On an ingredient label, enzymes can sound somewhat like cosmetic soup, but most are natural derivatives that can come in the form of fruits, vegetables and marine extracts (basically, anything that was once living). “There’s even a protein-dissolving enzyme that is extracted from pancreatin, which is a beef by-product,” says New York aesthetician Mandy Epley. Here’s what to look for from the most commonly used enzymes.
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The vitamin and antioxidant-packed one in the bunch, cranberry helps brighten skin and even has antiseptic properties, making it good for acne.
Find it in: COSMEDIX Pure Enzymes Exfoliating Mask, $52
A vitamin C powerhouse that also has the ability to brighten the skin, kiwifruit is perhaps the most suitable enzyme for sensitive skin.
Find it in: Arcona Kimi Cream Bar, $42
Malic Acid (Green Apples)
Although it’s found in several fruits, malic acid is most abundant in green apples (it’s what gives them that “tart” taste). It contains alphahydroxy acids, so it may be too harsh for those with supersensitive skin, but it is ideal for more mature skin that has texture and tone concerns.
Find it in: Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel, $45
Considered the strongest type of enzyme in skin-care products, bromelain has several scientific studies that back up its ability to also help treat inflammation when applied topically.
Find it in: Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Gel Masque, $45
The Skin-Saving Serum. From the brand that brought the world enzymes in deluxe botanical formulations, comes the new AmorePacific All Day Balancing Care Serum, a multitasking anti-aging product that promises to “reset the function of your skin” through a mix of Asian extracts and papaya enzymes. $200, nordstrom.com
The Gentle Polish. Chock-full of pumpkin enzymes, pore-cleansing crushed bamboo and vitamin E–rich jojoba beads, June Jacobs Perfect Pumpkin Enzyme Polish washes away the day without overdrying. Plus, it contains vitamin A to leave skin looking smooth and help combat premature aging. $60, junejacobs.com
In addition to its exfoliating properties, protease is loaded with anti-aging superstar vitamin A, making it the best enzyme for treating lines and wrinkles.
Perhaps the most commonly used enzyme in skin care, papain is derived from papaya and contains very powerful exfoliating and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s so powerful in fact, that the FDA issued a warning on products that contain it a few years back (although it was geared more toward topical drugs). “It is imperative that you make sure you are not allergic to it before using anything
that has it,” says Lincolnshire, IL, dermatologist Amy Forman Taub, MD, who adds that papain is often paired with bromelain.
The instant skin smoother. Makeup, dirt and oil (and pretty much everything else) doesn’t stand a chance against Sanítas Cranberry Enzyme Mask. As the name suggests, it’s packed with cranberry but has papaya to thank for its exfoliating abilities. It’s best suited for aging skin, which will also benefit from ingredients like hyaluronic acid. $32, sanitas-skincare.com
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The At-Home Facial Fix. Five minutes is all you need to transform your skin with Éminence Yam & Pumpkin Enzyme Peel. The purée of yams and pumpkins smells good enough to eat—but leave it on to let your skin reap the benefits. The company claims that the natural enzyme mix increases collagen production for skin that looks radiant. $46, eminenceorganics.com
Chockfull of certified organic pineapple enzymes and jojoba beads, Juice Beauty Exfoliating Cleanser gently washes away the day without overdrying. $22, juicebeauty.com
Not all enzyme-based products work as a wash-off exfoliant. Enter StriVectin-SH Advanced Overnight Resurfacing Serum, a slow-working (read: gentle) lightweight serum that works to exfoliate and reduce rough, dry patches as you sleep. $79, spalook.com
Just like the skin on the face, skin on the body can benefit from enzymes. Formulated for the most sensitive skin types (including those who suffer from rosacea, acne and irritation), Ilike Ultra Sensitive System Body Lotion nourishes, protects and offers serious hydration through an all-natural mix of fruit acids, protective enzymes, resveratrol, polyphenols and mineral salts. $68, szepelet.com