When it comes to skin care products, it seems we’re all chasing the dream of eternal youth. We’re presented with one ingredient after another that promises to reverse the visible effects of ageing, turn back the clock, or restore the skin we were born with.
Most of these active ingredients are based on the fact that as we age, the balance between collagen synthesis and collagen fragmentation is altered. Collagen is the substance responsible for the strength, flexibility, structure, volume, and elasticity of our skin. Over time, our bodies produce less collagen, resulting in sagging, fine lines, and wrinkles as the skin becomes less resilient. Oxidative stress from environmental factors and decreased oestrogen levels during menopause also contribute to changes and degeneration in the connective tissue of the skin.
The major targets of anti-ageing agents in skin care products are collagen metabolism and the effects of oxidative stress, with moisturising agents being an important part of the approach. Regenerative processes may include stimulation of the production of proteins (such as collagen and elastin), prevention of water loss, stimulation of the skin’s blood circulation, replenishing the sub-epidermis with natural lipids, and maintenance of the natural homeostasis of the skin cells. Antioxidants are also commonly included. Phew, a mouthful, right!
Here are some of the active ingredients you’ll find in your products, and how they work:
Glycans are sugar molecules that aid in cellular communication. Our natural stores of glycans decrease with age, as does the ability of our cells to regenerate effectively. Products containing glycans aim to restore that efficiency of communciation, switching the production of collagen back on and boosting the elasticity of skin.
Ceramides are natural components of human skin found in all four layers of the epidermis, creating a barrier to reduce infection and help retain moisture. As we age and the levels of natural ceramides drop, our skin becomes dry and inflexible; ceramides in a skin care products assist in regulating trans-epidermal water loss so that the skin can more efficiently regulate and repair itself, resulting in a firmer, smoother structure.
Rhamnose is a sugar molecule that gives a jump-start to ageing skin cells, thickening the epidermis and increasing production of elastin, collagen, and other beneficial proteins while diminishing the enzymes that break down collagen.
Activinol is composed of biologically-derived phytochemicals with protective or disease-fighting properties, designed to boost the key molecule activin to help the repair process of the skin and strengthen the support structure, resulting in a firmer, less-wrinkled appearance.
Retinol, a vitamin-A derivative, speeds up cell turnover, removes the dead cells that cause dullness, and boosts collagen and elastin by stimulating cellular repair at the deepest level of the skin. It also pumps up circulation by increasing blood-vessel formation, so skin looks healthier.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a nutrient that helps regulate energy production in cells, providing defence against cell damage. A related compound, Idebenone, helps skin renew itself regularly, preventing damage that can cause signs of ageing. Idebenone also has antioxidant properties, quenching the inflammatory reactions that play a major role in ageing.
Antioxidants help fight cell damage from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can injure cells and increase inflammation. Over time free radicals in our bodies and in the environment break down our skin cells, causing wrinkles and degeneration; antioxidants turn those free radicals into harmless compounds and can help stimulate collagen and boost cell repair. Vitamin C and vitamin E work to improve wrinkles, smoothness, tone, and laxity of skin.
Peptides are short chains of amino acids that can be synthesised to stimulate collagen production, growth factors, and antioxidant enzymes in the skin. As we age, our skin becomes thinner and loses fat, causing it to sag and develop fine lines; peptides can increase turnover of skin cells, stimulate growth of new cells, and help restore elasticity.
Lipo-hydroxy acid (LHA) renews epidermal cells and exfoliates by decreasing the amount of bacteria in pores, allowing other anti-ageing ingredients to penetrate faster and work more effectively. LHA adds radiance, smooths lines, and has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) hydrates the skin from the inside. It is naturally produced by the body and is present in every tissue, enabling the storage of water and rejuvenating the skin every two to three weeks. As we age, our cells’ capacity to store HA decreases, causing dryness and wrinkles. Cosmetic products containing HA hydrate the skin, restoring plumpness and minimising lines and sagging.
Anti-ageing skin care is big business, and there is a multitude of products available, many of them very costly – which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any more effective than their more economical counterparts. If you’re serious about an anti-ageing skincare regimen, you may want to visit a dermatologist for advice and recommendations of products containing the active ingredients that would best suit your skin’s requirements.