Nowadays, our skin has to face ever more environmental aggressors: increasing exposure to sun radiation due to climate change, excessive blue light exposure from prolonged screen time, and last but not least, industrialisation, which means increasing release of fine dust pollutants into the air surrounding us. With 57 % of the global population living in towns or cities, most of these about 4.6 billion people will be affected by all factors stated above.1 Consequently, the skin of most people worldwide has to scope with increased oxidative stress, inflammation, and skin damage. Our skin possesses its own natural defence mechanisms, however, the synergy of all the mentioned environmental influences together quickly overwhelms the defence capacities of our skin cells. The consequence is premature ageing. Skin ageing is manifested in many ways, including dry skin, appearance of wrinkles, loss of elasticity, reduced skin thickness, dull appearance, compromised skin barrier, or pigmentation disorders. Solutions that support our skin’s own defence arsenal are therefore of vital importance to help the skin face these environmental aggressors and to stop the skin from ageing faster than it should.
Protection from UV light is a key factor
One well-known benefit of sunlight is its ability to boost the body’s vitamin D supply. How many minutes we must spend in the sun for adequate vitamin D levels is debatable, but certainly depends strongly on the skin phototype and the UV index. What is certain is that when even a few minutes of the self-protection time per day are exceeded, the negative effects of sunlight exposure prevail. In the same spectral wave range of UV-B radiation, that causes the health-promoting effect of initiating vitamin D metabolism, the emissions cause harmful health conditions, such as UV erythema (sunburn), skin cancer, and photoageing.2 Thus, when spending more time in the sun than the individual self-protection time, protection from UV light using sunscreen is a key factor in preventing skin damage.
Photoageing is the term used when the sun prematurely ages the skin. Indeed, it has been reported that about 80 % of facial skin ageing is related to UV exposure.3 So, what happens in the skin? UV rays have many effects on skin physiology. One major cause for photoageing is an imbalance between the sun-induced production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and their neutralisation by the body’s own antioxidant system, which results in oxidative stress. The elevated ROS level causes structural defects at the level of mitochondrial DNA, lipid membranes, enzymes, and proteins. Signal transduction pathways are altered.4,5 Part of our body’s own protective system are antioxidant enzymes, such as the catalase. Inconveniently, due to sun exposure, the activity of this enzyme decreases in summer, as the enzyme is neither heat-stable nor resistant to UV-A radiation.6 Further key detoxification enzymes are the superoxide dismutase (SOD) and the glutathione peroxidase (GPx), but their production decreases with age. Another cause for premature photoageing is the UV-induced expression of some enzymes, such as the matrix metalloproteases (MMPs), which degrade matrix components, including structural collagen and elastin fibres.7
Figure 1: Illustration of light penetration into skin. Penetration depth into human skin increases with increasing wavelengths.
Figure 2: Two groups of 25 volunteers (European origin, recently arrived on Mauritius Island, mean age 39 years) applied twice-daily a treatment cream with 5 % VENUCEANE™ or a placebo cream for 6 months. Clinical double-blind study. Placebo-treated panellists underwent premature ageing and aged about 3 years in 6 months. The preventive treatment compensates for this ageing and allows to save around 5 years in 6 months.
VENUCEANE™ – The perfect complement to sun filters
Sun filters effectively scatter and absorb the sun’s UV radiation and prevent the formation of UV-triggered ROS. However, infrared (IR) rays, which are responsible for the feeling of warmth on the skin, account for the largest part of solar radiation, at roughly 50 %, and to date, the standard sun protection products on the market do not contain filters that block or reflect this type of radiation. Thereby, IR-A rays penetrate deeper into the skin than UV-A or UV-B, as they pass through the epidermis and dermis even reaching the hypodermis (Fig. 1). Long ignored, there is now growing evidence that IR rays also play a role in premature photoageing by increasing ROS, MMP, as well as inflammatory cytokine production.8 So, how to protect ourselves from IR-induced photoageing? Sederma’s active ingredient VENUCEANE™ is a ferment produced using the thermophilic strain Thermus thermophilus. This bacterial strain was isolated at -2000 metres from a “black smoker” hydrothermal vent and is adapted to live under extreme conditions (pressure of 200 bar, high temperatures of up to 85°C, oxygen-poor environment, high saline concentrations etc.). VENUCEANE™ is manufactured thanks to an optimised fermentation process that ensures the concentration of a heat-stable enzyme complex, the Extremozymes®. This complex displays a similar activity to our native antioxidant enzymes and enables protection of essential skin structures from ROS (lipids, proteins, DNA). Moreover, this active ingredient helps decrease MMP and pro-inflammatory cytokine production preventing collagen destruction and the initiation of inflammatory cascades. Interestingly, the enzymatic properties of VENUCEANE™ increase with temperature, making it the perfect complement for a new generation of highly efficient cosmetic products offering protection against sun-induced skin damage. Products that can adapt to our more and more harsh environment and help prevent IR-photoageing. In line with this, the clinical 6-month double-blind study on sunny Mauritius Island demonstrated that VENUCEANE™ is able to prevent and decrease visible signs of skin ageing such a spots, wrinkles, dryness, and inflammation (Fig. 2).
