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Ingredients and Strategies to Achieve Overall Skin Health

By: Jennifer Wild, DO
Posted: September 29, 2011, from the October 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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Fortunately, through current skin health science and technology, many topical products are available that are formulated with combinations of ingredients proven to reinforce and stimulate the production of dermal proteins, prevent their breakdown, provide hydration to the epidermis, and protect it from UV and cellular damage. Many of these ingredients perform more than one function, which benefits both the skin care professional and the client.

Antioxidants. Antioxidants are necessary because they neutralize free radicals, which set off a chain of events within the skin that damage skin cells and lead to visible aging. The epidermis contains the highest concentration of antioxidants, some of which are produced on their own, and some that are absorbed through food intake and the application of topical products. Vitamins A and C function both as antioxidants, and provide the extra bonus of stimulating matrix proteins and suppressing pigment production. Some of the most potent antioxidants available currently include soy isoflavones, glutathione, silybin from milk thistle and caffeine.

Matrix metalloproteinase inhibitors (MMPi). These help to inhibit the overproduction of enzymes within the dermis that are responsible for the breakdown and recycling of old elastin, collagen and GAG, such as hyaluronic acid. Elastase, collagenase and hyaluronidase are responsible for breaking down used elastin, collagen and hyaluronic acid, respectively. The natural aging process, overexposure to UV and oxidative stress caused by free radicals cause an increase in the production of MMP enzymes, which then begin to attack healthy matrix proteins. MMPi suppress these enzymes, preventing the breakdown of these crucial proteins. Vitamin C, resveratrol from red grapes and EGCG from green tea are not only powerful MMPi ingredients, but they also function as antioxidants.

Peptides. These compounds consist of two or more amino acids. Depending upon their size and structure, different peptides perform specific functions within the skin. Acetyl hexapeptide-8 helps to reduce wrinkle formation by minimizing the frequency of muscle contractions between the eyebrows (glabella) and around the eyes (periorbital). Palmitoyl pentapeptide-4 stimulates the fibroblasts within the skin to increase types I and IV collagen fibronectin.

Humectants. Humectants are crucial to proper barrier function and the outward appearance of the skin. These ingredients attract water to the outer epidermis. Hyaluronic acid can hold 1,000 times its molecular weight in water, and sodium PCA is able to attract 250 times its weight. Other powerful humectant ingredients are honey, panthenol, urea and glycerin. It is important, however, to understand that using humectants by themselves is not enough to maintain healthy barrier function. It is equally important to incorporate the use of occlusive agents to hold the newly acquired moisture within the skin and keep it from evaporating. Humectants can be thought of as magnets that attract the water while occlusives are the locks that hold them within the skin.