What started as a professional-only facial staple has made its way into many at-home skin-care products. But what do these powerful ingredients do—and are they right for your skin?
Did You know?
According to Celebrity Aesthetician Renee Rouleau, enzymes tend to be gentler than their counterpart of acids. “Acids go deeper, which doesn’t always work for sensitive skin,” she says. “Also, certain acids have a low pH, which can cause irritation, whereas enzymes are less acidic and have a pH closer to the skin’s natural level. They are definitely the gentler option.”
How They Work
Enzymes are probably one of the smartest skin-care ingredients:They go after dead skin cells and break the bonds that hold them together (but leave healthy cells alone) while increasing cellular turnover. So how exactly do they do it—and how do they choose the right cells? Since enzymes are proteins, they know to “latch” onto dead skin cells (which contain a higher level of keratin protein) and break them down, resulting in smoother, fresher- looking skin. “Think of them as working right on the skin’s surface to dissolve and digest the old, dry skin cells, so you can wash them away easily to reveal healthy, glowing skin,” explains Rouleau.
Since many enzymes are derived from fruit, they also up the ante by being antioxidants and having the ability to scavenge free radicals. “Certain enzymes can also be gentler than other exfoliating methods like scrubs and microdermabrasion,” says New York aesthetician Mandy Epley. “In my opinion, they are one of the gentlest forms of exfoliation, since they are just dissolving dead skin cells and not stripping the skin, which allows them to be used on all skin types.” Adds Rouleau, “They also help jump-start cell turnover and boost the metabolism of cells to help keep skin acting young.”
If enzymes are so good for the skin, why doesn’t every skin-care product on the market incorporate them? It’s not that simple. To start, enzymes can break down very quickly (some manufacturers would even argue that only the freshest skin care—think fruit masks straight out of a mixing bowl—contains effective enzymes). Plus, some experts warn that they aren’t always suitable for very sensitive skin types and they do pose a risk for allergies. “There are many studies that back up their efficacy, especially if you are looking to exfoliate, but you have to have the right skin type. And, they aren’t going to give anti-aging properties that are as good as other, more effective methods,” explains Lincolnshire, IL, dermatologist Amy Forman Taub, MD.
For more information on the powerful benefits of enzymes, take a look at this slideshow listing anti-aging products that contain natural enzymes and antioxidants.