Taiwanese starlet Barbie Hsu, 44, once caused a stir by saying that if it wasn’t for hyaluronic acid – an injectable filler that tightens the face and wards off some of the signs of aging – “many female celebrities wouldn’t be able to survive”.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a naturally occurring carbohydrate in the human body that acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent for joints, as well as the eyes and skin.
The same gooey substance can be replicated in labs and is often used in moisturisers. But for more immediate results, a hyaluronic filler is injected into the skin in targeted areas.
In countries like Japan and the US, HA has also been used by food scientists to boost moisture levels. But it wasn’t until early this year that China’s National Health Commission finally approved the use of HA as a “new food raw material” for usage in dairy products, beverages and confectionaries by domestic producers.
Bloomage Biotech, a Jinan-based manufacturer of HA dermal fillers (see WiC470), is one of the first to seize the new opportunity in the policy change. In April, the world’s largest maker of hyaluronic acid dermal fillers launched an HA-inspired food brand called Hyalur that offers six products.
The claim is that the infusion of its powerful core HA ingredient will help with skincare but also bring benefits in terms of weight loss, sleep and stress relief. The star product is a bottled water that contains as much as 83mg of HA.
Bloomage is also a supplier to other companies that want to produce their own HA-based food. WonderLab is one example. The nutritional meal replacement company purchases HA from Bloomage to make its own branded gummies.
They are pricey. “With the addition of hyaluronic acid, the price of the gummies has increased by more than 10 fold, if not more,” AI Caijing claims.
All the same, many consumers seem sceptical about the benefits of consuming HA orally. “I don’t know how ingestible HA works. Wouldn’t it be more effective if you just get an HA injection instead?” Lin Li, who is in her twenties, told 36Kr. “After reading up on it on the internet, I found that many people aren’t convinced about the efficacy of this HA water. I am definitely not going to buy it yet. HA feels like it is something that’s more for ‘external’ application than ‘internal’.”
Customers that have purchased Bloomage’s HA water brand haven’t been hugely impressed either, saying they haven’t seen any noticeable differences in their skin condition. A dermatology clinic picked up plenty of views on weibo recently by claiming that there are insufficient clinical studies to back up the effectiveness of ingestible HA.
So far, at least, Hyalur’s sales have been disappointing. On its storefront on Tmall, Hyalur’s sleep gummies had sold less than 100 units in the last month. Another HA gummy that claims to boost skin moisture had just 110 buyers during the same period. Despite the lack of enthusiasm, Bloomage is doubling down on ingestible HA. Last April, the company announced that it had acquired China Eastar Group for Rmb290 million ($45.5 million) Its main business is the production and sale of food-grade HA and sodium hyaluronate (a derivative of the core carbohydrate). “This means that the world’s largest supplier of hyaluronic acid will expand beyond ‘external’ application of HA products [i.e. injections] to ‘internal’ HA products [ingestible ones]. Its HA empire is only going from strength to strength,” 36Kr commented.
Despite the doubts about whether oral HA treatments will go mainstream, Bloomage still enjoys a leading position across the supply chain from upstream raw materials through more conventional applications in the cosmetic beauty care sector. The derma filler manufacturer is now trading at Rmb269 a share, up from its IPO price of Rmb100 in November 2019 – boosting the personal fortune of Bloomage’s founder Zhao Yan, who has a 59% stake in the company.
Zhao is the 12th richest self-made woman in the world, according to the Hurun Research Institute.
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