Antioxidant Science Drives New Skin Care Developments

By Rebecca Wright, Editor, Nutraceuticals World | September 15, 2009

Companies are actively pursuing antioxidants in an effort to combat aging and enhance sun protection products.

Throughout the last several years skin care products have borrowed heavily from trends taking place in the dietary supplement and functional food markets—just consider the various yogurt-based lotions, green tea-infused shampoos and superfruit-based body washes. But the antioxidant category seems to be the place where these markets share the most common ground.

Earlier this year Dial launched a new line of skin care products—including body wash, soap and foaming hand wash—touting the benefits of cranberry extracts and antioxidant pearls. Discussing this launch in a recent issue of Brandweek, Krista Faron, a senior beauty analyst with Mintel, Chicago, IL, said while antioxidants are certainly nothing new to the specialty channels, the fact that antioxidants are coming to the mass market shows that the trend is gaining momentum.

Coppertone also made a move into antioxidants this year when it introduced a new sunscreen
product called NutraShield with Dual Defense. According to the company, the line is enriched
with antioxidants to help promote natural skin repair by neutralizing harmful free radicals created by ultraviolet (UV) exposure.

Scientists at the Coppertone Solar Research Center discovered that not all topical antioxidants are created equal. In addition, the results of independent studies presented by the makers of Coppertone at a recent American Academy of Dermatology meeting showed that exposure to sunlight can actually cause some antioxidants to become skin-damaging pro-oxidants.

In light of this research, Coppertone NutraShield contains specially selected antioxidants that continue to function even in the presence of UV light. In fact, based upon the results of an ex vivo study, the formula is proven to reduce free radical formation by 74% in skin exposed to UV light.

Antioxidant Market Dynamics

Offering a historical perspective on the use of antioxidants in skin care, Jon Packer, president, Centerchem, Norwalk, CT, pointed out that antioxidants were originally used in cosmetics to prevent the breakdown of the delicate oils. “Companies figured if you threw antioxidants in that they would help the products stay fresher longer,” he said. “Eventually companies made the leap from saying antioxidants were good for formulations to saying they could also be good for skin. Synthetic vitamin E was hugely popular at first and then natural vitamin E took over.”

While antioxidants are not necessarily new to the personal care category, they have evolved in some interesting directions over the years. Driving this evolution, according to Ellen Kamhi, PhD, RN, herbalist/nutritionist, Bio-Botanica, Hauppauge, NY, are the consumers who are constantly seeking ways to maintain a youthful look.

In their quest, Ms. Kamhi says, consumers are really beginning to understand the importance of antioxidants in maintaining their health and youthful appearance. “Baby boomers spend billions each year in an effort to look youthful and healthy,” she said. “And technology and science are now validating the folkloric and traditional use of natural fruits and vegetables to enhance health and beauty.”

Jeff Wuagneux, president and CEO, RFI Ingredients, Blauvelt, NY, believes the newest and strongest antioxidant trend as it relates to skin care is the inside-out approach—that oral supplementation with antioxidants is as important as topical applications. But, he cautioned, “Like all antioxidant supplementation, it is difficult to quantify the effect of long-term antioxidant supplementation on the skin. While there are numerous in vitro tests that can be done to determine a product’s effect on certain enzymes associated with skin health, like measuring elastase activity, such tests are not relevant in quantifying two important parameters, one of which is bioavailability, and the other being an actual visual, noticeable effect on the skin itself.”

Mr. Wuagneux also singled out Baby Boomers as a major consumer target. “A recent survey by The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) reports that Baby Boomers represent the most progressive group in terms of making the connection between good health and appearance,” he said. “In fact, NMI claims a whopping 90% of Boomers ‘agree that the food and supplements they consume have an effect on their appearance’.”

