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Better skin through new ingredients?

Reviewed: Growth factors, Carnosine, Sirtuin activators, Argan oil, Gatuline Expression, Açai berry, Astaxanthin.

February 01, 2009|Alexandra Drosu

Every year new ingredients hit the market with promises of revolutionizing skin-care products and tapping the elusive Fountain of Youth. At times, they deliver, and substances such as retinol or peptides exceed expectations and change the landscape of skin care. Others fizzle with little or no impact. We've polled more than 25 experts and asked them which ingredients are worth watching (and buying) in 2009. They identified seven:

Growth factors

What they are: Described by New York dermatologist Dr. Amy B. Lewis as the "Cadillac of peptides," growth factors are groups of proteins that are capable of stimulating cellular growth. Researchers have so far isolated a handful of growth factors with potential skin-care benefits: TNS, TGF beta and PSP (which includes growth factors, antioxidants and proteins called cytokines).

How they work: Dr. Leslie Baumann, director of the Cosmetic Medicine and Research Institute at the University of Miami, says growth factors such as TGF beta (Transforming Growth Factor beta) can potentially stimulate cells to produce collagen. "Increasing collagen improves wrinkles," she says. Scientists are still determining which combination of growth factors works most effectively.

Status: A couple of products, including Topix Citrix Serum with Growth Factor ($104; and Neocutis Bio-restorative Skin Cream with PSP ($150;, are breaking ground.


What it is: Carnosine, an amino acid naturally found in muscle tissue, acts as a powerful antioxidant. In the '80s, researchers found that applying it to wounds sped up the healing process, says Beverly Hills-based dermatologist Dr. Jessica Wu. Like many other antioxidants, "carnosine is water-soluble, whereas antioxidants like vitamin E are fat-soluble. It also reacts with damaged proteins, which can be a sign of aging cells," she says.

Why it looks promising: "Carnosine is the only agent that addresses all three processes leading to aging -- oxidation, inflammation and glycation," says Texas-based dermatologist Dr. Naila Malik. Scientists theorize that reducing glycation -- in which sugar binds with proteins such as collagen and impairs their functioning -- could slow the aging process, Dr. Howard Murad says.

Status: Increasingly, companies are incorporating carnosine in their skin-care products. One place to find it: Shiseido Benefiance NutriPerfect Night Cream Carnosine DP ($92;

Sirtuin activators

What they are: Sirtuins are enzymes that have been shown to potentially repair DNA and regulate genes connected with aging. But first, the sirtuins need to be activated by an agent such as resveratrol, commonly found in red wine, or epigallocatechin, found in green tea.

What they do: "Sirtuins allow us to address skin care from a totally different direction," says Dr. John Gross, director of cosmetic surgery education at USC. Instead of combating the appearance of fine lines, products that activate sirtuins can potentially "slow down the clock" and prevent signs of aging, he says.

Status: "Resveratrol still has a long way to go in clinical studies," says Dr. Vermen Verallo-Rowell. But coupled with its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it's worth keeping an eye on.

Argan oil

What it is: Nicknamed the "Gold of Morocco," Argan oil has been used for centuries by Berber women, but only recently made a significant appearance in the West. "This oil is one of the richest sources of the natural skin-saving antioxidant vitamin E," says Liz Earle, founder of Liz Earle Skincare. Adds Cindy K. Angerhofer, director of botanical research at Aveda: "Argan oil is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids including linoleic acid, omega-6 and tocopherols."

Why it looks promising: Free-radical damage is the result of oxidation, a key factor in the aging of skin. Argan oil's concentration of tocopherols, or vitamin E, helps protect against free-radical damage while essential fatty acids keep skin hydrated and balanced, making it a great ingredient in oil-control products.

Status: Argan oil is being tapped as a natural alternative to synthetic ingredients. One source: Kaeline Vitality Day Serum ($38;

Gatuline Expression

What it is: Incorporating the extract from the Acmella oleracea plant, which contains muscle relaxing properties, Gatuline Expression is a patented ingredient available through Gattefosse Canada. "The ingredient will reduce the need for Botox," Malik predicts.

Why it looks promising: Facial expressions require muscle contractions, and these repetitive movements result in expression lines or wrinkles. In clinical tests, Acmella Oleracea extract has been shown to relax contractions. "In vivo tests show that this extract rapidly and strongly reduces the expression wrinkles of facial skin in a large majority of patients," Malik says. The effectiveness of the ingredient, however, depends on how much actually penetrates the skin.

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