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Coenzyme Q10 – Ubiquinone and Idebenone

February 20, 2017

I looked at putting Ubiquinone, the naturally derived Coq10 into a TGA listed skin care product a few months ago and found that it wasn’t possible, the ARTG only allows CoQ10 in oral preparations and not in skin care. This is because of a lack of efficacy data to support deliver of this active via that route.  I thought that was interesting.

When dosed orally Coenzyme Q10 is said to help keep the heart healthy.  It is essential for cellular function as it is used by the cells to generate energy – no COQ10, no energy – sounds legit.

Apparently it doesn’t quite work that way when applied topically.

After hearing that one would be forgiven for feeling that COQ10 is a bit of a dud, another fad that the cosmetic industry comes up with in order to sell products but to think that would be to do COQ10 a great dis-service.   It is, in fact very helpful but not as an energy booster,  instead COQ10 acts as a powerful and quite useful antioxidant and every skin care guru needs a bit of that in their life!

Ubiquinone is the name for the COQ10 that is naturally produced, us cosmetic chemists sometimes extract it from plant material, the rather un-sexy Japanese Knott Weed is a particularly reliable and cost-effective plant source that is widely used.   The wonderful world of pharmaceuticals created their own super-potent version of this COQ10 when they made Idebenone. This is a slightly smaller molecule with better solubility and efficacy, at least when it comes to pharmaceutical applications but for cosmetics it has proved to be a little too risky an ingredient for most thanks to its ability to induce dermal allergic reactions – possibly due to its enhanced skin penetration ability?  I am not sure…..  In any case the cosmetic world now favours Ubiquinone  and uses it as an antioxidant while the pharmaceutical world favours Idebenone and uses it as both an antioxidant and a cellular energy booster.

Here are the molecular diagrams so you can see the structure of the two chemicals:


The above diagram and MW information are from a paper by Nuri Gueven et al into the differences between a natural vs synthetic version of the same drug, in this case Coenzyme Q10.  The full paper can be found here

So what do we know of the antioxidant properties of Ubiquinone?


I found this table in an article I was reading about the antioxidant efficacy of the COQ10 (Idebenone: A new antioxidant. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, Vol 4 (1) – Jan 1, 2005).  As you can see from this, in this round of  tests the Ubiquinone scores 55 out of 100, Idebenone 95 and Tocopherol (Natural Vitamin E) scores 80.   55 out of 100 doesn’t look great but numbers can be deceptive in these things – as you can see Ubiquinone scores about the same as Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) and Alpha Lipoic Acid, another popular Antioxidant in cosmetics comes in last with 41.   When it comes to dosing your product up with antioxidants I like to think of it like this.  Say you want to give your house a good clean, protect it from dirt and grime,  you would be best sourcing a variety of implements – duster,  vacuum cleaner, broom, mop etc – rather than just getting in 4 x vacuum cleaners.  Antioxidants are the same, they work to keep your product protected from the ravages of free radical pollution.  Free radicals come in different shapes, sizes and amounts and so it makes sense to try to tackle them in a variety of ways.  If you are lucky your variety of tools will work synergistically creating a combination that is better than the sum of its parts.  It is worth trying for that.   So, when I look at the table above that’s what I see,  a set of antioxidants with different levels of ability but also different chemistries, chemistries that might prove better suited to something outside of this test criteria.  After all, Idebenone might perform the best here on paper but what use is that when some people react to it?

So how much Ubiquinone should you use to access its antioxidant benefits?

Well, the beauty of an antioxidant is that any amount you do is better than nothing – like cleaning up the house, just picking up one pair of socks from the floor makes a difference and is worth it (yes children, I hope you are listening…).   That said there is an optimal level that insures efficacy without a high risk of irritation or product instability or expensivity (I just made that word up).  The amount most commonly used is 0.01-0.5% – quite a wide range but again that does reflect the fact that each formula will have a different level of need for an antioxidant both as product protection (to prevent the formula from going rancid) and in terms of claim substantiation (to protect the skin from free radicals).

The ingredient is oil soluble although it is fair to say it is poorly soluble and often needs filtering before adding to a base as it won’t fully dissolve into most oils.  I’ve found success in dissolving it into vegetable squalane and that solvent has the added benefit of being skin-like and something of a skin penetration enhancer because of its ability to spread the ingredient out evenly.

Anything else to keep in mind when using CO Q10?

Well it is expensive when compared to Vitamin E (somewhere in the region of 8-10 times more) so you would tend to using less of this than your tocopherol.  Also it is a bright yellow in colour and that colour will run through into your base product, especially if you are using 0.5% of this active.  Otherwise it is pretty much odourless which makes it quite easy to add into most formulations and because the addition rate is low it can also be dispersed through a gel (water-based) serum if needs be.

And one last thing, what is Kinetin?  It also appears in that antioxidant test result table. 

That is a plant hormone that stimulates growth.  Apparently it is also used in skin care along with vitamin A (Retinol) to help fight ageing although I’ve not come across it myself (but that doesn’t mean much to be honest).   Just a quick Google of products containing this show up Almay Skin Soothing Foundation, Pro Therapy MD Cream and Garden of Eden tissue growth cream – high-end products.  This antioxidant is listed as an unrestricted ingredient in the COSING database (EU ingredient database) and looking at Special Chemicals for Cosmetics it seemed to be quite popular in 2010-2014 with nothing much since and no suppliers listed so I’ll have to dig around a bit more about why that is.

So there you go.  Ubiquinone, CO Q10 is a good antioxidant for skincare and is probably worth adding to your regular round-up of antioxidant heros if you can afford it.  If you can’t afford it, it looks like tried and trusted Vitamin E is better on a weight for weight basis anyway so don’t feel like you are missing out too much.

Amanda x

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Nuri Gueven permalink
    August 5, 2020 11:58 am

    Hi Amanda, if you are copying an image from my paper, it would have been nice to add a reference, otherwise this is academic fraud! Thank you.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 5, 2020 12:37 pm

      Hi Nuri,
      Oh no, that was not my intent. I generally reference or link back in the image) to anything that I pop onto the blog or give references through the paper or at the bottom. I will investigate this now and see what has gone wrong and rectify it immediately. It is definitely not intentional in any way. Thanks for pointing it out.

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