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Extrinsic Ageing and the Limit of a Cosmetic Ingredient Efficacy.

February 19, 2017

I really like this picture that I found on ‘On Health’ here.

Apparently the twin on the right smokes and likes to sunbathe whereas the twin on the left doesn’t.


Pictures like this do help me to set customers expectations with regards to what a cosmetic product can and can’t do and for me, that’s a beautiful thing!

The cosmetic industry is full of hype and to be honest some of it just does my head in.  I am not a fan of ingredient companies that sell their actives on the basis that they worked In Vitro – basically on cells that they made up in the lab in a test tube.  That isn’t real life, the cosmetic chemist can’t just grab the exact cells they need and dab their product onto them.  We have to go through layer after layer of Keratinocytes before we even get to the live cells (Keratinocytes are dead and are what covers all of our outer skin except for our lips) and that’s not easy when the whole point of the skin is to keep stuff out.  We really do have to swim against the tide!

As someone who does read through the efficacy data with a fine tooth comb before going to a site like Deep Dyvve (you have to pay to subscribe) to read other scientific papers to see if the results the ingredient manufacturer got stack up in the world outside of their imaginations I do sometimes find myself a bit lacking in the enthusiasm department for some shiny new cosmetic ingredients because of this In Vitro issue.  But this stuff isn’t going away any time soon, ingredient manufacturers aren’t so much lying when they tell us about their in-vitro awesomeness,  more that they are potentially over-stating the facts  or drawing conclusions as to the how’s and why’s while trying to provide this insatiable market place with a little bit of something that isn’t BAD for you.

So what’s the deal with these In Vitro wonder kids? Do they do anything? Should they be avoided altogether?

OK so if something can be proven to do something good in vitro while at the same time doing nothing bad it may be worth the gamble don’t you think?  In vitro testing does tend to help answer the ‘is this going to be toxic?’ question and that is quite important don’t you think….

Then there is always the possibility that the cosmetic chemist will manage to reach these viable cells if the base formula is right.

Lastly and not insignificantly most these ingredient companies do go on to run some real-life efficacy tests and see some visible improvements in the skin of their test subjects. Even if the visible results are not directly linked to what the ingredient can do in-vivo does that really matter if it makes you look better and the ingredient meets your marketing expectations?  I think not.

OK, so let’s get back to the picture and what cosmetics CAN do shall we?

The picture above shows a number of skin-based processes that have been accelerated due to lifestyle choices and environmental exposure – extrinsic ageing.  Properly formulated cosmetics can help either to prevent this damage and/or correct a little of what’s gone wrong but only up to a point.

  • Fine lines and wrinkles – Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise. Cosmetic emulsions (Creams) can excel in this area delivering by delivering extra oil in a breathable and pH balanced watery soup to the skin in a comfortable and easy-to-spread way.  Never under-estimate the role of a bit of strategically placed moisture on the skin!
  • Deeper lines – Prevention is the only thing a cosmetic can help with.  Deep lines, once formed can only be removed by a face lift or fillers – surgical intervention.Where a cosmetic can help is in boosting moisture (to plump up the skin),  reflecting light away from the wrinkle (so the lines look like they have diminished) and topically tightening the skin with the aid of a shrink-to-fit polymer that physically tightens the skin by tightening onto it.   While there are a selection of ‘topical botox’ type ingredients (typically peptides) around that can affect the muscle contractions the ingredient does have to get right down past the dermal-epidermal junction in order to work and while this isn’t impossible, it isn’t easy and results will not be as dramatic and permanent as you can achieve with fillers or botox.
  • Pigmentation is something that a cosmetic product can affect.  Bearberry (uva Ursi) extract is very commonly used in brightening formulations in order to capture the benefits of the Arbutin that it contains.  Arbutin is structurally similar to Hydroquinone (same molecular family only arbutin is glycosylated. Glycosylation is a reaction where a carbohydrate (sugar) is attached onto a molecule so Arbutin is hydroquinone plus this carbohydrate part) and works in a similar way by blocking the melanin pathway.  If melanin can’t be ‘grown’ and deposited in the cell a discolouration won’t develop.   Hydroquinone is a prescription only ingredient in Europe, the USA and Australia  whereas Bearberry extract is not regulated that way.  The reason hydroquinone is restricted is because of outstanding questions and concerns over its potential carcinogenic status. It is thought that because of the slight difference in chemical structure Bearberry is a safer option.  One study looking into the amount of Arbutin in Bearberry found concentration ranges between 6.3-9.16%.  One patent for a topical lightening cream containing Arbutin specified an active Arbutin concentration of between 0.05-5%.    On that basis one would be looking at adding the Bearberry active at between 0.55% – 79.3% of the formula to get a result. This may or may not be possible depending on the type of product you are trying to make.  Anyway, enough of the detail, the bottom line is that one can decrease pigmentation by topical application of a treatment or cosmetic product as long as the actives are the right ones and present at the right concentration.
  • Uneven Skin Tone can also be addressed cosmetically.  We have the make-up option and we also have at our disposal a range of anti-inflammatories and soothing agents that can help address redness and skin marks.  A common and popular soothing agent is Bisabolol from Chamomile and a great anti-inflammatory is Allantoin from Comfrey.  Together they can help to even things out while the other ingredients get to work.
  • Sun damage and the general lack of vitality in environmentally aged skin can be prevented or slowed down by the application of antioxidants.  Popular antioxidants are Coenzyme Q10,  Resveratrol,  Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Alpha Lipoic Acid.  Antioxidants are common to many fruit based extracts and vegetable oils, ingredients which are growing in popularity amongst those looking for active natural skin care.  It is relatively easy for the cosmetic chemist to deliver these to our clients skin because oxidation occurs where there is oxygen – on the surface – so as long as we have a good range of ingredients at concentrations that won’t irritate and they are spread well across the skin we should get results and slow down that extrinsic ageing and boost the skins natural capacity to protect its self from the sun at the same time!  Bonus!

So cosmetics do work!

While there are some things that a cosmetic product just can’t do there is much that they can.  It often surprises my students when I tell them just how many things can be achieved on or close to the skin’s surface – I think most people assume ingredients have to almost get into the blood stream to work.  When it comes to moisturising, protecting, strengthening, re-surfacing,  smoothing,  ‘feeding’ and brightening our products only have to soak into the top few layers which is great as that’s pretty much as far as most cosmetic products get, even with the aid of delivery systems.

But cosmetic product do have their limits.

In the case of these twins, no amount of cosmetic product will have the twin on the right hand side of this image looking like the twin on the left although the right products might get her somewhere close (if she even wants that, after all, we don’t know).  What is also important is  that neither twin looks to be in their twenties, thirties or even early forties and that is significant.  A good cosmetic product may do as much as help you look a good few years younger than your age but the only thing that can take decades off you is either surgery, good genes, good life-choices or good fortune (a stress free life).

Expectations set, let’s get into the lab and try some stuff out.

Amanda x



One Comment leave one →
  1. March 10, 2017 9:27 pm

    Great article Amanda. A very interesting read. Thank you.

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