We often overlook the fact that our skin is an organ in the human body. Our skin and hair consist of actively dividing cells which, like every other part of the body, are subjected to environmental stressors, undergo aging with time and depend entirely on the nutrients we consume to divide, grow and survive. The same principles that would apply to a healthy heart apply to our skin and hair as well. Perhaps even more so, given that the cells in our skin and hair are amongst the fastest growing cells in our body and are in closest contact with the environment.
The role of nutrition in ensuring the health of our skin and hair cannot be overstated. The quality of protein in our diet ensures that the cells in our skin and hair can build their constituent proteins – collagen, elastin and keratin – in the best way possible.
Vitamin C is absolutely essential for our body to produce collagen, the protein responsible for our skin’s appearance and its ability to stay hydrated. Antioxidants, particularly carotenoids such as lycopene and beta-carotene, deposit in our skin and protect against UV-induced damage. A healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids ensures that inflammation is well regulated, which also addresses related skin and hair issues. In fact, healthy skin and hair are great indicators of the nutritional value of one’s diet - and optimising this is the true essence of the field of nutricosmetics.
The global market for nutricosmetics is expected to grow to an $8 billion category by 2024, from just over $1 billion in 2009. A large part of this growth is expected to come from Asian markets. While Japan and Korea are on the forefront of this category, significant growth is expected to be driven by a growing base of consumers in the India due to a combination of socioeconomic, demographic and environmental factors.
Health and wellness are becoming increasingly important to Indian consumers, who are proactively seeking information, products and services that can help them achieve their personal health goals. This growing interest is being aided by the spread of social media and ecommerce across India, and has only been accelerated by the ongoing pandemic, as is validated by the dramatic spike in ecommerce purchases in these categories since the lockdown began.
Specific categories within the nutricosmetics market are especially relevant within the Indian context. Consuming collagen peptides has a wide range of health benefits, especially when it comes to skin health, but collagen-rich foods are found infrequently, at best, in Indian diets.
Taking collagen supplements can have dramatic effects, especially given our constant exposure to bright sunlight, which isthe primary cause of collagen breakdown in the skin. Deficiencies in micronutrients such as vitamins D3 and B12 and iron, are rampant in urban Indian populations, and can have far-reaching health implications - hair loss being one of the most evident.
Younger populations transitioning away from traditional Indian diets, for the sake of convenience, end up consuming fewer micronutrients like carotenoids and omega-3 fats, affecting the skin’s health and appearance. Increasingly hectic lifestyles coupled with environmental factors, such as less-than-ideal air quality, will only increase the need for holistic health solutions that also improve skin and hair health.
While the term nutricosmetics is fairly new to India, the intuitive link between the food we eat and the health of our skin and hair is an integral part of our culture, and provides a low barrier to entry for consumers who are discovering the category. The robust science it entails, and the dramatic, visible benefits that nutritional interventions can provide to skin and hair health make the Indian nutricosmetics industry an exciting category poised for growth.
Akshay Pai, Founder and CEO, Nutrova, Mumbai