines for companies producing supplements, such as “clean” — germ-free — rooms that are more expensive to maintain, especially at a large level.

Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients founder Horst Rechelbacher was an early proponent of ingestibles. He founded Intelligent Nutrients as a supplements business separate from Aveda, but now the line, run by his wife Kiran Stordalen and daughter Nicole Thomas-Rechelbacher, focuses on topical skin care, though it does sell separately the proprietary edible oil the products are formulated with. Thomas-Rechelbacher noted that the early Nineties, when Aveda was sold to the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. — the Rechelbachers held onto Intelligent Nutrients — was a bit early for the supplements game. “He’d be so excited to see what is going on today,” said Thomas-Rechelbacher of her father, who died in 2014. “Consumers are getting more educated, there’s just so much [information] out there.” She added that Intelligent Nutrients is planning to start adding ingestibles back into its assortment for 2018.

But calling credibility into question is the traditional medicine set, who call foul on the efficacy of ingestibles. “Antioxidants are good for you, but that doesn’t mean an antioxidant is going to give you healthy-looking skin if you eat it,” said Dr. Neal Schultz, a dermatologist who formulates his BeautyRX line with glycolic acid. Though he did note there is an upside to ingestibles, even though he dispels their beautifying properties. “There can be a placebo effect — and when you feel good, you look better.”

Looking better is what inspired Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon to start concocting and selling herbal Moon Dust Powders — Beauty Dust claims to make skin radiant and hair shiny — through retail partners such as Net-a-porter and Urban Outfitters, as well as her own brick-and-mortar store and e-commerce site. For Bacon, who formulated her line after a slew of health issues pushed her toward a holistic lifestyle, the popularity of her products is due to their beauty-centric marketing, a departure from Nineties-era health-and-wellness marketing that focused on fear.

“It was like radical health Nazis telling you you were going to die if you didn’t do it their way,” said Bacon. “This new on-ramp for people to get on is the beauty angle. Beauty is a sign that the rest of your body is working well. For some, this is the first place they’re going to jump on.”

Consumer openness to wellness has a posed a prime opportunity for established doctor brands that have been touting skin-care supplements for years to remarket their products to a more engaged audience.

Dr. Nicholas Perricone launched his supplement line 20 years ago, but next year is introducing a new line of “boosters,” to attract a customer who isn’t a hardcore follower of his anti-inflammatory diet plan, which involves taking multiple supplements per day. The boosters each address a different issue — Metabolism Booster, Sleep Booster, Skin Booster and so on. “People were using our skin care and wanted to follow our three-tier system, but the supplements were a catch for them — they weren’t necessarily interested in an intense regimen,” said Tara O’Flaherty, vice president of brand marketing at Dr. Perricone.

Dr. Howard Murad has always incorporated supplements into his now Unilever-owned skin-care line.

He noted that when he launched his line, he saw customer interest in supplements but customers then weren’t really connecting the link between nutrition and skin. “People were coming in looking for something but they didn’t know what they were looking for,” said Murad.

Consumer interest in wellness, Murad noted, has been accelerated because of the cultural stress of today’s digital world.

“We’re more isolated, more hostile, more upset and feeling less well,” said Murad. “This is a time when people need it more than they did 10 years ago.”

Murad and his team see 2017 as a prime time to shift marketing focus to his supplements. “We’re trying to educate people on what I call connected beauty,” said Murad. He noted that plans for next year involve more retail and consumer events, social media content and digital advertising to push his supplements. “We’re telling people the story of how they need to take care of their whole body.”