I’m often asked if I had to choose one cosmetic claim to focus on, what would it be? The question came into sharp focus when I arrived early for a meeting about next year’s skincare and make up product development with a leading UK retail brand. I took the unexpected spare hour to people watch from a café outside their office, and was inspired by the broad range of needs and priorities on display in this microcosm of our society.
There were the students hurrying to their next lecture (young skin), a young woman nearly toppling into the canal as she was so absorbed by her iPhone (skin exposed to blue light) and two men at the next table discussing the challenges of managing “temperamental” employees (stressed skin.) I saw people from many different ethnic backgrounds and all were exposed to record levels of air pollution in London.
What does a diverse, buzzing community expect from a cosmetic product in 2018?
Almost everyone wants to reduce the impact of stress on body, mind and spirit. Stress influences almost every aspect of our body’s biochemistry – and the skin is no exception. We go about our daily lives with mildly elevated levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol, triggering an ongoing inflammatory response.
The long-term impact on our skin is an acceleration of the aging process, triggered, in part, by the release of “reactive oxygen species” (ROS) within cells as they respond to stressful stimuli. External sources add to the assault – including air pollution, blue light and disruption of the microbiome. The skin is an organ of protection, and 21st Century living so often demands that it goes into defence mode.
At the core of our skin’s constant activity to defend itself against this onslaught is a single cellular process: our self-defence mechanism against ROS (free radicals) that play havoc with our cells’ natural equilibrium.
To counteract these harmful molecules, we need protective anti-oxidant activity.
The case for focusing on anti-oxidant properties
Consumers are now familiar with the term anti-oxidant in many different situations, not least in the context of a healthy diet. We know that the anti-oxidants in fruit and vegetables can protect us from a variety of disease states, from short-term inflammation to life-threatening cancers.
Consumers are easily able to make the logical connection between free radicals waging war on our tissues from within, and free radicals from polluted air attacking our skin from the outside. The need for protection is clear, paving the way for a new generation of cosmetic formulations, in which built-in anti-oxidant activity is viewed as a must-have.
Proving the efficacy of anti-oxidant ingredients
We have been asked by several cosmetic companies to research a relevant and cost-effective in vitro test for anti-oxidant activity, since many methods used to date have been limited to biochemical reactions in a test tube, bearing little resemblance to the dynamic environment of living cells.
A direct approach needs to take a more holistic view of cell physiology and take account of all major reactive oxygen species. After much searching and validation, we developed the OxiSelect™ test, specifically optimised to measure anti-oxidant activity in human epidermal keratinocytes. Already, this robust test is supporting formulation and product development activities around the globe.
So if you only focus on one cosmetic claim in 2018, anti-oxidant activity will hold almost universal appeal to the diverse crowd of consumers passing by my busy café, and beyond!