We live in a unique age where beauty and health are converging in a meaningful way. The decades where beauty is tied to superficial shallowness or “only skin deep” are being replaced with a realization that we can only be our most beautiful selves when we are in our most healthy state be it physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. It makes for an exciting segue in the beauty industry to push the value of beauty and health as partners in the development of being our best. The science of cellular health is becoming one of the most powerful tools in truly creating what we want to achieve in a combined beauty and health industry.
So how does cellular health impact beauty? We have coined the phrase “anti-aging” in our attempts to slow down any changes from the perceived perfections of one’s youthful state. We frequently tie anti-aging to combatting fine lines and wrinkles, sagging, dull and lackluster skin, age spots, and every other term associated with undesirable aging affects to our outward appearance. These outward signs of aging, though, are simply the manifestations or “symptoms” of underlying changes happening in our skin. The aging process is actually taking place at the cellular level where changes due to negative stimuli can lead to disruptions or alterations to our optimal cellular state. Compromised cellular health is the true source of aging skin. Consequently, a more thoughtful approach to cellular health in one’s beauty regimen will have a far greater impact to an anti-aging effect and long-lasting beauty.
To understand how aging works at the cellular level, it is important to note cellular health goes beyond genetics. Your DNA contains the genetic code or “blueprint” that makes you who you are—it’s a big part of what makes each of us unique. Recently, companies have begun providing access to our “genetic code” through DNA sequencing and mapping methods that can provide knowledge of our ancestry and even predispositions to diseases and overall health. However, it is how your genetic material (a.k.a. genes) gets read and expressed that ultimately determines the health of your cells. Epigenetics is a newer area of science that studies changes in gene expression without altering the underlying DNA sequence. In our cells, different combinations of genes are turned on or off through a variety of factors. There are over 50,000 genes available in our genome, and each can manifest in a limitless amount of combinations. While many gene expression combinations are inherited, these combinations can also be influenced or altered by our environment and what we do with it.
Scientists are now using principles behind epigenetics to create solutions that impact cellular health and help optimize gene expression. By reversing the “aged” epigenetic state of a cell (a.k.a. improving cellular health), we make the right kind of changes so skin looks and acts younger from the inside out. While many factors influence this, there are key ingredients in topical skin care that can make this kind of difference to your skin. Topical application of the right kind of actives can help the body turn on beneficial activities like collagen production and cell renewal, and turn off undesirable reactions like hyperpigmentation and sensitivity. Your skin is your primary defender and protective barrier to the harsh environment you live in. If you don’t help it “reset” on a daily basis to help purge damage and inflammation, your defenses weaken and unwanted changes to your gene patterns occur to compensate. Your skin’s “epigenetic state” needs your help by correcting, healing, and protecting it with products designed for that purpose.
When assessing aging skin and how to improve it, a key concern is facial skin’s ability to regenerate or repair itself, which declines along with its ability to communicate, transfer nutrients, stay hydrated, and build up its support structure. As the epidermis layer atrophies and blood vessels shrink with age (i.e. intrinsic or chronological aging), the skin is simultaneously bombarded by pollutants, ultraviolet radiation, cigarette smoke and other harsh substances that generate free radicals and toxins (i.e. extrinsic or environmental aging), thus accelerating the aging process through transepidermal water loss and skin dehydration, damaging DNA and cell proteins, degrading the extracellular matrix (ECM), and impeding epidermal recovery. Compounding these issues with systemic muscle wrinkling, potential hereditary factors, and poor nutrition ultimately creates sagging, wrinkling, bags, lines, discoloration, puffiness, and hyper-pigmentation.
The development and expansion of peptides as biologically active molecules highlights some of the most profound advances in topical skin care that can influence the cellular health of the skin. Because of their ability to act as cell-communicating signals that can attack multiple forms of aging, peptides are critical components to results-driven skin care and are evolving into fundamental ingredients for anti-aging products. Clinical data demonstrates peptides work on a cellular level to increase hydration, reduce visible lines and wrinkles, firm the skin, enhance the skin’s natural luminosity, diminish discoloration, or reduce inflammation and redness. Each clinically-proven peptide acts as a unique molecule to help skin respond better to aging concerns. When different peptides are combined with each other or with other active ingredients, they are capable of enhancing each other’s responses to better address multiple signs of aging.
Peptides are unique and versatile in their approach because they can be used by a wide range of clients and pair well with a wide range of other popular treatment approaches. If clients are intimidated by aggressive or invasive treatments, peptides can serve as an effective alternative to give some of the same desired results. On the other hand, if a client is interested in treatments like Botox®, retinol, hydroquinone, deep chemical peels, or other aggressive treatments, peptides are perfectly positioned to enhance these treatments by improving the overall health of the skin and potentially extending the efficacy of the results. The potential of peptides is potentially limitless as each peptide can have a targeted purpose in the skin. In general, peptides in skin care have been loosely organized into four main categories.
Signaling Peptides: These peptides are designed to trigger signaling pathways or networks in the skin. A good example would be peptides that stimulate the production of collagen by the fibroblasts in the skin. This stimulation can be activated at different points in the collagen synthesis pathway and therefore a formula can take advantage by using multiple peptides together that uniquely stimulate collagen to amplify the result. Peptides can be designed to specifically stimulate other structural proteins in the skin like elastin, fibronectin, laminin and integrin or can be broader and stimulate production of multiple proteins. Peptides have also been used to help regulate other activities in the skin such as adipogenesis, melanin synthesis, and cell turnover.
Enzyme Inhibitor Peptides: These peptides help to inhibit, block or reduce the activity of enzymes in the skin that cause undesirable outcomes. For example, peptides are especially useful in treating hyperpigmentation by reducing the activity of the enzyme tyrosinase. Other enzyme activities that are targeted against with peptides include the breakdown of collagen and enzyme activity induced by inflammation, including the activity around dark circles and puffiness in the eye area.
Neurotransmitter Inhibiting Peptides: These peptides are a valuable subset of enzyme inhibitor peptides that specifically work to disrupt the muscle contractions that cause fine lines and wrinkles. As peptides can disrupt the muscle contraction at multiple points, using multiple neurotransmitter inhibiting peptides can be a beneficial way to attack the problem of expression wrinkles.
Carrier Peptides: Topical skin care always deals with the challenge of effectively delivering actives to the skin to generate a response. Many peptides in skin care formulations are either small enough to passively penetrate the skin or have been modified with a functional group (e.g. acetyl, myristoyl, palmitoyl) that facilitates passage through the skin barrier. Additionally, certain peptides called cell-penetrating peptides or CPPs have been found to facilitate passage of larger molecules and are being explored for use in topical skin care.
The future of peptides is bright as a key tool in unlocking epigenetics and cellular health. Their versatility and compatibility with other ingredients and treatments will ensure their place in the future of the skin care industry and technologies brought forward to advance beauty and health.
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About the Authors
Dr. Neal Kitchen serves as vice president of product development for HydroPeptide, LLC. He earned his doctorate at the University of Illinois and has a research background in epigenetic regulation, cellular signaling responses, and aging mechanisms at the molecular level. He leads the company’s efforts to accelerate the development of clinically-proven anti-aging skin-care products and the advancement of epigenetic technologies in skin-care formulations.
Erin Ferrill serves as Director of Brand Management and Education for the award-winning cosmeceutical skincare brand, HydroPeptide. Erin’s current projects include creating comprehensive education platforms to produce the top Account Executives in the industry as well as education programs for spa staff with an emphasis on Esthetic knowledge and helping spas increase sales to service revenue.