• Núria Estapé, science journalist

    Youthful skin with resveratrol

    Considered to be the molecule of eternal youth, resveratrol is an anti-oxidant with surprising effects: it delays ageing and prevents disease. Its reparative powers have attracted the attention of the cosmetics sector, which is including it in skin care products. However, the lack of objective data about how resveratrol works has raised many doubts. Does it really have potent skin rejuvenating properties or is it just a myth?


    Red wine, grapes, peanuts, walnuts, blackberries and blueberries are just some of the foods that contain resveratrol. Dozens of nutricosmetic supplements and anti-ageing creams and serums based on this ingredient are sold in pharmacies and the Internet. Resveratrol, identified in 1940, has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It became especially popular from 2003, when Harvard University (USA) doctor David Sinclair published studies that reported that mice fed with resveratrol increased their life expectancy by 40%. If these results could be demonstrated for humans, we would live to about the age of 136 years!


    According to Sinclair, the restorative power of resveratrol is due to the fact that it increases the quantity of a protein called sirtuin that acts in situations of physical stress – such as when we go without eating for a long time.


    Youthful skin

    Resveratrol prevents cancer, reduces blood sugar in diabetics, improves heart performance, protects brain cells and fights infections caused by viruses — not bad!


    But what does it do for the skin? A paper published in Photochemistry and Photobiology explains how resveratrol-treated skin ages less when exposed to ultraviolet radiation; this is because this active ingredient enhances the vitality of the epidermal keratinocytes, which are the cells that constantly renew the surface layer of the skin. Sun damage is less, as the sun-exposed skin repairs and renews itself more rapidly.


    Oleic acid, the best ally

    The cosmetics industry did not want to miss out on the opportunity to include resveratrol in formulas for beauty products. But it encountered a major obstacle: resveratrol dissolves poorly in water and its effects dissipate in slightly acidic media (like the human skin). Oleic acid, present in avocados and olive oil, proved to be the best ally, as both the acid and resveratrol are absorbed by the skin when mixed together.


    Oleic acid acts on the epidermis (the skin’s surface layer), increases its thickness and penetrates to the deeper layers (dermis), where it stimulates collagen and elastin production. It also supplies omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, which regenerate and nourish the skin and protect it from external damage.


    Dr. Ellen Marmur of the Mount Sinai Hospital (USA), who has conducted studies on these two ingredients, has endorsed the best known of the cosmetic firms that use resveratrol combined with oleic acid: its flagship product, a patented formula, reduces skin wrinkles by 40%.


    Does resveratrol have a future?

    Despite the good results for resveratrol in medicine and cosmetics, alarms are often sounded, as few clinical studies have been conducted with humans that enable us to predict the effects and consequences of prolonged or excessive use. Some experts warn that its use should be more controlled.


    That said, once doubts are resolved about resveratrol, whether taken as a supplement or applied to the skin, its contribution to modern medicine may even be greater than penicillin — that, at least, is what James Betz claims in his book, published in 2011, Resveratrol - Myth or Miracle?. We, for the moment, would need further scientific evidence to support that view.