Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Learning to formulate: What are cosmeceuticals?
So what exactly are cosmeceuticals? There is no legal definition for these ingredients, but I found this definition, which I think works quite well. Cosmeceuticals are "cosmetic products with properties very similar to a pharmaceutical product (drug-like benefits)". (p. 295, Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology.) In other words, they are active ingredients we add to our products to offer a specific benefit, usually anti-aging. The problem is that there are no known proven ingredients that will reverse photo-aging, but we can include ingredients that will help reduce or slow down what we consider the signs of aging skin.
A note on this last sentence…Most of the tests done on these ingredients are done with skin cultures in a lab or with very small groups of women. We can say that the ingredients show promise, but not that they definitively stop or eliminate the signs of aging. Take a look at your favourite moisturizer commercial some time. You'll see that the disclaimers say things like "from women's reports after 28 days" or "subjective reports", not information on the clinic trials of the product.
There are ingredients that have been tested extensively, like retinoids, AHA, salicylic acid, and anti-oxidants, and all of them show promise but aren't the magic bullet for removing every line and wrinkle from our skin. Clinical studies have shown very good results for plant anti-oxidants like the polyphenols in green tea (specifically the EGCG), soya isoflavones, tannins in pomegranate, and resveratrol in grape seeds. Other well studied anti-oxidants include Vitamin C, Coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, and niacinamide.
Not all cosmeceuticals are exotic, expensive ingredients found only at specific suppliers. I'm sure you have a few in your workshop right now. Panthenol behaves as a hygroscopic ingredient, offering an improvement in skin's elasticity and cell regenerating features. Vitamin C offers anti-oxidant properties as well as stimulation of collagen synthesis in our skin. Soy bean oil contains isoflavones that can even skin tone and improve pigmentation. And think of all those lovely botanical extracts like green tea and grape seed that offer a ton of anti-oxidant benefits.
The problem in formulating with cosmeceuticals is that you must make sure that the lotion or serum or other product you are making is compatible with the cosmeceutical you wish to use. AHAs work best at a pH of 4.0, but you don't want to go below 3.5 if you are using esters in the mix or they will hydrolyze and smell really awful. But some of our preservatives and emulsifiers don't work well in fairly acidic environments. Some ingredients, like retinoic acid and Vitamin C, need to be kept in an opaque container away from oxygen, which is fairly difficult for large companies, let alone homecrafters!
pH meter on stand-by and that you know your ingredients and how they interact with other ingredients very well. And you want to make sure you are using these ingredients at the recommended rates. It's always wise to stay within the formulating guidelines listed by the manufacturer or supplier because we don't want to waste our supplies, but in the case of ingredients like AHA or salicylic acid we want to make sure we aren't putting too many exfoliating or skin regenerating ingredients together in one place.
This is one of the reasons we want to be careful when combining extracts in our products. It's one thing to combine grape seed and green tea extract in the same product; it's another to combine papaya and white willow bark (two exfoliating ingredients). When it comes to cosmeceuticals, we can't be too careful.
Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming...