Energizing Cells for More Youthful Skin

Mary Begovic Johnson
Mary Begovic Johnson

While the past two decades have brought major advances in anti-aging skin care, like Juan Ponce De León, companies are still in search of the fabled Fountain of Youth. Procter & Gamble (P&G) researchers, including Mary Begovic Johnson, principal scientist, may have come closer to finding it in cellular bioenergetics. As she explains, the role of this discipline in skin’s appearance has been identified, along with ingredients that can restore energy to cells.

Cellular Bioenergetics

Johnson defines cellular bioenergetics as “the living energy in the cell.” She furthers that “it is the way energy is produced and consumed and the key to life.” It has long been known that energy consumption and production take place in the mitochondria, which convert food into adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy molecules, producing free radicals as byproducts. While cellular bioenergetics research has initially been linked to aging diseases such as cancer, diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders, it has made its way into skin research with P&G’s acquisition of the Seahorse Extracellular Flux (XF) Analyzer, an in vitro metabolic measurement device. The company purchased this device after becoming interested in how levels of the coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) affect skin’s appearance.

The device allowed Johnson and fellow researchers to look at energy production in living cells in a stable state, and to challenge those cells by mimicking the environmental stressor.

“What we found is that the levels of NADH and NADP(H), [the two markers for energy in cells], is lower in aged cells than in younger cells,” explained Johnson. “When we challenged those cells with hydrogen peroxide, the mitochondria were damaged and produced less energy, and the older cells recovered much more slowly compared to younger cells.” Her team concluded that energy production is lower in older cells and declines more rapidly with aging.

The team also utilized a 2-photon imaging technique to non-invasively measure NADH and NADP(H) energy levels in the skin of 80 Japanese women, ages 21-68. During the tests, NADH and NADP(H) molecules fluoresced, showing more energetic skin.

“In a 20-year old, the skin was much more energized and the image was brighter. This study showed a steady decline in bioenergy production from the early 20s through the 60s,” Johnson added.

The “beauty of the system,” according to Johnson, is that you can take in vitro skin cell models and culture them with different ingredients, then use the Seahorse device to determine which ingredients increase energy production. The team did just that with help from a group of scientists from BASF and together, they identified a complex of ingredients to counteract the decline in energy production in aging skin.

Formulating for Energy

The resulting BioEnergetics Complex comprises niacinamide, PAL-KTTKS and sodium PEG-7 olive oil carboxylate, and prevents the stress-induced decrease of energy in older cells. “Niacinamide (vitamin B3) is essential to skin health and is a precursor to energy production,” said Johnson. It is included to produce energy in aged cells.

However, Johnson noted that as part of the Mitochondrial Theory of Aging, with the production of energy also comes the production of free radicals. “The olive oil derivative [therefore] gives cells the ability to mop up these free radicals. It increases the skin’s antioxidant response element, which increases the cell’s ability to provide antioxidant protection,” explained Johnson. Meanwhile, Pal-KTTKS signals the cell to make more collagen and elastin.

These three ingredients are included in the reformulated Olay Regenerist line; however, a dill compound (see Dill Compound) is added to the Microsculpting products to maintain elastin quality. “[The dill compound] boosts energy even further, but also stimulates the enzymes that tell skin to make quality elastin.”

A profound finding, according to Johnson, is that increased energy levels allow for greater ingredient efficacy. “Increased natural energy levels in the mitochondria allow cells to respond much more quickly and fully to anti-aging therapies,” noted Johnson.

To increase anti-aging ingredient efficacy, the R&D team also had to invert the emulsion. Johnson noted that many formulas on the market today, including P&G’s previous Regenerist line, are w/s because silicone provides a velvety skin feel. However, “most anti-aging ingredients such as niacinamide are water-soluble. Therefore, they must travel from the water phase through the silicone to get to the skin, which decreases the efficiency of penetration,” she explained. Her team flipped the formulation for better efficacy. “When the emulsion was flipped to a s/w emulsion, the anti-aging ingredients were right next to the skin, with increased the penetration of niacinamide up to 55%.”

Future Look

The research on cellular bioenergetics is a long-term commitment, according to Johnson, which is why P&G purchased another Seahorse device. The team plans to look closer at environmental factors affecting cell energy and replicate them to find out what is accelerating this loss. They also plan to use the new instrumentation to identify new reenergizing ingredients. While the first study focused on texture and wrinkle changes in skin, future studies will investigate discoloration, which energy is hypothesized to affect.

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