Power-Packed Pills

While the obvious results of a spa visit are a more outwardly beautiful self, the relaxation we impart treats the inside, as well. Your spa probably retails a wide range of products to beautify the hair, skin, and body, but you may want to consider offering products that do the same from the inside, such as vitamins and supplements. Offering internal supplements furthers the notion that beauty is not just skin deep and gives clients an additional tool to reach their beauty and wellness goals.

In the U.S., the vitamin and supplement business approaches $24 billion in annual volume, according to Nutrition Business Journal. Most likely, your clients are buying vitamins and supplements somewhere, so it might as well be from you. But is it hope in a bottle, or something more? Let's look at the facts.


Vitamins, Minerals, and Botanicals


What are vitamins, and why do we need them? Vitamins are organic chemical compounds that convert food into energy, which assists normal body functions like cell repair and growth. Vitamins work together and with other substances, such as minerals and enzymes, to help the body perform at its best. Most vitamins, with the exception of D and K, are not manufactured by the body, so most of us obtain them either from our diet or through supplements. Vitamins are categorized by nutritionists according to the way they are processed by the body, either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body for anywhere from a few days to six months and are used as needed. These include vitamins A, D, E, and K. Water-soluble vitamins travel through the bloodstream, and whatever is not used immediately is eliminated, so they need to be replaced more frequently. This group includes vitamin C and all of the B vitamins.

Vitamins can take several forms—pill, powder, and liquid—as a supplement. These different delivery methods will affect the rate of absorption and activation. Although pills are the most common, some supplements are broken down and rendered ineffective by stomach acids. These are best offered in liquid form.

Minerals are chemical elements that are required for important bodily functions, including producing hormones, regulating the heartbeat, and building strong bones. Macro minerals are those the body needs larger amounts of, such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur. Trace minerals are needed in small doses. This group includes cobalt, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc. All vitamin and mineral substances have their own jobs in the body, and they work at their best when they are all present in their optimum amount. A lack of a particular vitamin or mineral in the body can cause interference with how the other vitamins and minerals are working. There are diseases and conditions related to a deficiency and oversupply of these substances.

Botanicals are plants, or parts of plants, that are valued for their flavor, scent, and/or therapeutic properties. Herbs are a subset of botanicals. Nutritional supplement products made from herbs or botanicals that are intended to maintain or improve health are often available on their own or in conjunction with vitamins, minerals, and other dietary substances. Botanicals that are intended to be used as dietary supplements need to be labeled as such. Common ways in which botanical ingredients are used include teas, extracts, and tinctures—the classification has to do with the way the herb and plant properties are obtained. Some ingredients can be boiled in hot water to create a tea, while others will require more forceful extraction.


Spa and Beauty Applications


One of the most common uses we see for supplements in the beauty industry is when they function as antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, as well as selenium. Research shows that these ingredients work by accelerating the skin's natural repair systems and can mitigate some of the symptoms of age and sun exposure, such as wrinkles and skin discoloration. While they can be found in topically applied skin creams, the concentration tends to be low, and supplements can provide a much bigger boost of these vital ingredients. You may also see supplements targeted to mood, hydration, and body sculpting, among others.


Aside from these beauty applications, one of the drivers of growth in the supplement industry is our increasing interest in maintaining health and wellness and in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medical approaches, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. Clients today are taking a more active role in maintaining their health by exploring more of these options. Dietary supplements and antioxidants are the most widely used form of complementary medicine in cancer patients, according to a recent study. Supplements are also being used more in conventional medicine. Clients experiencing a health challenge may be interested in exploring other options and taking a more active role in their healthcare. However, some supplements, particularly herbal, can interact with prescription drugs in unintended ways, and your clients should always seek the advice of their physicians in these cases.


Labels and Legalities


The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulates vitamins and supplements, however, they do not have established standards for quality or standardization in the U.S. Therefore, the presence of the word "standardized" on a label does not indicate product quality. The United States Pharmacopeia, a non-governmental, not-for-profit independent health organization, has established its own standards for vitamin supplements, so you may see a "USP" seal on the label. Supplements may be regulated as a food or dietary supplement, but not usually as a drug, as that process is too expensive.

The label of a nutritional supplement may contain one of three types of claims:

  • Health claim – describing the relationship between the ingredient and the risk-reduction of a disease or health-related condition.
  • Nutrient claim – describing the relative amount of the nutrient in the product.
  • Structure/function claim – describing how the product may affect the organs or systems of the body, yet not mentioning any particular health condition or disease. These types of claims must also include a disclaimer that reads, "This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."


In addition, the FDA requires the label to give general information, a supplemental facts panel, and information on all of the ingredients included. Ingredients that were in use before 1994 are not required to be reviewed by the FDA, as they are deemed safe since they've been in use for so long. As with cosmetics, the other ingredients in the supplement will be listed in descending order of predominance. A main point of difference with the drug industry is that manufacturers of dietary and nutritional supplements do not have to provide the FDA with evidence that the supplements are effective or safe. Manufacturers are not permitted to market unsafe or ineffective products, but once the product has been marketed, the FDA must prove that the product is unsafe in order to restrict its sale.

You should also know that what is in the bottle does not always match what is on the label. Be sure to purchase your supplements for resale from reliable suppliers who preferably manufacture their products in the U.S. As with cosmetics, the use of the word "natural" is open to interpretation and does not always mean that the product is safe. There are plenty of natural ingredients that may also be dangerous, so read the labels carefully.


Retailing Issues


As is often the case with retail products in spas, supplements do not necessarily sell themselves. Your supplements should be easy to access, as potential purchasers will want to read the ingredient labels. They should be supported with shelf-talkers or other forms of consumer information. If you have more than one brand, you may want to consider merchandising your supplements together, apart from topically applied beauty products, or by function, rather than by brand. Spas can create health and wellness retail areas that include supplements, books, sleep aids, and yoga materials, for a more rounded shopping experience.

Like many beauty products, supplements don't have an unending shelf life. Try to store your supplement supply in a cool, dry place. Your order volume should match sales forecasts so that you don't have too many products aging on your shelves. Many bottles come printed with an expiration date, so stock should be regularly checked and rotated so that the newest products are at the back, and expired product should be discarded. With a little effort, you can keep your supplements effective and your clients coming back for more. As the spa industry evolves into a wellness movement, offering supplements to your clientele can be an additional source of revenue for you and may be yet another way you can educate and inspire your clients.

Lisa M. Starr has more than 28 years of experience in the beauty industry. She is currently the senior east coast business consultant to new and existing spas and salons for Wynne Business, a leading spa consulting company. Her expertise includes business operations and finances, marketing and advertising, inventory management, human resource development, sales, and public relations. Email her at [email protected].