‘As human beings yearn to improve themselves, they will be attracted to solutions that give them an edge.’
The Beyond Beauty exhibition in Paris is a beauty bazaar. Or perhaps I should say a ‘beauty bizarre’. As I wander around the 500 or so stands in the hangar-like space at Porte de Versailles, I become ever more baffled by the diversity of products that purport to make their users look younger and more attractive.
I pause for a moment by the Re-Age stand, where a demonstrator is squirting a volunteer’s face with tiny puffs of air from a metallic handheld device that looks a little like a dentist’s drill. I discover that the treatment, called Re-Oxy, uses oxygen to treat signs of ageing. No knives, no injections. The handheld device sends active ingredients deep into the skin with pulses of oxygen. The system has already been installed by a spa in Monaco. Another treatment involves breathing oxygen and essential oils through an inhaler to combat stress.
As I can hardly imagine anything more stressful, I move on. Next I happen across a handheld photon device that emits LED light into the skin to stimulate cells. Such devices were previously the domain of dermatologists and salons, but now ‘the last skincare system you will ever need’ can be yours for less than 250 euros. Home treatment is going to be the next big thing in skincare, I’m told.
And what else? What will beauty companies be selling us and telling us in the years ahead?
They call them ‘neutriceuticals’ or ‘nutricosmetics’: nutritional supplements and functional foods that make us beautiful from within. The trend comes from Japan, where herbal remedies have been linked with beauty for centuries. In more recent years, it has pushed the boundary with products such as collagen-enriched soups and drinks and yoghurts containing hyaluronic acid (which promotes tissue repair) and ceramide (lipids found in the skin’s protective upper layer).
The trend crossed to Europe with Danone’s Essensis ‘skin-enhancing’ yoghurt, introduced in France, Spain, Belgium and Italy in 2007. Containing vitamin E and green tea antioxidants, among other ingredients, the product was said to nourish the skin from within. However, it was shelved in France two years later amid flagging sales. This raised the possibility that the potential of functional foods had been exaggerated – but there was also a distribution problem.
Danone placed Essensis next to regular yoghurts on supermarket shelves, where it appeared overpriced and adorned with incongruous beauty claims. When Nestlé launched its beauty drink Glowelle, it sold it in the beauty department of upmarket retailer Neiman Marcus in the United States. ‘Consumers at a store like Neiman Marcus are looking for beauty products and have the means to be unconcerned about how they affect their weekly food shopping bill. Sales assistants are also on hand to explain what the new products are and how they work’ (Food & Drink Europe, 9 February 2009).
It’s unlikely that the failure of Essensis spelled the end of nutritional cosmetics. L’Oréal has a joint venture with Nestlé, called Innéov, to explore this type of product. It produces anti-ageing and firmness pills, as well as tablets that ‘detoxify and drain’ to combat cellulite, and others that ‘preserve and strengthen’ hair.
Perricone MD, the skincare brand founded in the United States by dermatologist Dr Nicholas Perricone, promotes a number of ‘neutriceutical’ dietary supplements. Also in the United States, Walgreens launched Borba Inside Out Beauty Solutions, a range of ingestible beauty products developed by aesthetician Scott-Vincent Borba. They contain a number of antioxidant ‘super-fruits’ – blueberry, pomegranate, cranberry – and come in playful formats such as Firm & Fit Calcium Chews, Healthy Glow Immunity Drink Mix and Mighty Energy Gummi Mice, as well as vitamin-enhanced Skin Balance Water.
There are a number of obstacles – an uncertain regulatory framework, distribution challengers and consumer scepticism – but the market for beauty from within is ripe for exploration.
If you feel good, there’s a better chance that you’ll look good. That’s a highly simplistic way of looking at neurocosmetics, or beauty products that enhance your mood. Aromatherapy promises similar benefits, but here we’re talking about skincare that promotes well-being. Some products claim to generate left–right brain exchange or increase serotonin levels. Others boast active ingredients that stimulate the cutaneous nervous system – the thing that makes you itch – triggering the neurotransmitters that ensure that the skin receives the right balance of nutrients.
One of the names operating in this field is Dr Linda Papadopolous, a British celebrity psychologist who has published a number of books on ‘psychodermatology’ and has her own skincare line, LP Skin Therapy. Her website says many of her products contain ‘nootropics’ (www.lpskintherapy. com). These are cognitive enhancers, or ‘smart drugs’, that stimulate brain activity in a number of ways, from improving memory and concentration to soothing stress; they can also affect production and uptake of dopamine and serotonin.
Papadopolous is not alone in finding this niche interesting. A company called Kroia also specializes in mood-enhancing cosmetics. Its claims are based on ‘chromotherapy’ – colour therapy – which proposes that certain colours have healing or soothing qualities. Each colour has a different frequency, and the rate at which it vibrates affects the mood of the viewer: compare the times you see red with the mornings you wake up with the blues.
Kroia’s founder Karla Farach believes that the deployment of light in skincare, notably the LED treatment mentioned above, as well as the use of minerals, crystals and coloured gemstones in massage therapy, has opened the door for a new form of treatment. Her range of ‘active foaming moisturizers’, made with ingredients such as natural topaz crystal, neroli flower extract and ginseng, are available in varying colour blends to deliver different results: yellow for energizing, pink for anti-ageing and blue to soothe the mind.
Other beauty companies are undoubtedly studying this area in their constant quest for compelling stories. Look out for more mood-enhancing skincare products, as well as cosmetics that promote confidence and euphoria in a ‘scientifically proven’ manner.