Currently, Ellen Delisle, technical sales manager, Cosmetics and Personal Care, Bio-Botanica, sees antioxidants being incorporated into several types of skin care products, including day creams, night creams, foundations, lip products, moisturizers, SPF products, bath, hair care and acne products. In this vein, she said exotic fruits are very hot right now because they contain high antioxidant levels.

Caroline Brons, senior marketing manager, Functional Foods Marketing, DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, NJ, also highlighted some specific ingredients of interest. “There has been a lot of interest recently in resveratrol, particularly for healthy aging. Recent surveys show that consumers are highly aware of the healthful, life-enhancing benefits of red wine when consumed in moderation,” she said. “DSM’s high purity resveratrol resVida stands out as the only resveratrol on the market with a comprehensive safety package and self-affirmed Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status. It also fits beautifully in any skin health formulation.”

Additionally, DSM senior nutrition scientist Lori Lathrop Stern, PhD, RD, said, “Traditional antioxidants (vitamins E and C) and antioxidant carotenoids (beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein) are historically known to enter the skin following ingestion where they can act as antioxidants.”

According to market researcher Freedonia Group, Inc., Columbus, OH, antioxidant use in cosmeceuticals (excluding polyphenols and other plant-derived antioxidants) is projected to increase 8% a year to $500 million in 2012.

“Antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin A and others are being promoted for use in preventing free radical formation (caused by the exposure to harmful UV rays), which can damage skin structure. Demand will be stimulated by the development of improved products and clinical support of anti-aging benefits of antioxidants,” Freedonia noted in a recent cosmeceuticals study. “Demand will also benefit from the marketing value of vitamin compounds, based on the association between vitamins and vitality as promoted by dietary supplement marketers.”

Currently, the antioxidants used in cosmeceuticals are dominated by vitamins, with vitamin A and vitamin E accounting for the largest shares of total antioxidant demand in 2007 (see Table 1). “Vitamin A’s position is due to its generally recognized effectiveness in the reduction of wrinkles and treatment of acne and psoriasis, while vitamin E enjoys success primarily as a secondary ingredient in age-defying preparations,” the market researcher explained. “While these antioxidants are expected to achieve favorable gains through 2012, other, smaller-volume antioxidants (e.g., vitamin B compounds) are expected to record rapid growth through 2012, albeit from a small base. Vitamin C compounds will also experience above-average growth, though demand will be moderated somewhat by formulation and stability challenges.”

Although no definitive evidence has yet emerged that antioxidants have anti-aging effects when applied to skin, Freedonia feels vitamins contribute substantial marketing value to cosmeceutical formulations due to their association with vitality in the minds of consumers. “Encouraged by the market success of the multivitamin trend in dietary supplements, cosmeceutical formulations increasingly contain a cocktail of antioxidants,” Freedonia pointed out. “For example, Lamas Beauty’s Pro-Vita C moisturizer SPF 15 includes vitamins A, C and E, as well as hyaluronic acid. Furthermore, vitamin serums, which typically contain a much higher concentration of vitamins than moisturizers and creams, are also gaining in popularity.”

The Free Radical Battle

Bio-Botanica’s Ms. Kamhi says antioxidants represent a select group of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and enzymes found in plant foods that have the ability to protect cells from free radicals, the culprits responsible for causing damage to cells, including skin cells.

“Free radicals are groups of unstable atoms looking to obtain electrons in order to become stable. They can pull electrons off cell membranes, unleashing a vicious cycle of cell destruction, known as a ‘free radical cascade,” she said. “In addition to causing various diseases, free radical damage activates an enzyme called metalloproteinase, which breaks down collagen and cell membranes, leading to aging and illness. Luckily there are literally thousands of antioxidants from natural sources to help us win the ‘free radical battle’.”

The best application for antioxidant ingredients, according to RFI’s Mr. Wuagneux, includes anything having to do with anti-aging (whether topical or oral) or sun protection products (since sun damage is usually associated with free radical damage). “The idea of antioxidants in such products is very easy to understand as consumers already know a lot about the health effects of antioxidants as well as the fact that free radical damage is the biggest cause of skin aging,” he said. “There also seems to be a lot of media attention surrounding the idea that what you eat will be reflected in your appearance.”

