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Active Ingredients in Action

By: Terri A. Wojak
Posted: August 29, 2012, from the September 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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The intercellular route. The intercellular route is said to be the most effective way to break through the stratum corneum. This method carries active ingredients through the lipid matrix between the cells. The stratum corneum is composed of keratinized cells and intercellular lipids, including fatty acids, ceramides and cholesterol. Lipid-soluble products are ideal for intercellular absorption.

The transcellular route. This route delivers products directly through the epidermal cells. Ingredients with a small molecular size that are both lipophilic and hydrophilic penetrate best this way. Manufacturers may add ingredients, such as liposomes or nanotechnology, to encase an active ingredient for optimal penetration.

The transfollicular route. This route may be used, but is not a preferred method because less than 0.1% of the skin’s surface area has sebaceous openings. This route can be used to carry larger and polar molecules through follicular openings.

With all the new technologies available, many skin care professionals are starting to use specialized delivery systems to enhance product penetration. There are electrical devices that can be used to help products penetrate, such as galvanic current, iontophoresis and ultrasound. These devices work by disrupting the barrier of the skin or using energy to drive in ingredients. Microneedling is another modality that is becoming increasingly popular to assist with the delivery of ingredients into the skin. Think of it like aerating a lawn—this technique utilizes an instrument with microscopic needles that are designed to cause minor ruptures in the barrier of the skin to allow products to penetrate more effectively.

Professional skin care knowledge

Educating consumers with tips to increase the absorption of ingredients can enhance results and should be done on a regular basis. Well-hydrated skin with an intact barrier increases product absorption. One of the reasons skin care professionals use massage and steam in facial treatments is to stimulate and heat the tissue in order to aid absorption. Exfoliating the skin on a regular basis to remove dead cells first decreases resistance from the barrier. Water-based products should be applied before oil-based products. In general, an easy way to achieve this is to apply products from thinnest to thickest. The amount of product applied to the skin is also important to produce results. Consumers may think they can buy a $100 serum and try to make it last longer by using half the recommended dose; however, this will simply give them half of the active ingredients needed.