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Neurocosmetics: What nutraceutical brands need to know

Article-Neurocosmetics: What nutraceutical brands need to know

© iStock/Ridofranz Neurocosmetics: What nutraceutical brands need to know
Leveraging the gut-skin-brain axis, the field of neurocosmetics is niche but on the rise and Mintel’s top beauty trend for 2024 is so-called “NeuroGlow”. With key ingredients including neuropeptides, adaptogens, and botanicals, the nutraceutical industry should watch this space.  

The gut-skin-brain axis is used to describe correlations between the gut microbiota, emotional states and stress, and systemic and skin inflammation.

One 2021 review, for instance, described the interplay between gut microbiome dysbiosis, diet, and skin conditions, while another study looked at how psoriasis and depression have overlapping inflammatory and immune mechanisms, related to the dysregulation of the gut-brain-skin axis.

Taking this concept beyond the field of medical dermatology, beauty brands are beginning to explore how nutrients and functional ingredients in topical products can leverage the gut-skin-brain axis.

“Neurocosmetics typically work by influencing the skin's sensory neurons,” Raphaëlle O’Connor, R&D expert and director of health and nutrition consultancy inewtrition, told Vitafoods Insights. “They might aim to reduce the sensation of discomfort, alleviate stress-related skin issues, or enhance the feeling of wellbeing through the skin.

“These products often contain ingredients that are known to interact with the nervous system. This could include peptides that mimic neurotransmitters, adaptogenic herbs, or other compounds that can influence nerve endings in the skin.”

Ingredients to watch: Adaptogens, nootropics, biotics, and more

While the trend is niche, Mintel analysts have tipped “NeuroGlow” to be the top beauty and personal care trend for 2024.

“The next chapter of wellness will be mind-body beauty, where mental wellbeing and physical appearance are interconnected. […] Practices like psychodermatology and neurocosmetics will gain traction with consumers around the world,” they wrote in a trend report.

Neurocosmetic products are already on the market. US-based Image Skincare uses ashwagandha, an adaptogenic plant that is said to help the body deal with stress, as well as skin microbiome-friendly fermented squalene in its Biome+ range. In doing so, the product range “represents a shift towards neurocosmetic and psychodermatological beauty through an adaptogen and nootropic revival”, said Mintel.

According to Swiss brand Mibelle Biochemistry, it adds timut pepper extract to its products because the extract acts as a “neuroactive” ingredient, improving neuronal function in the skin to increase homogeneity while also improving mood and emotional wellbeing.

Indian brand Just Human, meanwhile, claims on its product packaging that it is “powered by neurocosmetics”. Its formulations include probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics to nourish the skin microbiome as well as biochemicals such as β-endorphin – a class of neurotransmitter that forms the basis of brain-skin axis – and neuropeptides.

Other ingredients that brands use include passionflower extract, medicinal mushrooms, CBD, amino acids, ceramides, and antioxidants.

Is neurocosmetics grounded in science… or mostly marketing?

According to Mintel analyst Andrew MacDougall, the neurocosmetics category is set to “evolve into a more personalised, science-driven, and holistic approach”.

But is the science convincing?

O’Connor said the scientific basis for neurocosmetics is grounded in the established science of skin neurobiology, but it is still relatively limited compared to more established fields within cosmetics and dermatology. The efficacy and mechanism of action of specific products also vary, she added.

“As with any emerging field, there's a risk of misinformation or overhyped claims. It's important for both consumers and professionals in the field to rely on products and ingredients with a solid basis in scientific research,” she said.

“The field is promising, but there's a need for more comprehensive, standardised research to fully validate the effectiveness of these products and ensure [brands] deliver on their claims.

“While there is growing interest and research in this area, it is important to recognise that many claims and products related to neurocosmetics may not have undergone rigorous scientific testing and validation.”

O’Connor said that, as the field evolves, it is likely that both the science and products will become more sophisticated and evidence-based – but she warned that the cosmetics industry is not highly regulated in many countries, and this may lead to a lack of standardised testing and evaluation.

This makes it challenging for consumers to assess the efficacy and safety of these neurocosmetic products,” she added.

In any case, Mintel predicts that the field will have a significant influence on the beauty sector – and since many of the ingredients used are the same as those used in supplements and functional food and drink products, it is an interesting category for nutraceutical suppliers and beauty-from-within brands to explore.

Find a balance between compelling marketing and accurate claims

Research has firmly established how stress is connected to many skin ailments such as rashes and redness and skin conditions such as acne and eczema.

However, the psychological and emotional benefits of being happy with the appearance of one’s skin can operate at a more simplistic level. One Mintel survey found that 92% of Indonesian adults and 84% of Mexicans agree that looking good makes them feel more confident.

Neurocosmetic brands can therefore leverage the feelgood factor associated with the mind-body-beauty connection, but they should avoid overemphasising it, which consumers may see as a cheap marketing ploy. Brands should not position their products as “a cure-all for life’s challenges”, Mintel warned.

O’Connor said that health and beauty brands would do well to invest in consumer awareness of the gut-skin-brain axis through educational efforts, research, and effective communication strategies. While it may already resonate with some educated consumers interested in holistic health, the gut-skin-brain axis is unknown to most people.

When it comes to developing new products, manufacturers should invest in research – particularly long-term studies, even though this may be challenging in a beauty industry characterised by rapid trend cycles; collaborate with dermatologists, scientists, and other experts; and “carefully navigate the language used in marketing” to make sure they do not overstate the benefits of their products.

“This requires a balance between compelling marketing and accurate, supportable claims,” O’Connor said.