Figure 3: 25 volunteers (mean age 59 years, phototype II-IV) applied twice-daily a treatment cream with 3 % MEL[O]STEM™ or a placebo cream for 2 months. Measurement with the 3D® Antera camera demonstrates that dark spots fade and white spot volume and depth decrease (2.4x less deep vs placebo, 96 % respondents). Clinical single-blind study.
The skin’s sun capital
There is a certain amount of UV radiation our skin can tolerate before it gets damaged, this capacity is named sun capital. It is genetically determined and varies according to skin type. What many people do not know is that, on average, we have already used up to 50 % of our sun capital by the age of 20. When our ability to resist sun damage decreases, the first signs of ageing appear: fine lines, lack of radiance, loss of elasticity and, finally, dark and white spots on sun-overexposed areas. Both dark and white pigmentary disorders are caused by melanocyte imbalance. Melanocytes are the cutaneous pigmentation cells, that are essential for protecting the skin from the sun’s UV rays. Their physiology is closely linked to their microenvironment: neighbouring cell signals and the close extracellular matrix, which cocoons the melanocyte, are influencing its “well-being” and functionality. Chronic damage to the melanocytes alters their production of the skin’s tanning pigment melanin. Overproduction and poor distribution of melanin result in small or large dark spots, whereas in case of melanocyte cell death, white spots can occur on the skin surface providing easy access for further UV damage.
MEL[O]STEM™ – Unique phyto-complex to preserve our skin’s sun capital
How to protect our melanocytes from UV damage? MEL[O]STEM™ is a highly sustainable cosmetic active ingredient crafted from Monarda didyma leaf cell culture that acts via a three-dimensional control system. First of all, it reduces oxidative stress preventing deleterious metabolism cascades. Secondly, MEL[O]STEM™ maintains and reinforces the melanocyte’s hyaluronan*1 cocoon and microenvironment. By stimulating hyaluronic acid production, the cells are protected from oxidative damage. In addition, synthesised elastin, and collagen strengthen the melanocyte’s microenvironment and anchoring.9 Third and most importantly, the active ingredient modulates the melanocyte function and senescence, the biological ageing of the cell, by regulating the release of senescence-associated molecules. The secret behind MEL[O]STEM™ is in-depth plant cell culture know-how, which allowed the creation of a unique cytoprotective phyto-complex. The result is reflected in the clinical studies. In 2 months, dark spots (lentigo) are faded and skin tissues in white areas (idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis) are reconstructed (Fig. 3).
The impact of blue light
IR rays are not the only radiation damaging the skin that many people are unaware of. Blue light (BL) can also harm the skin. In China, 71 % of internet users like to stay online all the time, rendering them at high risk from the effects of BL from screen devices.10 As such, BL can be considered a new form of pollution – digital pollution.
BL does not penetrate as deeply as IR radiation but reaches deeper layers in the epidermis than UV-A and UV-B light (Fig. 1). The direct effects of BL are an increase in oxidative stress and its earlier described consequences. Moreover, BL at high energy density can reduce the proliferative capacities of skin cells slowing down the rate of skin renewal.11 In addition to these direct effects, BL radiation also has a particularly critical indirect effect: it influences the circadian rhythms of our skin metabolisms.12
Blue light and the circadian rhythms
Excess of BL interferes with the production of internal clock proteins as it activates photoreceptive proteins, the opsins (OPNs) and in particular opsin 5 (OPN5), which are key molecules in setting the production rhythm of melatonin. Furthermore, BL upregulates the expression of the clock protein PER2, period circadian regulator 2, one of the main proteins controlling the circadian cycle in mammals, whose production rhythm in humans normally rises from the morning and falls at night.13 In line with this, clinical studies have shown that BL overexposure suppresses the production of melatonin.14 The melatonin is accepted as a hormone of night that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin release in the night offers powerful benefits for the skin: thanks to its antioxidant, wound-healing, and pro-differentiating activities, it improves the clinical signs of skin ageing. Another detrimental effect of BL is that it causes a physiological imbalance of the mitochondrion, the powerhouse of the cell. It lowers production of the cellular energy supplier ATP, which increases the leakage of free radicals into other cellular compartments and decreases cell compound productions.
Figure 4: 27 volunteers (mean age 38 years) applied twice-daily a treatment cream with 2 % SYNCHROLIFE™ on one half of the face and a placebo cream on the other side of the face for 2 months. The yellow boxes in the photograph highlight the differences in dark circles, lines, and texture.
