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Liquid Crystals and the Skin

By: Steve Herman
Posted: February 2, 2010, from the February 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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The skin cells are held together by the intercellular matrix (the mortar), which helps prevent moisture loss and creates the smooth appearance on the surface. This region is structured by liquid crystal regions, and lipids prevent evaporation and provide lubrication to the surface of skin. The intercellular matrix and the skin’s lipid content gives skin a good deal of its surface texture and feel. When the lipid content of skin is reduced, the result is surface roughness, flaking, fine lines and a tight, uncomfortable feeling. Moreover, the skin’s healing process is impaired.

To strengthen the intercellular region, or at the very least do no harm to its structure, an emulsion of highly compatible ingredients is called for. In fact, there is a complex mixture of chemicals that contribute to healthy, attractive skin, and, as ingredients, these include cholesterol, fatty acids, triglycerides, phospholipids, amino acids, linoleic acid and glycerine.

However, many surfactants—such as sodium lauryl sulfate—have the unfortunate ability to disrupt the matrix and, therefore, can be irritating. The trick, therefore, is simply getting the liquid crystal emulsion formulas and liquid crystal structures in the intercellular matrix together in an effective way.

Several products on the market claim benefits from their liquid crystal formulations. One product is marketed as a “soothing blend of nature’s perfect hydrators—jojoba oil and shea butter—in a unique liquid crystal formulation. [The] emulsion helps replenish the skin’s delicate liquid crystal matrix to revive dry, aging or recently resurfaced skin.” Do products such as this work? In a Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine story, In-Young Kim pointed out the sensitivity of liquid crystal structures to temperature, and to impact the intercellular matrix, the lipids must penetrate the mighty barrier of the stratum corneum.1 Based his studies, it is clear that liquid crystal emulsions can have superior moisturizing effects. Once inside the dermis, it is hoped that the emulsion components will interact with the natural lipid structures of the skin. Like so many aspects of treatment products, however, the efficacy of liquid crystal emulsions deep in the skin is a matter of reasonable theorizing substantiated with little or no clinical data.

Note, too, that liquid crystal cleansers are also on the market. They are essentially low water content surfactant systems that primarily function as makeup removers. One is a liquid crystal cleansing oil that requires the user to apply added water and then wash. Another such product is formulated to emulsify and dissolve dirt and makeup, rather than creating a lot of foam for removal.