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Cosmeceuticals: Still Topical

By: Lakshmi Prakash, PhD
Posted: September 5, 2008, from the September 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Molecular biology plays a pivotal role in innovating cosmeceuticals. Ingredient development now begins with the identification of molecular targets. For example, aquaporins (AQPs) are proteins that facilitate the transport of water across cell membranes. AQP3 expression is related to the expressions of other epidermal proteins involved in water maintenance. The expressions of AQP3 water channels are strongly affected by age and chronic sun exposure, and a defective osmotic equilibrium could occur in the epidermis, which would account for the skin dryness observed in older people and skin areas most exposed to sunlight1. Natural actives that can modulate AQP3 expression would therefore be effective hydrating agents and emollients.

Cell longevity is linked to sirtuins (silent information regulators), which belong to a family of enzymes implicated in gene silencing, programmed cell death, fatty acid metabolism and regulation of cellular life spans of organisms. Sirtuins are associated with genes that coordinate and optimize the functions of cells as cells struggle to survive in a stressful environment, as it is the case for skin cells. Therefore, cutting edge antiaging strategies utilize cosmeceuticals with the potential to modulate sirtuin expression.2

Green Cosmeceuticals, Authentication, Traceability and Sustainability

Global regulatory compliance remains key to marketing cosmeceuticals for use in personal care products. Innovative cosmeceuticals must, therefore, be thoroughly characterized to comply with REACH regulations in Europe, for example, and conform to accepted definitions of “natural” and “organic,” if such claims are made. Traceability, sustainability and environmental concerns need to be addressed adequately. While animal testing was routinely carried out to determine the safety and efficacy of consumer products and drugs in the past, recent trends seek to veer away from such practices—with an increasing demand for cruelty-free cosmetics.

Marker compounds are chemicals proven by research to be characteristic of a botanical material, and endowed with validated health benefits. Chemical fingerprints using chromatography and spectrophotometric methods, in combination with bioassays, are the accepted methods to ensure the presence of marker compounds in botanical materials. A botanical’s active principle may concentrate on a specific location in the plant, and manufacturers often use combinations of plant materials in preparing finished extracts. Contaminant levels—including heavy metals, pesticide residues, extraneous matter and genetic modification aspects—also need to be considered. Therefore, manufacturers of personal care products containing cosmeceuticals need to select and screen ingredient suppliers carefully to ensure authenticated, standardized ingredient supplies that meet global regulatory guidelines.

Envisioning the Future

Sustained research will enable the development of innovative cosmeceuticals from little used natural materials. With the global emphasis on humane experimental methodologies, in vitro and alternative testing methods for safety and efficacy of such ingredients, and finished cosmetics containing them will become the norm. Alternative cell culture models to assess efficacy parameters and to measure safety parameters such as acute, chronic, reproductive and developmental toxicity; eye and skin irritation; hypersensitivity; mutagenicity/carcinogenicity; phototoxicity; toxicokinetics; and behavioral responses will be perfected.