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Cosmeceutical innovations offer superficial, structural boosts


Intriguing new directions in anti-aging skincare stem from growing knowledge about the human genome and the skin's underlying structure. Much of the latest research into the science of skin aging uses genomics, says Patricia K. Farris, M.D.

Key Points

National report - Intriguing new directions in anti-aging skincare stem from growing knowledge about the human genome and the skin's underlying structure.

Exploiting genomics

Such research has led to the development of new anti-aging strategies, including enhancing barrier repair. Using botanical ingredients such as shea butter and a variety of other plant-based oils, the skin can be efficiently hydrated, Dr. Farris says. These ingredients also help repair barrier function that is lost with aging.

"Shea butter is loaded with fatty acids including stearic acid, oleic acid and linoleic acid," she says. "As an emollient, it melts at body temperature, so it disappears very quickly into the skin. It also has some anti-inflammatory activities" and is used topically in African tribal medicine for this purpose.

Maracuja oil, derived from passion fruit, also acts as an emollient, Dr. Farris says.

"Not only is this a good natural moisturizer, with 70 percent linoleic acid, but it also contains vitamin C. So it has antioxidant activity, plus calcium and phosphorus. Also, maracuja oil is known for being soothing and calming." Maracuja oil often is found in massage oils and has a soothing effect on muscle aches.

"Babassu oil comes from a palm tree in the Brazilian rain forest. It contains 70 percent fatty acids, and it has a unique property in that it absorbs very quickly into the skin, drawing out heat and leaving a cooling feeling. It's a great hydrator, and very good for barrier repair. Like maracuja oil, it also has some anti-inflammatory activity. So it's no surprise that babassu has been touted to improve eczema," Dr. Farris says.

Other botanicals

Grapeseed oil also provides excellent moisturization, she says. "It contains a variety of fatty acids, but what differentiates grapeseed oil from some other oils is that it's very light."

Accordingly, Dr. Farris says grapeseed oil is widely used as an essential oil in aromatherapy, "and it's an excellent shaving lubricant."

Grapeseed oil itself has little antioxidant capacity because its antioxidants are not lipid-soluble, she says. However, "Grapeseed extract is a potent antioxidant. It contains proanthrocyanidins that, in addition to being potent antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory activities. Grapeseed extract also upregulates gene expression responsible for vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), so it is believed to have some wound-healing properties."

Additionally, animal studies show it has chemopreventive effects. "This has also been shown with green tea, resveratrol and some other botanical antioxidants," she says.

Pomegranate possesses skin-lightening properties, Dr. Farris says.

"It's an excellent antioxidant/anti-inflammatory combination product. And again, animal studies have shown that it provides some tumor suppression, in both skin cancer and breast cancer models," she says.

In one study, investigators evaluated pomegranate seed oil and the water-soluble extract of pomegranate skin for their effects on human epidermal keratinocyte and human dermal fibroblast function.

"They found that the seed oil contained components that stimulated keratinocyte proliferation and caused epidermal thickening," Dr. Farris says. "The water-soluble extract inhibited metalloproteinases and turned on collagen production. Therefore, the authors propose that this botanical, if you take both fractions, has retinoid-like effects (Aslam MN, Lansky EP, Varani J. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 20;103(3):311-318. Epub 2005 Oct 10)."

Not surprisingly, she says, "We're seeing pomegranate in many topical cosmeceuticals."

Herbs such as rosemary also are gaining popularity, Dr. Farris says.

"Rosemary contains several phenolic antioxidants: carnosic acid, carnosol, caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid. Rosemary also has interesting antiseptic properties - it's a good antimycotic, as well as an antiviral and antibacterial agent. It has anti-inflammatory activity" and is used in traditional Eastern medicine as an anti-spasmodic. "It also has some wound-healing and chemopreventive properties. And it's been shown to inhibit UV-induced metalloproteinases," she says.

With rosemary appearing in increasing numbers of topical cosmeceuticals, however, "It's worth noting that it can cause contact dermatitis," Dr. Farris says.

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