I write a lot about the benefits of using skin care products that primarily contain natural and organic ingredients. I have also talked a bit about the stand-alone therapeutic value of certain oils, plants, etc. Months ago, I did a book review on Babushka’s Beauty Secrets: Old World Tips for a Glamorous New You, by Raisa Ruder and Susan Campos.
This book has many tried and true skin care recipes that women have used for many generations. Obviously, these homemade food-based recipes do have some merit, otherwise they would not have stood the test of time as well as they have. However, applying raw fruits or other food products, or even plants directly to the skin is not the same as applying a skin care product containing an extract, essential oil, or antioxidant, peptide, exfoliant, or other active ingredient derived from that food.
For example, lactic acid is one of the more gentle alpha hydroxy acids. It naturally occurs in the body and obviously is found in milk. Even though it is considered a gentle AHA, it still can be irritant and allergenic; which is evident by how many people are allergic to milk or are lactose intolerant. On the other hand, the use of milk as a skin care ingredient or as hydrotherapy has been going on for thousands of years, so clearly it must benefit the skin. But is washing your face with milk going to produce the same aesthetic effect as getting a lactic acid peel done at a spa or using a home care product containing the correct concentration of it on a regular basis? Over time, as in after consistent use for months or years, maybe; but if you want to look fresh for a class reunion? Go for the peel.
It should also be noted that many people who are allergic to milk or are lactose intolerant can tolerate lactic acid as a skin care ingredient. Why is this? Because science has made it possible. Most ingredients as a whole, like people, have their good sides and their bad sides. The good properties of milk are that it lightly exfoliates and also hydrates the skin, while the negative or non-therapeutic properties are that it can potentially irritate and cause allergic reactions. To make lactic acid to be used in a skin care product, the scientist purifies it to remove any contaminants or impurities that could be causing the irritation, cultures it to make it a high enough concentration to be effective, and separates the “good side” from the “bad side”; only adding the “good side” to the product and discarding the “bad side.”
This process is referred to as making the ingredient “chirally correct”. This is a very important phrase to look for on your skin care product labels. A good indicator of whether or not an ingredient is chirally correct is if you see a letter with a hyphen before the ingredient. For example, if you see l-lactic acid, you know it has been chirally corrected; while if you simply see lactic acid, you know it has not. This is also where you can see the difference in quality if you are comparing the same ingredient in products of different price ranges. Other examples are l-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) versus the highly irritating ascorbic acid, and d-tocopherol (Vitamin E) versus tocopherol or Vitamin E oil on an ingredient list.
Not all skin care ingredients are able to be chirally corrected, so if you see a professional-strength product that says “chirally correct” on the label, yet some of the ingredients do not have a letter and hyphen before them, it simply means that that particular ingredient was not able to be chirally corrected.
Look at grapes. We know how great red and purple grapes are for us. They are high in biflavanoids and polyphenols, in addition to other beneficial and protective antioxidants and vitamins. However, just eating grapes, or drinking grape juice or red wine will not necessarily give us the full benefit of what the grape has to offer. For example, take two of the most buzzed about antioxidants on the market today: grapeseed extract (NOT grapefruit seed extract) or oil and resveratrol. Both of these are powerful antioxidants that are marketed as both internal dietary supplements and skin care ingredients. Both come from grapes. Grapeseed oil and extract are obviously taken from the seeds, while resveratrol is derived from the skin of the grapes.
However, to reap the full benefits of these ingredients you can’t just crush up the seeds and puree the skins and apply them to your face. Scientists use various plant cell culture technologies to isolate these components from the rest of the fruit, and from them they are able to extract and synthesize the most bioactive and bioavailable substances. Don’t get me wrong, eating lots of grapes is great for overall good health, but it’s not going to give you the same benefit as taking a properly formulated supplement (in addition to eating proper the food sources) or using a high quality skin care product containing the appropriate concentration of these antioxidants.
What does bioavailable mean? Simply put, it means that a substance is able to be absorbed and utilized by the body. While the skin absorbs a large amount of what we apply to it (good and bad), certain ingredients that could highly benefit the skin such as antioxidants, vitamins, and even stem cells and growth factors have a hard time penetrating through the lipid (oil) matrix of the epidermis due to size and solubility issues. In order to be able to penetrate the skin, the substance must be oil/fat soluble and also have a low enough molecular weight. For example, r-lipoic acid is oil/fat soluble, plus it is a fairly small molecule. It is also naturally present in our body’s cells, so when we apply it or ingest it, our bodies can both absorb it and recognize it; therefore it has excellent bioavailability. You may have seen or read about alpha lipoic acid—r-lipoic acid is the chirally corrected, and therefore more effective version of this anti-aging antioxidant.
Another example is Vitamin C-ester (ascorbyl palmitate). This form of Vitamin C is oil/fat soluble, which can penetrate through the skin’s lipid barrier and be utilized by the body more efficiently before it oxidizes. Ester C is not nearly as potent as l-ascorbic acid; but l-ascorbic acid is a water soluble molecule, which means that it cannot penetrate the skin’s lipid barrier on its own. If you apply straight l-ascorbic acid to your skin, it will most likely sting, as well as oxidize in the epidermis, which creates free radicals. This is the opposite effect of what we want to achieve by using Vitamin C.
However, with the help of a delivery system, Vitamin C in the form of l-ascorbic acid can penetrate the epidermis and be recognized and used by the cells. A great example of this is Hylunia’s Beyond Complex C serum.
With this product, Hylunia’s scientists have taken l-ascorbic acid and have encapsulated it in a unique delivery system to make it more bioavailable. This process encases the l-ascorbic acid in a lipid capsule which is recognized by our cells. This technology allows the ingredient maximizes penetration, and also releases the ingredient “directly into viable cells to ensure effective neutralization of free radicals.” This also minimizes the inflammation and redness often experienced by using Vitamin C products. Again, this is an example of why medical- and professional-grade skin care products that have similar ingredient lists as mass-marketed products are more effective. So instead of taking straight lemon juice and applying it to the skin (which will likely sting and inflame the skin), or using the less effective (even though it is bioavailable) ester-C, science has made it possible for us to reap the maximum benefits of this antioxidant without experiencing the potential negative effects.
When we think about ingredients like antioxidants, peptides, and even the very science-y sounding stem cells and growth factors; we need to understand that just because science has intervened does not mean that these are not natural and holistic ingredients. These ingredients are wonderful examples of the brilliance that results from of the fusion of nature and technology (science). While natural ingredients on their own absolutely have advantages, it is science that has made them the super-ingredients they are today.
*Milk bath image from www.soapy-cakes.com