Matrixyl has been in the news. There have been a couple of stories this week in the Mail and the Mirror. The effectiveness of an anti-wrinkle ingredient has been scientifically proven. Journalists have been onto me asking for comments, so it seems to have struck a chord at least in the media. Let’s unpack it and see if we can work out what is really going on.
First off the research. It was carried out at Reading University and used a technique called cell culture. This is a widely used technique and a very handy one. It works by growing cells from humans or other animals in the laboratory, so you can do experiments on them. This is a lot quicker, cheaper and easier than using animals. It also gives in many ways better results. What we are talking about is a good example. They have grown up some skin cells and treated them with the active ingredient. The treated cells produce double the amount of collagen that untreated ones do.
This is encouraging. If something has that effect on cells in a culture then there is a good chance it will have a similar effect in real skin. But it may not. Real skin is a heck of a lot more complicated and there may well be things going on in it that don’t happen in the culture. The promising results from the lab may not be repeated in real life.
The anti-wrinkle ingredient in question is Matrixyl. This is a peptide and peptides are an intriguing family of actives. It was realised in the eighties that a lot of the body’s activities were controlled by very small peptides. The name given to this class of peptides was cytokines, and it has become a large field of study. Understanding how cytokines work opens up the prospect of modifying details of the ways our bodies work. In principle it would be possible to select the right cytokine to stimulate collegen production and reduce one of the major signs of aging. We don’t really know enough to do this yet. There are a lot of problems that need to be solved. We need to understand the details of the biochemistry, we need to assess the right kind of dose and probably most difficult of all we need to work out exactly how we are going to deliver the actives.
This latest bit of research is one bit of the jigsaw. It shows that one particular peptide, Matrixyl, does have the potential to stimulate collagen production. Unfortunately it isn’t as simple as just bunging it in a cream and hoping it will work.
But just bunging it in a cream and hoping it will work is exactly what the beauty industry has done. In fact, we were already doing that even before this research was carried out. A number of products are already on the market that contain Matrixyl. It has been shown in reasonably rigorous studies to have some small beneficial effects on wrinkles. I don’t think the results are exciting enough to really justify the ‘miracle’ tag, but they are there.
I think what is exciting is that we are beginning to see the path open up towards products that might really work much better than those on the market now. If we can design peptides with cytokine-like activity and deliver them effectively we really might be able to maintain our skins in much better condition for much longer. But it won’t come about in the form of a new miracle cream that suddenly appears and sweeps away all the competition. It will be a lot more like the development of computers and mobile phones, where each succeeding generation of products improves on what went before. If you are a young biochemist with an interest in biology and innovation, you could do a lot worse than look for a cosmetic company to work for. I think there are some exciting times ahead.
The manufacturer’s web page for Matrixyl is very easy to understand.
And here is a sample of the media coverage from the Daily Mirror