David Djerassi, consultant, LycoRed, Orange, NJ, agrees that sun protection products lend themselves well to using antioxidants. “If you use SPF 15 you don’t have total protection. If you use SPF 50 then some still goes through because you are not always covered,” he said. “What we suggest is using oil soluble antioxidants to help enhance the protection against free radicals.”

Dr. Frank Schonlau, director of scientific communications, Horphag Research and Natural Health Science (NHS), Hoboken, NJ, went as far as to say that antioxidants should be present in all major skin care products. “In essence, all topical formulations for the skin represent suitable vehicles for delivery of skin nutrients,” he said, adding, “And it is important to have a mixture of antioxidant species in place for protection of the lipid phase as much as the hydrophilic phase. Such an ‘antioxidant-network’ combination offers much better protection from oxidation.

“Consumers are aware of the harm caused by photo-aging and realize that antioxidants represent one major protective measure to prevent accelerated skin aging,” Dr. Schonlau continued. “From a physiologic perspective, the photo-aging process involves a loss of collagen and decreased ability of skin cells to divide. In turn, the skin loses elasticity and gets thinner. An antioxidant should not only defy oxidative stress, but it should also keep enzymes in the skin—which break down collagen and elastin—in check.”

Antioxidant Science Meets Skin Care

Dietary supplements have taken antioxidant science to a new level of understanding, which is just starting to make inroads to the personal care sector.

Recently, Brunswick Laboratories, Norton, MA, developed a test that quantifies the antioxidant potency of skin care products using the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale. More specifically, “Total ORACsc” measures antioxidant activity against five of the most important free radicals found in the human skin environment: hydroxyl, peroxyl, peroxynitrite, singlet oxygen and superoxide anion. In a patent-pending analytical laboratory method, Total ORACsc combines all five measurements into a single, easy-to-use test result.

ORAC has had a major impact on the dietary supplement market, and to a lesser extent functional foods. For several years, Brunswick has helped leading international companies add value to their brands by providing antioxidant services that tell a convincing story to consumers. Now, Total ORACsc delivers quantitative analysis to evaluate the comparative antioxidant potential of skin care products.

David Bell, a spokesperson for Brunswick Laboratories, as well as an industry consultant, explained how ORAC translates to skin care. “It is pretty well known in dermatology and skin science that antioxidants play a vital role,” he said. “In nutraceuticals we’ve found that ingredients concentrate in the skin environment and play a protective role. Furthermore, scientifically we know that botanicals or other natural antioxidants are very relevant to the skin environment.”

“Now Brunswick is looking at ways to quantify antioxidants as it has done in the past,” Mr. Bell added. “From a foundational standpoint, this is a very simple story because all of this resonates with consumers.”

So far, Mr. Bell says Brunswick has reached a point where the test works effectively in finished products. “In normal testing you are pulling out, say, the water-soluble constituents and everything else becomes waste material,” he explained. “In a complex emulsion where you have multiple constituents that are both oil and water-soluble materials you are now able to look at the whole thing in its entirety. This is a chief part of the invention.”

Put simply, Total ORACsc provides scientific analysis that allows companies to fine-tune their product formulations based on actual performance against free radicals. As a result, Brunswick Labs has the capability to help clients design high-performance products from raw ingredient screening through complex finished product formulations. Total ORACsc can also be linked to performance measures such as collagen glycation and penetration.

Mr. Bell explained that ORAC could also complement clinical research on a product. “There are in vitro markers that can be used, which are well known to the skin science community in terms of performance. As with ORAC and ingestibles, this test will also be used as a way to define premium benefits for skin care products,” he said. “This is a welcome change, not unlike SPF. It will give companies a means to substantiate antioxidant protection.”

