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Food-based cosmetics feed your skin

  • New York Times News Service
  • Published Monday, May 13, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Laura Mercier has body washes in “flavors” like creme de pistache and fresh fig. Philosophy sells a vanilla birthday cake gift set including bubble bath. Fresh’s Sugar line of lip balms, inspired by the mother of one of its founders, Lev Glazman, who used sugar to keep his childhood scrapes from becoming infected, now has seven shades.

These days, one might be forgiven for confusing the candy store and cosmetics counter. What started with sweet-scented lotions in Bath & Body Works has become enough pumpkin-spice exfoliators, licorice serums and creme brulee body washes to stock a French patisserie.

And now the beauty industry is going even further, marketing what it calls “food-based” products like coconut shampoo, grapefruit body scrub, mushroom anti-aging cream, pomegranate-pigmented lipstick and cucumber eye-makeup remover.

The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the term “food-based,” but companies claim that these products are organic, natural and, in many cases, safe to chew on. It’s an understandable strategy in an era of juice detoxes, hand-wringing over added chemicals and fears about unseen contaminants.

“Just as you eat food to nourish your body on the inside, we use the same food to nourish the skin on the outside,” said Susie Wang, the founder of 100% Pure, a beauty brand in California that offers a Cocoa Kona Coffee Body Scrub made of organic Kona coffee beans and chocolate extract.

Wang said her co-workers have been known to dip pretzels in the scrub and eat it, with one employee sprinkling the exfoliator on ice cream.

Kimberly Cornwell is the founder and chief executive of Celadon Road in North Attleboro, Mass., a kind of Avon for eco-friendly products that are sold only by Celadon representatives.

“Our sugar and salt scrubs are literally edible,” she said. “We don’t recommend it, but they are.”

Regardless of whether you decide to take a snack break mid-beauty routine, some psychologists say smearing sweet substances on our bodies might make us less likely to eat them.

“Substituting scents for actual food can be a good alternative to binging on those foods that we are most tempted by,” said Amanda Baten, a psychologist and certified nutritionist who founded the Center for Integrative Practices, a holistic wellness clinic in Manhattan. “Chocolate-flavored scents can induce some of the same responses in the brain which can result in feeling pleasure, in a similar way that eating can.”

Others doubt that what you smell (or put on your skin) has much of an effect on what you eat.

“I wouldn’t use it as a diet tool,” said Brian Wansink, the author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think” and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. “A smell seems to a have a very satisfying feeling initially, but that wears off in five to 10 minutes.”

A blood-orange body wash or blueberry moisturizer is not going to spur cravings, he said, the way that passing by a bakery might make you want a baguette.

“It’s hard to mimic the smell of, say, coconut,” Wansink said. “It’s close, but it’s slightly off. There’s part of the smell there, but it’s not spot on enough to give you exactly what you want.”

The farm-to-table trend that has sprouted up in dining rooms across the country is now appearing in spa rooms from Laguna Beach, Calif., to Cambridge, Mass. Natural ingredients are grown on produce farms and in gardens on hotel rooftops specifically to be blended together and slathered on skin.

“We have an intensifying desire for authenticity and immersion in treatments, food, design and experiences indigenous to the spa’s unique place and culture,” said Susie Ellis, president of SpaFinder Wellness, a media company that monitors the industry.

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