Figure 5: Clinical study with 40 volunteers (mean age 44 years, study in Paris) who applied a treatment cream containing 2 % CITYSTEM® twice daily for 4 weeks. Analysis of images using Image J software (NIH) showed a decrease of blackheads (-8.8 %) and comedones (-45.7 %).
SYNCHROLIFE™ – Counteracting harmful effects of digital pollution
How can we help our skin counteracting these harmful effects of digital pollution and support our biggest organ, so that sufficient melatonin is produced for an efficient repair phase at night? SYNCHROLIFE™ is a combination of a peptide, a flavone, and a rosemary leaf extract, that has been demonstrated to resynchronise cellular life after BL stress. The active ingredient stimulates OPN5 and PER2 production and increases the melatonin production depleted by BL. Moreover, the product stimulates the production of mitochondrial ATP depressed by BL, induces dermal matrix protein synthesis to fight wrinkles, and lowers BL-induced ROS as well as pronflammatory cytokine production. Consistent with these in vitro results, measurements in the clinical studies showed that 2-month use of SYNCHROLIFE™ improves skin hydration, radiance, smoothness, and viscoelasticity. The effects on lines, dark circles, and eye puffiness were perceived by consumers after just 1 week (Fig. 4). To put it in a nutshell, SYNCHROLIFE™ ensures an enhanced repair mechanism after BL stress and fights cutaneous signs of fatigue for a better hydrated, smoother, and glowing skin complexion.
Problem fine dust and air pollution
Besides sun radiation and BL, another environmental aggressor for our skin is air pollution. In China, 72 % of 3000 women surveyed agreed that “it is essential nowadays for urban citizens to use personal care products with anti-pollution claims”.15 Indeed, exposure to air pollutants has been associated with premature skin ageing as well as inflammatory or allergic skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, acne vulgaris, and even skin cancer.16 No wonder as the skin is one of the first organs to come into contact with air and is thus exposed to pollutants such as particulate matter, benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P), and ozone (O3). Diesel engines, for example, increase the density of aerial micro-particles (DPMs), which are heavily loaded with hazardous molecules such as B[a]P. Upon contact with the skin, DPMs can be phagocytosed by keratinocytes and induce aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR)-mediated cytochrome P production, leading to oxidative stress, cytokine release, and DNA damage.17 Ground level O3 is another harmful pollutant for our skin as it is a powerful oxidant that generates ROS and oxidation by-products. It is highly irritating and triggers inflammation pathways through cytokine production.
CITYSTEM® – Protection from fine dust pollution for a healthy glow
How to protect our skin from the pollution surrounding us? CITYSTEM® is an active ingredient that, similar to MEL[O]STEM™, is obtained by highly sustainable plant cell culture (PCC) technology. This sophisticated technology allows the production of a Marrubium vulgare extract specifically enriched in forsythoside-B, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory molecule belonging to the family of phenylpropanoids18,19. In our experimental studies, this extract has been shown to reduce the impact of pollution on skin cells. First, it decreases the above-mentioned processes of DMP phagocytosis and AHR-mediated gene induction. Secondly, CITYSTEM® drastically decreases DPM- and O3-induced production of ROS- and oxidation by-products. And finally, the extract reduces the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and prevents B[a]P-induced DNA damage. Along with these data, clinical studies with volunteers living in polluted cities showed that 4-week application of a cream with 2% CITYSTEM® results in a significant decrease in the number of blackheads and comedones (Fig. 5). Furthermore, image analyses revealed that CITYSTEM® makes the skin grain more homogeneous and less rough. Thus, the Marrubium vulgare extract helps with typical urban skin concerns and prevents further deterioration of skin quality. After 4 weeks the skin grain is refined, the complexion looks purified, and the skin feels soft and smooth.
Key points and holistic skin health
How to stop the skin from ageing faster than it should? This short overview has provided you with insights on environmental factors that can be the cause for premature ageing and, more importantly, shown you what solutions are available to support the skin in fighting each of these individual stressors. Active ingredients such as VENUCEANE™ and MEL[O]STEM™ offer the perfect complement to sunscreens to help protect from premature IR-ageing or early appearing pigment spots. SYNCHROLIFE™ helps to resynchronise our skin’s biological rhythm to counteract harmful effects of BL stress and ensure a glowy complexion. Last but not least, protection from the deleterious effects of aerial pollutants can be offered by CITYSTEM®, which refines skin grain and fights comedones and blackheads. Hence, there exist solutions on the market to help the skin cope with today’s environmental stressors. It is up to us to take the right actions and support our skin in the best possible way. To make this more feasible, we need more skincare products on the market that tackle all environmental factors and serve as a holistic solution to promote overall skin health. Mintel’s data clearly proves that this holistic approach would resonate with the consumers. Indeed, these days’ facial skincare consumers are looking for convenient time-saving solutions that promote overall skin health and protect their skin.20,21
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