Special edition: Beauty from Within

Traditional herbal lore infuses beauty from within with new energy, expert says

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Traditional herbal lore infuses beauty from within with new energy, expert says
Infusions from other cultures are helping to ground and foster the growth of the beauty from within movement in the United States, according to the CEO of a women-focused supplement brand.

Amy McKelvey, who is a graduate of the California School of Herbal Studies, is also one of the founders of Her Vital Way​, a women-focused dietary supplement manufacturer based in San Rafael, CA.  McKelvey said there is a cultural disconnect at the center of beauty industry in the US, which includes the beauty from within market, that could account for the sluggish growth of the sector here. 

Cultural connection lost

America is an immigrant culture, and it seems one of the things that those immigrants left behind were traditions of how to use nutrition to look and feel your best. McKelvey said this is at the root of the disconnect that while the supplements market overall in the US is the largest in the world, the ingestible beauty products market lags behind other regions.

“There is definitely a disconnect in this country, and we are behind Europe and Asia, but we’re making strides,”​ McKelvey told NutraIngredients-USA. 

“We have also lacked the rich cultural traditions that grandmothers and aunties pass down because our cosmetic industry has really never been rooted in tradition like other cultures. Global traditions are reaching the US and it’s enriching and expanding our understanding and appreciation for wellness and natural ingredients and even our definition of beauty,”​ she said.

McKelvey said that many of these practices were passed from mothers to daughters, and when those traditions were lost, the mother passed on what they had learned from TV advertising and women’s magazines.

“You know many of us learn about beauty from our mothers. I was raised by a mom who only put castor oil and almond oil on her skin, but also grew an extensive garden and fasted to initiate healing energy. While not trying to be, she was always the most beautiful woman in the room. So I had a wonderful example for what it means to truly take care of one’s being in a beautiful way,” ​she said.

Traditional herbal systems making inroads

Among the global traditions that are now reaching the US in a big way is the understanding of certain herbs in the Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine tradtions and how these substances can work to balance the overall system to the benefit of the body’s outward beauty.  Feel good and look good, in other words.

McKelvey said along those lines adaptogens might become the next hot thing in beauty from within.  These ingredients work on a broader spectrum than do the more functionally focused ingredients, such as collagen peptides that might bolster the connective tissue matrix of the skin, for example.

“Chronic stress and increased cortisol exposure reduce the body’s ability to replenish including important enzymes that are responsible for protecting our cellular aging. There’s a great deal of research on this with chronic disease and in the area of epigenetics and then of course anyone who has gone through a stressful period can vouch for the fact that it ages you. Getting back to where you were before the period of chronic stress can take quite a bit of time but it’s doable,” ​McKelvey said.

Adaptogens to the rescue

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 8.08.48 AM
Amy McKelvey

Balancing stress, then, is a key beauty routine, McKelvey said.  This includes diet, sleep and exercise changes, as well as the use of specific ingredients in supplements.

“Adaptogens are beautiful at this and in this country we are just starting to become familiar with this unique class of herbs. Schisandra Berry really helped along with lifestyle adjustments to change my stress response system and it is a treasured herb in TCM for being a great tonifier that is also revered by Chinese women for creating soft and supple skin,”​ she said.

One issue with beauty from within products is the notion that there is little science behind much of the claims being made.  McKelvey said its laughable to see TV infomercials in which celebrities tout the beauty supporting properties of the products they are selling, when their faces have obviously been altered by other means. It leaves the impression that snake oil—not science—drives the sector.

“I think that most herbalists want to simply redefine what beauty-from-within really means; legitimize it if you will. I have to say that the women in my life who have always had the most beautiful skin and hair, live really beautiful lives and consume a variety of plants. A lot of herbalists make their own skin care and know that simple ingredients are best — they also know that the body loves plant medicine and that it thrives in the company of plants. An herbalist should always be in the formulation room when you’re talking about plants and any type of health product,” ​she said.

McKelvey said the movement toward more natural ingredients, part of which drives the clean label craze, is helping beauty from within supplement brands.  One of the things she said Her Vital Way strives to do is to keep those resulting products affordable.

“We’re cleaning up our personal care routines, our house cleaning supplies, and how we eat. The Environmental Working Group has been wonderful at raising awareness and taking the complexity out of understanding ingredients and the impact that they have on our health. Other than purity, affordability is our driving force. Wealth should not dictate health. There is something about not gouging the consumer who genuinely wants to improve their health that really matters to me,”​ she said.

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