Many skin care products contain liposomes—tiny nano-size particles made out of the same material as a cell membrane—that serve as a delivery system, sending active ingredients directly to skin cells on a cellular level to help boost collagen production and reduce signs of aging like lines and wrinkles.
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Recently, scientists at the University of Southern Denmark carried out an experiment using nanoscope technology that revealed “intact liposomes do not cross the human skin barrier.” Published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, the study used something called fluorescence dynamics, which involved the use of different-colored dyes being tested on areas of skin to see how each one would penetrate it. The results showed the liposomes breaking apart on the skin’s surface, proving that they did not stay intact and permeate effectively.
Jonathan Brewer, associate professor of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, said in a press release, “This time we used a new method, and once and for all we established that intact liposomes cannot penetrate the skin’s surface. Therefore, we need to revise the way we perceive liposomes, especially in the skin care industry, where they are perceived as protective spheres transporting agents across the skin barrier.”
Cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson, adds, “It’s important to note, however, that even if liposomes can’t in fact effectively penetrate skin to the cellular level, they are still effective in skin care products to some degree. They protect the integrity of sensitive ingredients (such as CoQ10 and resveratrol) inside the bottle so that they are intact during the application process until they reach the skin’s surface. They ensure that these ingredients will do what they are meant to do.”
New York dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD, American Academy of Dermatology fellow and Assistant Medical Director of Laser & Cosmetic Services at Advanced Dermatology, says she is not totally discouraged by these findings either. “It is possible that the liposomes are still capable of enhancing penetration of the active ingredients they carry. I always look to see if there is any data showing that the actives are making a difference in the skin: Are there laboratory studies showing increased collagen synthesis? Does the skin behave differently after using the product for a few weeks? Those endpoints are more meaningful to me than whether or not the liposome remains intact as it crosses the epidermis!”
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