The rise of the Ordinary has stimulated the interest in cosmetic active ingredients. Or has the rise in interest in cosmetic active ingredients stimulated the rise of the Ordinary? It’s hard to say, and I dare say we’ll never know. But I now find myself reading beauty blogs where the bloggers are intensely interested in which of the ingredients are working and even how they actually work. Some are even going so far as to look at the research behind them.
This is all good stuff. The internet opens up all kinds of possibilities and if one of them is getting a better understanding of how your skin works and how you should spend your hard earned cash on products to help it along, well that’s all to the good. So I don’t want to pour cold water on all this. But there are a few things to bear in mind when you are researching raw materials.
The first thing is that research costs money, and people don’t spend money without a realistic expectation of a profitable result. So always keep this in mind when looking at papers that describe a named active, or more often blend of actives, with a trademark. I came across a very good example when a Niod skin toner, NIOD Re Pigment, crossed my desk. This contains an ingredient called by the trade name Brightenyl that reduces melanin synthesis, and they have published a paper with the results. This is interesting and there is definitely a need for this kind of active in the market. But on examination it appeared to be simply a modified form of gallic acid – which is found along with other similar compounds in fruits like grapes and bananas, tea and in several of the herbal skin lightening ingredients like licorice and bearberry.
Licorice for example does have a mild lightening effect on the skin, so it is quite believable that something with the same basic chemistry would work. The trouble is that nobody owns licorice. So there isn’t much incentive to do research on it. The derivative on the other hand is patented, trade marked and controlled by the supplier. This is all fine if the derivative performs better – but they haven’t run the tests against licorice.
Which brings me to the results. They have indeed managed to show a reduction in melanin expression. I didn’t quite understand the bit of the paper where they talked about melanin levels actually being reduced. But they have colourimetric data that shows that the skin does indeed lighten. There are some photos as well.
We can be pretty confident that this data is genuine. The cosmetic business is a small one at the development end and it would be very unwise to falsify this sort of thing. You’d be out of business if it got out. And the data has been through the peer review process which while by means perfect does provide a pretty good level of checking. And finally, the results are believable because they frankly aren’t all that impressive. Yes the skin is a bit paler, but the change is hardly dramatic and you might struggle to even notice it. If I were formulating a product I’d probably just stick to licorice.
Having said that, if I used Brightenyl then I’d be able to use the data in the paper. That might help in marketing. I’d imagine that was the thinking behind its choice to be used in NIOD Re Pigment. Whoever came up with it might well have known everything I have just said but decided that having access to specific data made it worth going for. NIOD Re Pigment has other actives as well, so it doesn’t look like they’ve bet the shop on it working.
So I hope this example gives you some insight into the way these things work. Reading research papers is great and is a very educational thing to do. But do remember the context the research is being done in and what the people involved are trying to do.
Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015; 8: 579–589.
Published online 2015 Nov 25. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S93364
Trihydroxybenzoic acid glucoside as a global skin color modulator and photo-protectant
Hanane Chajra,1 Gérard Redziniak,2 Daniel Auriol,3 Kuno Schweikert,1 and Fabrice Lefevre
International Food Research Journal 20(5): 2951-2957 (2013)
Effect of harvest time on antioxidant activity of Glycyrrhiza glabra root
extract and evaluation of its antibacterial activity
Karami, Z.,Mirzaei, H., Emam-Djomeh, Z., Sadeghi Mahoonak, A.R. and