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The Ingredients of Skin Care Research

By Kimberly J. Heathman
Posted: April 28, 2008, from the August 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

As new technologies in protein and cell science emerge in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, more new active ingredients are being made available to cosmetic chemists for the formulation of new and improved skin care topicals. It is imperative that skin care professionals keep abreast of the most current ingredient information, as well as future trends in biochemistry; genomics; molecular biology; photobiology, the study of the interactions of light and living organisms; and proteomics, the study of the functions and structures of proteins. As your clients become increasingly informed about the functional benefits of active ingredients and how an ingredient works when applied to the skin, they demand more substantiated and, above all, more visible results.

Ingredient Inspection

To help in your ingredient fact-finding, the following are several sources of information beneficial to the thorough investigation and monitoring of ongoing research.

The Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA)—

Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR)—

National Women’s Health Resource Center—

American Academy of

American Council on Science and Health—

World Health Organization—

Environmental Protection Agency—

     Accompanying all these new active and non-active ingredient developments are numerous articles and claims for and against the effectiveness of these elements in cosmeceutical skin treatments.
     So, how do you know what to believe, and what is valid information? Is the ingredient of focus really the next big thing? Is the information a conflict of interest or an interest in conflict? Is the ingredient a prime candidate for attack from a specific group? Is it safe or harmful, and according to whose research or agenda? Was there sensationalism promoted by the lead researcher? Was it helpful to the cause of scientific credibility in the perception of the industry and consumer?
     As you can see, there are many questions. But what really needs to be questioned is whether there’s solid science behind the claim and its research, period. Bottom line, finding out who conducted the research, how was it conducted, whether or not qualified professionals reviewed and published the research, and what was evaluated—was it actual scientific fact or opinion?—are the primary answers you need to be seeking.
     To evaluate such information, it’s important for skin care professionals to understand the difference between valid research and the faulty or incomplete analysis behind ingredient claims or mis-claims. Valid clinical research follows a standard scientific process and has its own specific “ingredients” or protocols. Understanding these processes is the key to becoming your own CSI—Cosmetic Science Investigator—and therefore learning either the truth or myth behind the cosmetic ingredient information available to you and your client, both in the media and on the Internet.

Mixing it up
Here’s the standard recipe for valid scientific research, listed by key “ingredients.”

     Clinical trials. Also called medical research and research studies, clinical trials are experiments designed to test the effectiveness of a treatment or intervention, as well as its potential for use as a pharmaceutical or clinical agent. To conduct this type of clinical trial, an Investigational New Drug (IND) Application must be filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
If the FDA accepts the IND application, clinical trials in human subjects can be conducted. Tests may be preventative, diagnostic or therapeutic. Volunteers or paid subjects are generally divided into two or more groups, including a control group that does not receive
the experimental treatment, instead receiving a placebo or inactive substance. They may also receive a verified, tried-and-true therapy for comparison purposes.1
     Clinical trials may be conducted by government health agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, researchers affiliated with a hospital or university medical program, independent researchers or those in the private sector.
     Typically, government agencies approve or disapprove new treatments based on clinical trial results. While important and highly effective in preventing obviously harmful treatments from coming to market, clinical research trials are not fool-proof in discovering all side effects, particularly those associated with long-term use and interactions between experimental drugs and other medications.