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Industry Insight: Seeing Through Layers of Skin Care Complexity

Contact Author Rachel Grabenhofer with Tony Rawlings, Ph.D., AVR Consulting
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Tony Rawlings (TR), Ph.D., is nothing if not modest. His response to the news of receiving the Society of Cosmetic Chemists’ Maison G. de Navarre Medal Award this December was that of surprise.

“I’m taking it as a big honor and a privilege,” he said. “I mean, [standing with the likes of] Albert Kligman, I feel highly honored and delighted.”

The award represents outstanding technical contributions in functional skin and hair care technologies. As such, Cosmetics & Toiletries could not pass up the chance to dive into the depths of his biochemical knowledge to see where skin care is heading. Following is an adapted excerpt from our discussion.

C&T: Skin biology is your “jam,” so what can you tell us about recent breakthroughs in understanding it?

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TR: With today’s advances in omics, generally ceramidomics, proteomics or lipidomics, we understand much better the complexity of area lipids in the stratum corneum; not only for body skin, but also for the face. ... If you look at dry body skin and the major contributors to facilitate desquamation or corneodesmolysis, they are actually decreased, so you get a thickening of the stratum corneum. In contrast, on the face, they are increased, and that is a result of inflammatory processes from UV radiation.

What has amazed me over the last 17 years or so, since I’ve been consulting ... is the complexity of facial skin. Most people do a single measurement at a single site on the face. They apply a product and find that it moisturizes; or in the worst case, they will test the product on their forearm and say it is going to work on the face. But it's a lot more complex than that.

The approach we have taken with Rainer Voegeli at DSM and Beverley Summers in South Africa is to try to visualize stratum corneum properties using conventional measuring tools but on 30 sites across the face. Then we work with a company in Lyon called Newtone that creates algorithms that allow us to construct a heat map of whatever parameters we are interested in; in this case, facial barrier function and hydration. Interestingly, there are big differences among ethnicities, even in those living in the same environment and same geographic location.

Obviously we cannot measure the changes in stratum corneum on those 30 sites, so currently we are examining a limited number of sites with a particular interest on corneocyte lipid and protein envelopes and their maturation index.

Read more from Rawlings in our October 2019 digital exclusive column, "Expert Opinions."

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