Food for thought: gluten-free, superfood-charged beauty – godsend or gimmick?

Food for thought: gluten-free, superfood-charged beauty – godsend or gimmick?

Fruit and honey in cosmetics is certainly nothing new, but kale and quinoa? Yes, superfoods have well and truly arrived in the beauty aisle with several big brands and niche labels gunning for the #CleanLiving vote.

As Canadean Analyst Jamie Mills explains, the wellbeing movement is creating opportunities for cosmetics brands to make some serious cash. “These trends are further driving interest in the connections between food, health, and appearance. This creates great opportunities for beauty brands to take inspiration from new health trends such as juicing to better resonate with health-conscious consumers. For example, although not a new trend, juicing could potentially generate renewed interest in nutricosmetics, particularly since gadgets such as the Nutribullet have entered mainstream consciousness. Indeed, natural ingredients endorsed as superfoods and those used to make much-lauded green smoothies, could be promoted as beneficial to skin health and incorporated in beauty product formulations.”

Enter the likes of Kale + Spinach Age Prevention Moisture Cream from cult brand Youth to the People, Supercritical Chia Waterless Wonder Balm from Maya Chia, and Dermatologist Solutions Nightly Refining Micro-Peel Concentrate from L’Oréal-owned Kiehl’s, which is formulated with quinoa-husk.

Some 71 percent of consumers globally, according to Canadean, believe superfoods to be effective in beauty and grooming products. That’s surely a cheering statistic for marketers everywhere. But it’s certainly one in the eye for the scientists. Because, given that these so-called superfoods can’t live up to the hype when we eat them, can we really claim that they work wonders when applied topically? 

Duane Mellor, Assistant Professor in dietetics at the University of Nottingham and a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association puts it perfectly in this wonderful piece by Dara Mohammadi for the Observer: “Whether it’s coconut oil, chia seeds or apple cider vinegar, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that if you top up your diet with any ‘miracle’ or special food that you’ll get any of the promised effects. The idea is almost entirely a marketing vehicle.”

Translate that thought to the latest beauty trend to emerge from the #CleanLiving camp: gluten-free skin care. While I have every sympathy for sufferers of coeliac disease, the simple fact is that there is no proven link between skin contact with gluten and adverse reactions related to the autoimmune disorder. As Coeliac UK states on its website, “It is possible to be sensitive to ingredients used in cosmetics, but this has nothing to do with coeliac disease specifically.” Yet gluten-free products are on the rise, with Mintel revealing that the number of new color cosmetics products launched in the UK with a gluten-free claim grew by a spectacular 677 percent between 2014 and 2015.

“The clean eating trend has begun to emerge in the beauty markets. The known impact of diet on appearance has sparked a stream of beauty launches in line with current diet trends, such as gluten-free, vegan and detoxing,” explains Charlotte Libby, Senior Beauty Analyst at Mintel.

But back over in the food aisle, the backlash has already started. Accused of being the ‘acceptable face of eating disorders’, the myth of #CleanEating is being steadily debunked, its nutritional claims challenged and its biggest proponents’ credentials questioned. Is this a bandwagon we want to get on? Or should we steer onto a different route while we still have a chance?