• Núria Estapé, science journalist

    Enzymes for skin care

    21 Mar Enzymes for skin care



    The New York Times

    Enzymology is a new research area in dermatology and cosmetics that tries to discover how enzymes can improve skin appearance and prevent skin problems. Pharmaceutical companies study enzymes associated with skin disorders, whereas the cosmetics sector is interested in enzymes that enhance the beauty of the skin. However, including suitable enzymes in the diet is currently the most natural and effective way to achieve a healthy and beautiful skin.


    To remain healthy and vibrant the skin needs to be nourished with fats, proteins and carbohydrates. For these substances to act optimally on skin tissues, they need certain small molecules, called enzymes, to accelerate chemical reactions. Enzymes help food pass from the blood to the skin, develop beneficial fats and repair collagen damaged by ultraviolet rays, just to name a few of their many functions. There are many kinds of enzymes. Those most frequently used in cosmetics, called proteolytic enzymes, break down proteins so that the skin can better absorb their components and so promote cell growth and renewal.


    Enzymes for the skin from within

    If you care about eating properly, you will have heard about digestive enzymes, which stimulate digestion; you will surely also know of foods that ensure a balanced diet and of the benefits of fruits like pineapple and papaya, two fruits that contain enzymes. The efficacy of papain (from the papaya) and bromelain (from the pineapple) for the skin has been demonstrated, whether they used as foods or as ingredients in cosmetic products.


    Consuming these fruits regularly improves the health of the skin and prevents the appearance of some of the more common conditions such as acne, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. Pumpkin, figs and sour milk also contain enzymes that improve skin appearance and function. Regularly including such foods in the diet is the most natural way to maintain healthy skin.


    Enzymes in cosmetic products

    Cosmetics based on pineapple and papaya are available in the market as purifying masks, night creams, scrubs, etc. Enzymes derived from fruits or other nutrients first need to be fermented before they can become active ingredients in cosmetic products. This fermentation is the same process as occurs in the production of wine from grapes and of dough from yeast.


    Going beyond the proteolytic enzymes, the cosmetics industry has expanded its range of enzyme-based beauty products to meet the needs of every skin type, especially those that promote the formation of fats, antioxidants and collagen. These other enzymes are as follows:


    - DGAT-1, diacylglycerol acyltransferase: Boosts the action of retinoic acid, which accelerates epidermis and hair renewal.


    - SOD, superoxide dismutase: A star ingredient in anti-ageing formulas for its protective action against oxidative stress.


    - Lysyl and prolyl hydroxylases: Synthesize the collagen necessary to maintain the structure of the skin (they need vitamin C to function).


    Some enzymes, such as the metalloproteases, are potentially toxic to the skin. Excessive exposure to sunlight causes them to multiply and to destroy collagen and elastin. These fibres, which maintain the structure of the skin tissue, are ultimately responsible for a smooth, elastic, and youthful skin.


    Exfoliants: enzymes and vitamins

    Certain types of enzymes are good chemical exfoliants, as they dissolve and remove dead cells from the surface of the skin, leaving it smooth, fresh and bright. To enhance the effectiveness of these enzymes it is recommended to combine them with other chemical peels, such as certain vitamins.


    Oily skin prone to acne, for instance, benefits from a combination of salicylic acid (BHA) and enzymes, whereas sun-damaged and uneven toned skin responds well to the alpha hydroxy acids (e.g., retinoic acid) combined with enzymes.