|G. Tzenichristos, Lipotherapeia, London|
Natural beauty inside and out
Most women, and an increasing number of men, use anti-ageing skin products to stay young and fight the signs of ageing. In addition, an increasing number of consumers also use nutricosmetics, i.e. nutritional supplements that are specifically geared to protecting skin from within.
Most anti-ageing skin products today utilise natural active ingredients with the aim to protect skin from ageing factors such as free radical damage, inflammation, tendency to irritation, UV damage, pollution-induced DNA damage and collagen/elastin loss, among other factors. Most nutricosmetics are also based on plant nutrients and aim to protect skin from the same ageing factors.
The common denominator in many of those active ingredients is a class of wondrous plant
chemicals with multiple beneficial actions on human health, wellbeing and beauty, called
flavonoids. Flavonoids took their name from the Latin word flavus, meaning yellow, the natural
colour of many of those phytochemicals. Flavonoids are found abundantly in traditional healthful
human diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, and are responsible to a large extent for those diets’ health benefits.
Bioflavonoids and vitamin C
My first introduction to bioflavonoids (the original name of flavonoids) was back in the mid-80s
when I used to enrich my diet as a competitive athlete with nutritional supplements based on
vitamin C and the citrus fruit flavonoids rutin, hesperidin and quercetin, the archetypal
“bioflavonoids”. Both vitamin C and bioflavonoids are known to boost collagen and support healthy circulation and are ideal for earthy-minded athletes and non-athletes alike). Thirty years later I am amazed to still be using flavonoids, not just as nutritional supplements, but more importantly, as active ingredients in anti-ageing treatments at our clinic in London and in our leg wellness and cellulite creams.
The flavonoid VIPs
In addition to the original flavonoids mentioned above, other well-known and well-researched
flavonoids are also widely used in cosmetics, either as isolated molecules or as the active
components in plant extracts:
• apigenin, found in chamomile
• myricetin, found in parsley
• taxifolin (dihydroquercetin), found in siberian larch
• catechin, found in cocoa
• epicatechin, found in tea
• EGCG, found in green tea
• proanthocyanidins, found in berry fruits
This is by no means an exhaustive list but represents the most commonly used flavonoids in health and beauty.
Most flavonoids exhibit multiple anti-ageing actions on skin cells, blood vessels and immune cells, which ultimately manifest to the naked eye as younger, healthier looking skin. Such actions include inflammation control, free radical damage protection, blood vessel support, fibrosis inhibition, protection of collagen and elastin from degradation, skin repair, stimulation of new collagen/elastin production etc.
For example, apigenin from chamomile is known to help boost skin collagen; prevent UV-induced inflammation and overall toxicity and ageing; protect epidermal permeability; fight free radicals / oxidation; boost skin repair; fight inflammation and irritation; and it has even been described as a promising molecule for skin cancer prevention.
Other more researched flavonoids, such as quercetin and EGCG for example, have an even longer list of actions, shown in hundreds of in-vitro, in-vivo and clinical studies. Due to that multi-functional action, flavonoids are ideal for use in anti-ageing creams, lotions and serums. Skin, especially aged skin, needs all the help it can get in terms of collagen production and protection, circulation and inflammation control.
On the other hand, over the decades some flavonoids have come to be associated with specific
benefits. For example rutin is known as an anti-cellulite agent, quercetin for it’s anti-irritant action, hesperidin for circulation improvement and EGCG for it’s overall anti-ageing benefits.
Living and learning
In addition, every day we discover something new about flavonoids and add to our knowledge of them. For example, as I was writing this article I received an alert about a new study that describes the hair regrowth potential of EGCG and dihydroquercetin.
Furthermore, we now know that what we call “antioxidants” (including flavonoids), do not directly
inhibit oxidation, as previously believed, but they stimulate the secretion of the body’s own
antioxidant and anti-inflammatory defences, by activating molecules such as Nrf2 and HO-1. A
study, for example, has found that the flavonoid fisetin fights inflammation and oxidative damage by this exact pathway. Many similar studies are conducted every year, enabling us to constantly improve our knowledge of flavonoids and their action on skin, and overall health.
Problems and solutions
In spite their diverse anti-ageing benefits, three problems inhibit the wide and intensive inclusion of flavonoids in anti-ageing products:
• their colour: nobody wants to apply a deep yellow cream on their face or body
• poor stability: as antioxidants, flavonoids are prone to oxidation themselves, leading to an even
deeper colour of the skin products containing them over several months of storage
• poor absorption
These problems can be effectively solved by using isolated molecules in formulations, as opposed to plant extracts, so that a smaller quantity needs be used in the product, leading to lighter coloured skin products; and by stabilising flavonoids with palmitate and liposomes or by using their glycosides, which are more stable and absorbable. Examples include hesperidin glucoside, palmitoylated catechins or liposomal EGCG, which all benefit from better stability and absorption.
Due to their diverse action and very low toxicity flavonoids are widely used in cosmetics with
already great results, despite the low percentage of inclusion due to colour and poor stability.
However, the continuous discovery and development of new isolation, stabilisation and delivery
methods are gradually leading to the ability to include flavonoids in anti-ageing products in higher amounts, for more impressive and faster results.
Whether cosmetic companies eventually rising up to the challenge and ending up using those
molecules in higher amounts or just keeping to the older (and cheaper) habits, is a totally different matter altogether.
One thing is certain, if you have recently bought a quality anti-ageing cream, chances are it will
most probably contain one or more flavonoids. So go on, check that label and see how many
flavonoids, or at least flavonoid containing plant extracts, you can find on it!