Advertisements for skin care products and treatments promise skin shine, freshness and youth. In videos and promotions, antioxidants fight free radicals and remove toxins, collagen is guaranteed to smooth wrinkles, and a peptide cream with nanoparticles is ready to relieve our skin of all problems at once. When it's not really clear what an antioxidant or peptide is, it's difficult to rely on their cosmetic properties. To figure out which of these promises can be trusted, we find out the meanings of the most common terms from the arsenal of beauty marketers and understand how different substances affect the condition of the skin.
Amino acids are protein breakdown products. The main proteins of skin cells are keratin, collagen and elastin, and amino acids (glycine, serine, lysine and others - there are more than twenty of them) play the most important role in the synthesis of these substances necessary to maintain elasticity, youth and health of the skin. All compounds have their own characteristics and functions in the body, and with a lack of some amino acids, weak skin regeneration, dullness and lethargy, hair diseases - from seborrhea to hair loss are observed. The course of such natural and at the same time individual processes, such as skin aging, depends on amino acids.
In cosmetology, amino acids are used quite widely, but long-term hydration and acceleration of skin regeneration can be achieved only if the active substances enter the dermis. To ensure the penetration of amino acids through the stratum corneum, drug and cosmetic manufacturers are testing new ways with varying success - from placing amino acids inside nanoparticles to using micellar solutions in the composition of products. Amino acids work effectively in preparations for mesotherapy and biorevitalization: using injection methods, rescue molecules are delivered directly to their destination and stimulate the production of collagen and elastin in skin cells.
The most famous antioxidants are vitamins C and E, provitamin A (beta-carotene), lycopene found in tomatoes, as well as various polyphenols: flavin found in vegetables, tannins (in cocoa, coffee, tea), anthocyanins (in red berries) … Antioxidants protect cells from potentially harmful reactions that can cause excess oxidation in the body. The main task of antioxidants is to fight free radicals (we will talk about them below). An excess of free radicals leads to the oxidation of lipids - the basis of cell membranes - and, as a result, to premature aging of the skin. Antioxidant vitamins attach to unpaired electrons on the outer electron shell of a free radical and prevent it from attacking other cells in the body.
Antioxidant support from the outside - from dietary supplements to serums - may be needed when the load on natural antioxidant systems suddenly increases: with prolonged sun exposure, with aging of the skin, with stress and with painful conditions. Biologists and dermatologists claim that antioxidants in cosmetics and dermatological products can moisturize the skin, reduce signs of aging, reduce inflammation, and can even be used to prevent cancer. However, in recent years, the absolute benefits of antioxidants have been questioned, besides, scientists still have to work on the depth of penetration of antioxidants into the skin.
This special protein forms the basis of the body's connective tissues, from bones and tendons to the skin itself. It is especially important for skin health: 70% of all protein in it is collagen (mainly types 1 and 2).In the dermis, collagen binds to elastin fibers and forms a kind of skin skeleton. Collagen rich in amino acids ensures the strength and elasticity of the skin, and a decrease in the production of this protein is associated with aging processes: the metabolism slows down, the processes of collagen breakdown begin to prevail over its synthesis. The fibers in the collagen frame become hard and fragile, and the skin, having lost its support, loses its tone and elasticity, becomes covered with wrinkles, the face contour changes.
According to most studies, the molecules of soluble collagen in creams and serums are too large to penetrate into the dermis, which means that such a product, contrary to the promises of the manufacturers, will not provide anything other than short-term hydration of the stratum corneum (this is also not bad, since it visually refreshes the skin). Several double-blind tests have shown the beneficial effects of collagen supplements on skin condition.
Most of us have a cream, mask or deodorant that contains methylparaben or ethylparaben. These powerful preservatives are widely used not only in cosmetology, but also in the pharmaceutical and food industries. Parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid, which have high antiseptic properties and effectively resist the growth of fungus. Together with the low cost, long history of use and ineffectiveness of alternative natural preservatives like citrus extracts, these properties fully explain the popularity of parabens.
Tests in rodents have shown that parabens are practically non-toxic, quickly absorbed, processed and excreted from the body. The safety of parabens has been questioned after being found in high concentrations in 18 out of 20 breast cancers, and scientists took into account the proven ability of parabens to mimic estrogens, hormones known to play a role in breast cancer. However, a causal relationship between paraben use and cancer has not yet been established.
