This summer, my sun cream (like almost all of them) contained coenzyme Q10, even though it appears that the skin cannot absorb it effectively. Its beneficial effects as a food supplement are more than questionable. So why has the use of coenzyme Q10 become so widespread in recent years?
Coenzyme Q10 is a similar substance to vitamin E that was discovered in 1957. It occurs naturally in our bodies. The body’s cells need CoQ10 to obtain energy. It is also a potent cellular antioxidant. In fact, the body synthesizes CoQ10 when we eat fish, shellfish, spinach or nuts. It is used as a food supplement both in its natural and more active form, called ubiquinol (CoQ10-trans), and in its synthetic form. Product labels do not always specify clearly which form is being used.
Does it work as a food supplement?
Hundreds of websites and blogs attribute multiple beneficial effects to this coenzyme. However, in a specific report, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warns unequivocally of the lack of scientific evidence for many of its supposed effects. CoQ10 taken orally would not protect our DNA against oxidation and would not help to control blood pressure or regulate cholesterol levels or provide more energy than what we already obtain naturally.
Furthermore, no official body has calculated what the recommended daily intake would have to be for it to be effective. On the market, we can find supplements in capsule form ranging from 30 mg to 200 mg, but some therapeutic uses prescribe as much as 3 g per day. Although CoQ10 does not have any major contraindications, we should remember that administration at high doses should always be prescribed by a physician.
The new Q10 myth
And from supplements to cosmetics. Moisturizing creams, sunblock and all kinds of cosmetic products now contain CoQ10. Apparently, coenzyme Q10 is the new panacea. Many names and different formulas may appear on the labels, including coenzyme Q, vitamin Q10, ubiquinone and ubidecarenone.
We know that UV light reduces levels of antioxidants in the epidermis, such as vitamin E and CoQ10 (CoQ10 is the first antioxidant to disappear from the skin when it is exposed to sunlight). Furthermore, CoQ10 levels decrease with age.
There are serious studies that show that certain antioxidants, when applied topically, can prevent photoaging of the skin. And other studies directly certify that CoQ10 may favour the production and conservation of some components of the epidermis that are responsible for its protective action against sunlight.
The manufacturers of cosmetics that include CoQ10 in their formulas must certainly have scientific studies that show its efficacy. However, few laboratory or epidemiological studies have been published that provide definitive conclusions regarding the effects of this molecule. We know, for example, that the efficacy of topical CoQ10 is low, as it is poorly absorbed through the skin. A way of improving penetration is to encapsulate it in liposomes.
But CoQ10 must have some effect, as it has been gaining favour among the public. No major side effects are known and it is very possible that the molecule improved the vitality of our skin cells, although it would be good to have more specific information and to hear clearly favourable opinions from dermatologists’ associations.
The future of CoQ10 in cosmetics
There are many studies in progress and CoQ10 will probably play an important role in preventing ageing of the skin, and its effects will be certified by the regulatory agencies of Europe (EFSA) and the United States (FDA). New formulas are currently being developed to improve its absorption after topical application and mixtures are being created of CoQ10 and other antioxidants and new substances, such as retinoids, in order to improve its protective and reparative effects on the skin.