During the past few years, Mr. Bell claims there has been significant uptake of the ORAC method among several multinational companies, which are using it for their internal R&D. In fact, Steifel Labs, a GSK company, is using coffee berry (Revaleskin) as its platform and basing its superiority on ORAC. Mr. Bell says this is the first major personal care company to start using ORAC to help it explain the benefits of a product. “This is the best example of the crossover between food and personal care,” he commented.

Ginny Bank, president, Boulder, CO-based Full Spectrum Consulting, believes ORAC has wonderful utility as a quality control tool. “To make sure a lotion has a consistent amount of antioxidants in it, ORAC is a good test. In fact, one could argue that a topical application is easier to work with because you don’t need to do the extra bioavailability work. In other words, it is not as complicated to get an antioxidant into the skin as it is to get it through the digestive system and into the blood.”

What the market needs to be aware of, Ms. Bank said, is the aggressive competition ORAC can breed. “I would hate to see skin care products engage in the ORAC war that supplements have gotten into,” she said, adding, “Because there is a visible side to skin care, people aren’t going to use a product if it doesn’t make them look better.”

Others remain a bit skeptical of applying ORAC to skin care products. “Numerically ORAC is ok, but when it comes to efficacy in the skin these tests are pretty limited. Antioxidants are not water-soluble, so if they don’t penetrate the skin then efficacy is quite limited,” said LycoRed’s Mr. Djerassi. “You are better off with markers, which is what we’ve done in terms of showing that lycopene can protect the skin from within. Just to have an antioxidant means something, but not much.”

Mr. Djerassi also explained the big differences between supplements and topical products. “Adding small amounts of antioxidants is also a problem,” he said. “With a supplement you have to specify a dose, so you know where you stand. But with topicals there is no requirement to list how much a product actually contains.”

NHS/Horphag’s Dr. Schonlau also weighed in on the use of ORAC in skin care. “The consumer might easily be misled by ORAC values, as this simple lab test doesn’t reflect the physiologic value of an antioxidant for the skin,” he explained. “For example, one of the most important antioxidants for the skin is vitamin C. Without vitamin C, no functional collagen can be generated in the dermis. But its ORAC value is a mere 1000 [µmol TE/gram]. Interestingly, vitamin C is not only required to synthesize collagen, but an abundant presence of vitamin C also stimulates the production of collagen.”

Dr. Schonlau went on to say that the lab testing of carotenoids likewise does not result in impressive ORAC values, but that no dermatologist would question their relevance for antioxidant protection of the skin’s lipid barrier.

Finding the Right Combination

According to most experts, today’s antioxidant movement calls for a regimen that is inclusive of both topical and oral products. However, combining skin care supplements with topical products is still, for the most part, a foreign concept in the U.S. market. “In Europe, combining oral supplements with topical products is very popular. However, this trend is just starting to gain traction in the U.S.,” said LycoRed’s Mr. Djerassi. “Combining topical products and supplements is the best way to augment the activity of the ingredients.”

Centerchem’s Mr. Packer agreed. “Preventive cosmetic ideas are real trends that we’re seeing, but they’re not as front of mind as they should be here in the U.S.,” he said. “Asian markets are a little more progressive in terms of antioxidants. If I looked around the world I would say there is a strong awareness in Asia, then Europe and then America.”

In order for the market to move forward, Mr. Packer believes there is an educative process that has to continue to evolve. “Today we know a lot of wonderful things about the artistry and science of skin care, so antioxidants have really come a long way. In fact, the amount of work behind free radicals is astounding,” he said. “Thanks to more powerful analytical tools we’re finally getting ingredients developed specifically for skin care instead of being borrowed from other industries.”

But the industry must do more than just talk about antioxidants, Mr. Djerassi noted. Now he says there needs to be more discussion about activity and efficacy. “When it comes to showing the data and what happens to certain organs, then you have yourself a very interesting story for antioxidants,” he said.