Can skincare in a pill make you look younger?

Megan Foster      No comments
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Sales of a new anti-ageing pill are soaring at Boots. We report on the latest beauty craze

The latest anti-ageing product flying off the shelves at Boots will always make headlines. However, this time the most recent age-fighting bestseller isn’t a moisturiser or a serum.

The store says that, last weekend, its biggest-selling skincare product was not a face cream or its famous No7 Protect & Perfect serum, but a pink box of supplements called Beauty Beneath (£39.95 for a month’s supply, boots.com).

Skincare in the form of a pill has been a huge buzz in the beauty industry for the past five years, but even more so in the past year. As a beauty editor, I’ve seen the number of pills that land on my desk every week rise dramatically. Globally, sales have shot up too.

Sales of beauty supplements are soaring around the world, despite their price — they will add between £30 and £100 a month to your beauty budget. A report last year estimates that the global market for these “nutricosmetics” reached £2.53 billion in 2013 and will rise to £5.58 billion by 2020.

Should we be taking these beauty-from-within supplements seriously, then? Aren’t they just jumped-up vitamin pills with even less to recommend them?

The key ingredient in most of these pills is hydrolysed collagen. Collagen is what gives our skin its structure. We stop producing so much of this as we age, which hastens the skin’s collapse into wrinkles. That’s why collagen creams that aim to “restore” collagen to the skin are so popular — although it’s difficult for them to be effective because the collagen molecule is a big one that can’t be absorbed into the skin. So the idea of beauty pills and drinks based on collagen is to get it into the skin from inside. However, in the stomach, that big collagen molecule will just be digested unless it is first broken into fragments in a process called hydrolysis.

“There is an important distinction between collagen and hydrolysed collagen,” says Tariq Karim, the director of Santi Skin Lab, who spends a good deal of his working life analysing and testing skin supplements. “I often read these used interchangeably, but this is incorrect. Collagen cannot be readily absorbed by the gut barrier and is broken down into amino acids. Some are absorbed and some digested out. Hydrolysed collagen is of a smaller molecular size to the collagen formed by ‘hydrolysis’ that is readily absorbed by the gut barrier. Studies have demonstrated the presence of hydrolysed collagen in the blood six hours post-ingestion.”

Along with hydrolysed collagen, what you’ll find in Beauty Beneath pills and their ilk are omega-3 oils (very good for keeping skin supple) and antioxidant vitamins C and E (which help the skin to fight damage from daylight and pollution). Nothing dangerous, nothing that you can’t find in a healthy diet. And yet 80 per cent of the 500 women who tried Beauty Beneath, which is owned by Boots, say they saw an improvement in their fine lines and wrinkles, after eight weeks.

Why are we buying this stuff? Partly because it’s the latest thing and we all love a new thing when it comes to beauty, but increasingly I’d say it’s because many brands are putting their products through clinical trials and getting unarguably positive results — and, even more than novelty, we love proof.

Celebrities, more of a barometer of trends than of a product’s scientific efficacy, are mad for beauty-boosting supplements. Yasmin Le Bon loves Lumity (£79 for four weeks’ supply, lumitylife.co.uk), Sienna Miller is a fan of the beauty drink Skinade — the glamour-girl among supplements, which comes in a sleek white bottle and was handed out at London Fashion Week when it launched (£99 a month, skinade.com). Glynis Barber downs Rejuvenated Collagen Shots (£39.95 a month, rejuvenated.co.uk), Christy Turlington likes Imedeen (£37.99 a month, imedeen.co.uk) so much that she has become the face of the brand, and Elle Macpherson, ever the businesswoman, has created her own product, the Super Elixir, which costs £96 for a super-chic caddy of “alkalising greens” at welleco.co.uk.

“The whole concept of nutritional beauty is fascinating,” says the consultant plastic surgeon Paul Banwell. He’s a fan of Skinade, a beauty drink that contains hydrolysed collagen that has been shown in clinical trials to improve the thickness of collagen in older skin, and make it better hydrated. He has seen benefits in his patients. “As we get older, the collagen in our skin starts to break down, and what these products do is provide fragments of collagen, which then act as a feedback mechanism that encourages our bodies to strengthen and refresh the skin and produce more collagen.”

Sienna Miller is a fan of the beauty drink Skinade — the glamour-girl of supplements

Even for people who aren’t big users of skincare, the idea of “beauty from within” is appealing. “More people understand that an inside-outside approach is the best way to tackle the early signs of ageing,” says Shabir Daya, a co-founder of the wellness website Victoriahealth.com, which sells everything from hyaluronic acid supplements to the facialist Sarah Chapman’s Overnight Facial anti-ageing supplements (£46 for a month’s supply, victoriahealth.com).

I was lured into trying Rejuvenated Collagen Shots three years ago after seeing the results on a friend. “It takes a while,” she warned, “but the great thing is it works all over. Look how smooth my shins are . . .”

I did see a result — after about three months. You do need to commit with beauty pills. With micronutrients, our bodies give preferential treatment to the organs that help us to survive rather than to the skin or hair, so it takes a while before a surfeit of the good stuff starts to show through.

Since then I’ve been on one pill after another — it seems silly not to, especially when the products can boast scientifically credible results. There are old favourites such as Imedeen and Perfectil Platinum (vitabiotics.com, £23.95), both of which have good data to show that they work, but it’s the newer ones that seem more exciting.

Ingenious Beauty (£75 for a 40-day supply, ingeniousbeauty.com), for instance, is on my list because it has clinical studies that show it is proven to reduce wrinkles by 26 per cent in one month, and because of the simplicity of its ingredients — hydrolysed marine collagen, hyaluronic acid and the super-potent antioxidant astaxanthin. (I haven’t tried it, but pressed it on a friend whose skin looked brighter and healthier.)

This year I spent four months taking Nourella (£39.95, nourella.com), a skin supplement based on an ingredient called Vercilex that helps to improve collagen and elastin in the skin. My skin was denser and more springy. (The brand has had a clinical study published in the Journal of Applied Cosmetology showing how it can make skin appear up to 20 years younger.)

After that, I have spent three months as a trial candidate for Lumity, which is built around amino acids (the building blocks of collagen) that support collagen production in the skin, as well as a raft of ingredients to support repair processes in the skin. I haven’t had the official results yet, but I can see there’s a huge improvement and I’ve been sleeping more soundly too — a welcome side-effect reported by other testers.