The so-called protein cosmetics containing peptides are becoming more and more popular: cosmetologists recommend it for dry and aging skin. Peptides are made up of amino acid residues linked by a peptide bond. In small amounts, peptides are found in almost all living cells. These include many natural biologically active substances: components of blood plasma, some hormones, antibiotics. Peptides are a kind of regulators of cell "movement": they determine and maintain the proper rate of stem cell division, help new cells to recognize their functions, and in mature cells they support the necessary set of enzymes and receptors, and increase their viability.
The preparations, which include peptides, promise us a lot of happiness at once: increasing the elasticity of the skin and the resistance of its cells to a lack of oxygen, reducing existing wrinkles, strengthening the hair roots and accelerating their growth. Sounds fantastic, but recent research shows that some peptides are able to penetrate the skin and can even be used as an enhancer (penetration enhancer) for other substances in medicines and cosmetics. However, the peptides that are most often declared in anti-aging creams and serums (for example, acetyl hexapeptide-8) practically do not reach the epidermis, let alone the dermis, where they are most needed.
The modern beauty industry inclines us in every possible way to fight free radicals. This is a kind of "production waste" arising in the process of vital activity of the organism, including during respiration (that is, virtually continuously). These unstable molecules, lacking one or more electrons, tend to fill the empty space by taking an electron away from other molecules.The action takes place according to the principle of a chain reaction: a molecule deprived of an electron also becomes a free radical and begins to fill its need for the missing electron. Such compounds are the norm for the body, there is even an opinion that they provide healing and regeneration to young skin. However, excess free radicals have been linked to cancer, heart disease and premature aging.
Under the influence of environmental factors - from a deplorable environmental situation to constant stress and metabolic disorders - the body's antioxidant defense cannot cope with the natural oxidation processes, and rapid chain reactions of free radicals are out of its control. Foods rich in antioxidants (vegetables, fruits), properly prescribed dietary supplements and cosmetics with antioxidants - concentrated serums and intensive masks - can slightly support the body in adverse conditions.
Sulfates - salts of sulfuric acid - began to be added to cosmetics back in the 1940s as a cleansing and foaming agent. Manufacturers love them for their ability to reduce the surface tension of water or, as chemists joke, to make water even more watery. Sulfates are most commonly used in shampoos, shower gels, and facial cleansers. The main culprits in the controversy are petroleum-based products: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES).
Research in recent years has questioned the link between sulfates and cancer, and the International Health Organization does not recognize SLS and SLES as carcinogens. At the same time, sodium lauryl sulfate is considered toxic to aquatic fauna, so when washing the cleansing gel into the water supply, we are not very concerned about the environment. Sulfates, which cleanse hair and skin by oxidation, leave a thin film on them, and also destroy the hair structure and, in rare cases, can provoke dandruff. Most hairdressers recommend using sulfate-free shampoos, but they don't do as well at cleansing the scalp, so it is worth using an intense cleansing shampoo from time to time or going to the salon for professional care.
Perhaps the broadest and most incomprehensible term in cosmetology. The medical definition of toxins is quite simple: it is a poison of biological origin. Toxins are produced by tumor cells, as well as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Neurotoxins affect the nervous system and the brain, hematous ones affect the blood, nephrotoxins affect the kidneys, and so on. Some metabolic products are also called toxins if this metabolism is disturbed. For example, if the level of an enzyme is exceeded in a blood test, it is considered a toxin. Hence all the myths about miraculous masks, supposedly cleansing from toxins, exhausting juice detox and hydrocolonotherapy (one of the modifications of enema treatment that has no scientific basis).
It is unclear how a tonic or cream can eliminate toxins from the blood or lymph. There is an opinion that mineral wraps with seaweed or clay, acting as sorbents, are able to remove a certain amount of metabolic products through the skin, but there are few scientific publications in this direction, and, apparently, such an effect is attributed to wraps mostly due to the active sweating. In this case, a sauna session or an intense workout is probably more beneficial and certainly cheaper.
Photos: kubais - stock.adobe.com, exopixel - stock.adobe.com, gekaskr -stock.adobe.com, habrda - stock.adobe.com