I consider antioxidant serums one of the most critical steps in my skin-care routine, and not only because of the brightening benefits that come with vitamin C. Antioxidants have also been proven to boost the effects of sunscreen by acting as another layer of defense when applied underneath SPF, and they neutralize free-radical damage. Free radicals result from exposure to the sun and pollution, and when they accumulate, they lead to signs of aging on the skin (think fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, etc.).
One of my favorite antioxidant serums (and perhaps the most famous) is SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, which was recently discovered to also protect against excess metals in the environment (another aggressor against our skin). So how do metals contribute to skin aging and who is most at risk? We spoke to the brand for the answers.
How Metals Affect Our Skin
“We have learned that modern pollution contains high levels of metals like iron and copper that increase its toxicity,” says Stephen Lynch, assistant vice president of research and innovation development for SkinCeuticals. “Daily interactions between metals, pollution and sunlight form damaging free radicals that have the potential to accelerate visible skin aging. Findings from an in vivo clinical trial that SkinCeuticals conducted highlight this new threat of environmental aggressors that have potential to accelerate visible skin aging.”
You may have seen the words iron and copper on skin-care labels, but those are completely different from metals considered pollutants in the atmosphere. “Iron” oxide is a physical UV filter in most mineral sunscreens, and “copper” peptides are a type of peptide that helps stimulate collagen production in the skin (and funny enough, can also help protect from free-radical damage).
While it’s fair to assume that those living in congested cities are most at risk to metals in the air, Lynch says that’s not the case. “You might draw the conclusion that living in an urban area would put you more at risk for this type of environmental exposure, but the truth of the matter is that it’s a universal concern that doesn’t discriminate based on location. Scientists have discovered that pollution does not stay where it is made—it travels.”
How C E Ferulic Serum Protects the Skin Against Metals
According to Amy Sloan, head of SkinCeuticals U.S., the solution to countering the harmful effects of metals on the skin is called chelation. “Chelating agents (chelators) bind to metal ions to neutralize them, so they are no longer a threat,” she explains. “New clinical studies show that SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic reduces damaging free radicals caused by environmental aggressors in two important ways: by chelating—or binding—excess metal before it can cause oxidative damage, and by neutralizing free radicals generated by the interactions of metals, pollution and sunlight.”
The Scientific Discovery
In an effort to understand how new aggressors impact our skin, SkinCeuticals conducted a clinical trial, led by Dr. Giuseppe Valacchi. “We conducted a clinical trial that analyzed the effects of metal-rich particulate matter on the skin, measuring biomarkers, and evaluated the ability of C E Ferulic to mitigate these effects,” says Sloan. “This study illustrates the impact of UV and PM (particulate matter) in an in vivo model and demonstrated the preventative effect of applying C E Ferulic to minimize cutaneous damage, which can accelerate skin aging as well-established in literature.”
In this study, C E Ferulic was shown to provide 48-percent less damage from all three aggressors: UV, pollution and metals versus a control site with no antioxidant treatment. (In vivo studies completed prior to this one in 2020 examined the serum’s ability to reduce combined oxidative damage from free radicals generated by UV, ozone and diesel exhaust.) “C E Ferulic has also been shown in vitro to effectively chelate both iron and copper,” Sloan explains. “This new in vivo methodology demonstrates topical use of the serum can help counteract inflammatory damage induced by the combinations of metal-rich particulate matter and UV, as well as maintain the integrity of the skin barrier.”
We’d like to think all antioxidant serums can offer this protection against metals, but Lynch confirms this study only tested C E Ferulic specifically, and credits its unique composition of antioxidants for its multitasking skin protection.