The science behind skincare

The science behind skincare

Skincare has become a monumental movement as one of the beauty industry’s most dynamic categories, with all generations being a part of it.

It offers a diverse range of products from moisturisers and cleansers to serums, toners and masks, with a wide array of ingredients to meet different skin needs and goals. At its core, the primary purpose of skincare is to support the health, integrity and appearance of our skin.

To ensure the safety, efficacy and accurate labelling of skincare products, regional regulations are established so that we can make informed decisions about their uses and benefits. Some regulations, particularly those defining skincare (under cosmetics) as products that work only superficially, may not reflect our current understanding of ingredient functionality and innovative formulation capabilities.

Underpinned by robust science, skincare involves understanding the skin’s layered structure and its various functions.

Our skin is one of the largest, yet complex organs, that primarily acts as a very good selective and protective barrier against external aggressors like UV rays and pollution, maintaining it against infection, while regulating body temperature and retaining hydration.

Skincare science involves a thorough understanding of skin physiology and the interaction of ingredients with the skin and each other. Ingredients are selected to address specific concerns and their effectiveness is influenced by their formulation and how they are absorbed by the skin, as some active ingredients work at the cellular level to enhance skin function.

The formulation process involves selecting and combining ingredients, optimising pH levels and balancing actives for stability and effectiveness.

Ingredient compatibility is key to a product’s effectiveness and stability testing is vital to prevent unwanted reactions. This can be based on clinical research, whether ingredients are synthetic or naturally derived.

The idea that natural is inherently safer is a misconception. Yes, natural ingredients can be safe and are lovely to work with BUT rather than assuming safety, the same safety regulations we apply to synthetic materials should also be applied to the natural ones, including natural skincare.

The effectiveness of skincare is largely determined by how ingredients interact with the outermost layer of the skin.

We often hear that higher concentrations of ingredients guarantee better performance or deeper penetration. Some ingredients are designed to penetrate deeper layers of the skin, but this requires a thorough understanding of the skin’s structure, specifically the stratum corneum which is the main obstacle of skin penetration.

Skincare is supposed to work on the surface, but emphasises how well it works with the skin’s surface to give us desired results because that’s what skincare is supposed to do.

The penetration of ingredients depends on their physicochemical properties and the technologies introduced at a formulation level.

The molecular size and structure of ingredients determine their ability to penetrate the skin. Advanced technologies and delivery systems are used to enhance absorption. There are rules for penetration, such as having a molecular weight under 500 Daltons and a specific partition coefficient.

Some ingredients are formulated to reach cells to stimulate collagen production and target fibroblasts. However, many ingredients serve us better when they act on the skins surface and are not supposed to penetrate deeply.

Penetration is not always desirable, as some potential sensitisers could cause adverse reactions or granulomas. The compatibility of ingredients is key to the overall effectiveness of a skincare product.

Some ingredients may enhance or inhibit the efficacy of others, making it essential to understand their interactions. Stability testing ensures that no undesirable reactions occur when ingredients are mixed in a formulation.

The stability of ingredients also ensures they remain at full efficacy when reacting with the skin’s surface to the delivery into the skin to where it can really make a difference.

Clinical trials, involving human volunteers under dermatologically controlled conditions, using various instrumental tools with advanced capabilities assess the safety and efficacy of skincare products. They provide data on hydration, texture, elasticity and overall skin improvement.

These trials, along with scientific research and testing, support the claims made by skincare products and provide valuable insights into their performance, ensuring they deliver the promised benefits without adverse effects.

These studies also help determine the safety and efficacy of ingredients and formulations with the skin.

Understanding the science behind skincare is empowering, beyond ingredient lists and concentrations, claim substantiation and clinical evidence reinforces skincare efficacy.

This knowledge paves the way for an informed and discerning approach to skincare, one that nurtures and celebrates our skin’s natural abilities.


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Award winning MSc Cosmetic Scientist Faiza Hussain specialises in safety assessments and toxicology, in addition to advanced anti-ageing solutions and skin colour. Faiza has had a passion for science from an early age, formulating with herbs and winning BBC Blue Peter awards for writing articles on 'dry skin and eczema'. Now with over 15 years of industry experience, Faiza is widely known for her results-driven, clinically-backed innovations, formulating for laboratories, leading R&D, developing IP-protected delivery systems and contributing to the launch of hundreds of products taken to market by global leaders.

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