Illustration by Jagruti Tambe
Skin 12 May 2024 5 MIN

The new hot girl drink is not available at a bar

Get out your Stanley cup

When Lewis Carroll’s Alice drank a bottled liquid and shrank, then ate cake and grew to an enormous size, it was fantasy. But if social media influencers and ads are to be believed, there are drinks out there that claim to magically change how you look.

Welcome to the weird wonderland of beauty drinks that promise healthy, glowing, plump skin with reduced blemishes and wrinkles in just a few weeks—all while tasting delicious. These beverages fall under a category relatively new to India, called nutricosmetics. Expanding on the idea of beauty from within, they are mixtures of vitamins, antioxidants, amino acids, and minerals, and mostly target skin health, although some focus on hair and other aspects. Everything from skin-tightening (collagen peptides) to increased hydration (hyaluronic acid) is available in a powder to be mixed into a drink.  The most popular are collagen powders, which claim to replenish the naturally occurring collagen in our body that we lose as we age.

Many of these brands claim their products are made of botanical extracts, adding to their natural-beauty-from-within cred. Take Vibha Harish’s plant-based supplement brand, Cosmix, which recently made it to Shark Tank India. One of her first products was Feel Good Skin, a blend of watermelon, pineapple, bamboo shoot, burdock root, gotu kola (Brahmi), maqui berry, and monk fruit. “It contains adaptogens, which target the root cause of common skin concerns such as acne, hyperpigmentation, and dullness,” she explains. In testimonials on her website, users share that their oily skin, hormonal acne, and rosacea have seen considerable improvements. None of this is radically different from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Ayurveda, both of which are based on an inside-out approach: what you consume is reflected in your appearance. So why are these drinks all the rage now? The short answer is they’re a shortcut.

Few people have time for a 10-step skincare routine...So, when the solution comes in a quick and tasty drink, it feels like magic.

Think modern living and you immediately think of stress, pollution, poor work-life balance, lack of sleep, and erratic diets and mealtimes. All of this takes a huge toll on our skin, and few people have time for a 10-step skincare routine. Even people who create content for Insta and TikTok skip a few steps. So, when the solution comes in a quick and tasty drink, it feels like magic.

And the numbers add up. Multiple studies and reports predict a stratospheric rise in the nutricosmetics market. A 2023 report from Insight Ace Analytic says, “The Beauty Ingestible Market Size is valued at US$3.56 billion in 2022 and is predicted to reach US$9.22 billion by the year 2031.” It explains why there seems to be a new nutricosmetics brand on almost every retail website every other day. Even in brick-and-mortar pharmacies, the shelves are crowded with effervescent tablets listing ingredients such as glutathione and collagen and vitamin C powders, all claiming to solve everything from loose skin to pigmentation.

The claims have their detractors. “Ingestible supplements rely heavily on marketing hype rather than solid scientific evidence,” says Dr Anjali Mahto, a cosmetic dermatologist practising in Harley Street, London. “Many supplements contain common vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can be easily obtained through a balanced diet. True improvements in skin health are more likely to come from consistent skincare habits, including a healthy diet, proper hydration, sun protection, and the use of evidence-based topical treatments.

But while most people focus on asking if these concoctions work, what they should consider is how they work. The problem is that most of what we drink is digested and/or flushed out long before it can enter the bloodstream, which is the main conduit for the supplements to do the heavy lifting. Dr Kiran Sethi of Isya Aesthetics in Delhi elaborates, “Ideally, you want to take supplements designed to be absorbed—so you need better bioavailability, better absorption, something that doesn’t get flushed out immediately.

Since the approach is inside-out, improving and maintaining gut health is certainly key to ensuring these supplements work for you. The good news is that many nutricosmetics brands are working on this aspect as well. Gunam Beauty, for example, has just launched its Golden Glow Blend. The primary ingredients of this powder mix are “fresh turmeric juice powder and curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, known for its anti-inflammatory and immunity-boosting properties,” says founder Elizabeth Isaac. “We added trikatu, the Ayurvedic blend of ginger, black pepper, and long pepper, also known as the ‘three bitters’, which boosts the absorption of curcumin and promotes healthy digestion, improving the gut-skin axis.”

The finer details matter—for example, always pick hydrolysed collagen because its smaller molecules enable better absorption. Dr Sethi points out, “Ingestible collagen is not going to [fully] replace the collagen you lose through natural ageing, but it does improve elasticity. A few studies have shown some lost collagen does come back, but not all. Otherwise, we would all look like we are 20 when we are 50.”

The bottom line? If you like beauty drinks, have them; just choose wisely. Most of us have some version of a nutricosmetic on our kitchen counters because it’s so easy and it feels like something we can control, which, in today’s world of multiple challenges, can feel really freeing. And that’s not a bad thing at all.