You don’t have to probe for too long in the trend forecasting business before things start getting spooky. The very word ‘nanotechnology’ conjures up science fiction images of subatomic machines capable of reproducing exponentially until they swamp the planet in grey goo. In fact, nanotechnology is concerned with engineering objects and devices from individual atoms and molecules. It has been described as the science of materials that are one billionth of a metre. The cosmetics industry is very interested in nanotech, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, and L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble are among the sponsors of the International Council of Nanotechnology.
The ‘grey goo’ theory was originally proposed by Eric Drexler, a scientist often referred to as ‘the father of nanotechnology’. In his 1986 book Engines of Creation: The coming era of nanotechnology, he described a catastrophic scenario in which nanobots with the ability to manipulate matter go out of control and destroy life on earth. Drexler later said he regretted the statement, having merely wanted to outline a theoretical danger of nanotechnology to balance excitement over its potential benefits. ‘I also underestimated the popularity of depictions of swarms of tiny nanobugs in science fiction and popular culture’ (‘Nanotech guru turns back on goo’, BBC News Online, 9 June 2004).
Reassuringly, Drexler feels it is extremely unlikely that scientists will ever manufacture a self-replicating nano-machine.
That particular danger may remain in the realm of fantasy, but nanoparticles are being used in cosmetics, and organizations like Friends of the Earth have expressed concern about them. Nanotechnology was first adopted by the makers of sunscreens, which for years had been using titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to block UVB and UVA radiation. These ingredients are not water soluble, meaning that sun creams felt thick and cloying, leaving greasy white streaks on the skin when applied. By using ‘nanoparticulate’ titanium and zinc, cosmetics companies were able to create thin, transparent, easy-toapply sunscreens that were much appreciated by consumers.
The question, though, is whether nanoparticles can penetrate the outer layer of the skin and get into the bloodstream, eventually damaging cells or turning up in the lungs, brain and other organs. There have been calls for stricter regulation of nano-ingredients, but at the time of writing these have not been answered by specific legislation. Indeed, there are no rules about labelling products that contain nano-ingredients.
A report in April 2011 by the Nanodermatology Society conceded that, when exposed to UV radiation, nano-sized titanium and zinc generated free radicals and reactive oxygen species – which can damage proteins, DNA and fats within cells. The level of toxicity depended on their size, structure and coating; particles are often protected by swathes of manganese and other materials. Crucially, the report added, ‘damage associated with free radical formation is dependent on their ability to interact with living cells’. In order to do so, they first had to penetrate the skin. It concluded formally: ‘nanotitanium and zinc do not penetrate the outer layer of human skin, even through hair follicles’ and that ‘nano-titanium and zinc do not reach living cells, and therefore pose no risk of toxicity’ (www.nanodermsociety.org).
But they would say that, wouldn’t they?
Unless strict legislation emerges, it is unlikely that cosmetics companies will back away from the use of nanoparticles. They’re just too useful. For a start, nanotechnology allows more active ingredients to reach the skin; smaller particles also limit the clogging of pores; and ‘nano-encapsuled’ active ingredients have a longer shelf life. Hair dye is another area that benefits from nanotechnology: nano-sized colorants penetrate the hair more easily, meaning that the colour lasts longer.
Addressing the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in March 2010, a dermatologist named Adnan Nasir gave a widely reported speech about the potential benefits of nanotechnology to beauty companies. He said the cosmetic industry led all other industries in the number of patents for nanoparticles, ‘which have the potential to enhance sunscreens, shampoos and conditioners, lipsticks, eye shadows, moisturizers, deodorants, after-shave products and perfumes’ (‘Sizing up nanotechnology: how nanosized particles may affect skincare products’, PR Newswire, 4 March 2010).
He confirmed that nanotechnology would improve the delivery of antiageing ingredients to the skin. But he also raised a marketing issue. ‘Since anti-aging products that contain nanoparticles of antioxidants will be harder to make, we expect that these products will cost more than products using traditional formulations… Once these products are determined to be safe, the consumer will have to decide if the increased costs are worth the added benefits.’
L’Oréal, Dior, Shiseido and AmorePacific are among cosmetics companies that openly use nanotechnology in their products. Elsewhere there are blushers, foundations, hair care products and even mascara that claim nanoingredients – but how many of them just like having the fancy word in their advertising is unclear.
L’Oréal states that it tests all its products for safety. In a sustainability fact sheet from June 2010, the company says that it uses ‘nanoemulsions and nanopigments’:
Nanoemulsions are in fact macroscopic preparations containing oil and water droplets reduced to nanometric size to increase the content of nutritious oils while preserving the transparency and the lightness of the formulas. Sometimes fragile active ingredients, like vitamins, are protected from air inside nanometre-sized vesicles called nanocapsules™ or liposomes that release the ingredient upon contact with the skin at the time of application. (‘The use of nanotechnology in cosmetology’, www.sustainabledevelopent/loreal.com)
Nanotechnology has the potential to transform the beauty industry. The researcher Thomson Reuters confirmed as much in 2009, when it produced a report called ‘Can nanotech unlock the fountains of youth?’ This quoted James Canton of the Institute for Global Futures, a San Francisco think tank. ‘Nanotech is one of the key design tools that will be used to create the largest industry of the 21st century: health enhancement. As human beings yearn to improve themselves, they will be attracted to solutions that give them an edge.’
The report notes that ‘the increased presence of specialty chemical manufacturers in the beauty and personal care space is rooted squarely in the development of nanotechnologies derived from other technologies’. It mentions the Astalift cosmetics brand developed by Fujifilm, which ran a TV campaign explaining how nanotechnology originally developed for photography helped its creams better penetrate the skin.
Anxiety over safety may prevent other beauty companies from overemphasizing nanoparticles in their claims, slowing the development of nanocosmetics as a category. But there are others who believe that the future of beauty lies at the intersection of nature and nano.