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Chemical Reaction: Biology at the Cosmetics Counter

By: Steve Herman
Posted: January 10, 2008, from the January 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Whereas probiotics are living microorganisms, prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients, principally oligosaccharides, that may beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of a limited number of bacteria. They stimulate the growth of bifidobacteria, a natural part of the bacterial flora in the human body, and are consequently referred to as bifidogenic factors. Bifidobacteria have a symbiotic bacteria-host relationship with humans. They can boost the immune system, and produce lactic and acetic acid that control pH. They also inhibit the growth of other bacteria that have more pathogenic qualities.

Henkel KGaA1 screened materials for prebiotic activity using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), which enables the bacteria to be observed directly on the skin. Ginseng and tea extract demonstrated the desired prebiotic action, and a study showed that subjects who applied these substances saw a decrease in acne after one week and 2.4 times more good than bad bacteria on their skin—demonstrating that these substances corrected imbalances in the skin’s bacterial flora.

These results are particularly encouraging because standard antibacterial products can eliminate good bacteria along with bad. The combined use of prebiotics and probiotics allows a more targeted approach, attacking the bad bacteria while leaving the good.

Products using yogurt and probiotic actives are one of the newest ingredient trends for skin care and hair care products. For topical use, Bioelements, Davines and Goldwell all have products that contain a form of yogurt. In Greece, yogurt has long been used as a home remedy for sunburn due to its soothing and moisturizing abilities, which is the basis of its use by Korres. On the approach of “nourish from within,” Danone recently launched a cosmetic yogurt, Essensis, in France. According to its claims, daily consumption improves the quality of the skin. Centerchem provides a thorough description of the beneficial properties of yogurt on its Web site.

Looking beneath the skin surface, adult stem cells have now become the focus of some antiaging products. Normally adult skin stem cells only create skin and hair cells. Researchers have found ways to transform adult stem cells into embryonic cells, and have already cloned a mouse in a petri dish. For cosmetic chemists, these advanced biotransformations are unnecessary. Merely provoking a skin stem cell to make more skin is cutting edge.