Cast your mind back to 2007. You were sobbing over the end of Harry Potter; had sore thumbs from bashing buttons on your Blackberry; “woke” was just a thing you did in the AM; and edible beauty supplements were as hot as gourmet cupcakes. Everyone was stocking up on bottles of enriched fruit-flavoured drinks or tablets that promised glowy, more radiant skin.

Those “edibles” fell out of favour, but are coming back —  as “nutricosmetics” or “nutraceuticals” — and in a bigger way. Euromonitor reports a 10 per cent increase in the amount locals spent on supplements between 2012 and 2017 (note: the data doesn’t distinguish between generic supplements and beauty-specific ones). Net-a-Porter included them when it launched its beauty arm in 2013, and claims double-digit growth of the category yearly since.

“I think that more women are open to the concept as wellness is such a big part of their lifestyles,” says Marianne Wee, veteran beauty journalist and founder of Smitten PR. “We’re in the era of grain bowls and superfood juice boosters, so why not a supplement that’ll help skin resist ageing from the inside?”

Newby Hands, Net-a-Porter’s beauty director, says more are taking to this new inside-out approach to beauty. “Today’s woman is smart when it comes to her skin, health and wellness, and knows how it all works together,” she says. “Taking something that affects skin cells as they form, so that they begin in the healthiest state possible, seems sensible if you want to maximise skin health. Then, as the cells move up to the skin surface, skincare is important in protecting and repairing.”

More are also in the know when it comes to how these supplements work. Says Shinji Yamasaki, CEO of Japanese-made skincare brand Re:erth: “People now understand that they’re a type of food, not drug, and for longer, better results, you have to take them consistently. It normally requires two to three months before benefits are seen.”

So what’s different about the latest nutricosmetics? They’re still consumed as a daily drink or pill, and target the usual skin problems: dryness, pigmentation, signs of ageing. Antioxidants, collagen, herbs and hyaluronic acid remain staple ingredients, but there’s now a twist to their formula. 

Fancl, a pioneer in the market, nano-sizes the hyaluronic acid in its Hyaluro Premium ($132 for a 30-day supply) to supposedly make absorption easier, and combines it with antioxidant extracts and ceramides. The antioxidant tomato extracts phytoene and phytofluene are fairly common in brightening nutricosmetics, but Re:erth uses a concentrated dose in its Phytobright ($105 for a 30-day supply). Coupled with Japanese spring turmeric root extract that’s said to reduce the synthesis of a melanin precursor, it supposedly slows down the formation of dark spots.

Traditional skincare brands are moving in too, piggybacking off existing bestsellers. Sulwhasoo has launched its Invigorating Ginseng Extract Ampoule ($198 for a 28-day supply of drinks), which promises to boost circulation, and give rosy cheeks and an overall healthier-looking complexion. Laneige has had nutricosmetics, but is now making their connection to its skincare more obvious. Its upgraded Youth Collagen Drink ($150 for a 30-day supply) is the oral equivalent of its popular Sleeping Mask. Besides the boost of collagen and antioxidants, it has gamma aminobutyric acid that reportedly improves sleep quality.

Not to be ignored: the celebrity-linked offerings. Welleco was co-founded by The Body, supermodel Elle Macpherson. Its The Super Elixir (US$107, or S$146, for a 30-day supply, Net-a-porter) has superfood extracts and antioxidants, plus pro- and prebiotics for that Macpherson-like flat tummy. Not available here (yet) are Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop supplements, and Bobbi Brown’s Evolution_18 line, the makeup maven’s first venture since leaving the brand she started.

Hands points out that such supplements tend to come in chic packaging designed for the dresser, not medicine cabinet. “(They’ve) helped place nutricosmetics in the mainstream so consumers associate them less with science and health, but more as another step in their regime,” she says.

Soon, Hands predicts, more brands could incorporate probiotics, as well as produce “functional” beauty foods (think collagen-enriched chocolates or turmeric breakfast bowls). Already, there’s Bio G Personal Blend ($359 for a 30-day supply) that combines two hot beauty trends — nutricosmetics and personalisation — to tailor-make pellets based on one’s DNA test, and health and lifestyle needs. Austin-based “therapy lounge” Ivitamin is taking things further with an intravenous treatment said to plump, smooth and brighten skin, bypassing the digestive system so more ingredients reach skin. It hopes to license it to medi-spas and clinics globally, so we could soon have a whole new take on inside-out beauty.

Now that’s a bit of magic. Harry Potter, eat (or intravenously absorb) your heart out.

This story first appeared in Female’s September 2018 issue.