Cosmeceuticals – Anti Wrinkle Ingredients

NYC dermatologist Novick, Nelson

By Nelson Lee Novick, MD

New York, New York 10028

Physician (MD, DO), Cosmetic Dermatology, Dermatologic Surgery, Dermatology


You’ve probably already heard of Renova, Avage, alpha hydroxyacids, and vitamin C. But did you know that there are dozens of other topical antioxidants and vitamins that have just joined the ranks of topical anti-aging treatments?

Cosmeceuticals are skin care products with biologically active ingredients that change the function of the skin rather than just its appearance. American consumers spend billions each year on these anti-aging products designed to provide a more youthful appearance.

Cosmeceuticals ingredient may be categorized as follows

  • Antioxidants, such as vitamins, that reduce the harmful effects of free radicals that damage skin cells
  • Peptides that are small proteins that stimulate the production of collagen and thicken the skin.
  • Growth factors that serve as chemical messengers between cells to increase production of collagen and elastin.


Vitamin B5, better known as panthenol, is certainly not a new additive to skin care products. A water-grabbing agent, a humectant, panthenol has been incorporated for some years now into a number of skin care and many hair care products, particularly shampoos and conditioners. Via its ability to hold on to moisture, it has also been found to restore normal skin barrier function to the uppermost horny layer of the skin. And it is certainly well-known to the salon industry where it is utilized for its moisturizing capabilities.

What is less well known is that, in comparison to many other vitamins, panthenol is quite stable when exposed to air or light. Moreover, used in concentrations of at least 5 percent, it has  been found to be effective in promoting wound healing. For these reasons, panthenol has been getting quite a bit of play recently as an additive in antiaging skin care cosmetics.

Vitamin B3, niacinamide, is another vitamin newcomer to the skin care playing field. Niacinamide is a water-soluble vitamin found in all tissues, including the skin. In the latter, studies have suggested that it suppresses skin cancer production by ultraviolet light B, the sunburn rays. It also may enhance the ability of skin cells to resist tumor formation. It is also quite stable to exposure to air, light, and even acids and bases, making it a particularly attractive additive to skin care preparations.

Niacinamide appears to promote a gentle exfoliation and smoothing of the skin. However, unlike alpha hydroxyacids, it does so without provoking irritation. For this reason, it is being tested in individuals with very sensitive skin and in patients with rosacea, a condition characterized by heightened sensitivity to many cosmetics and makeups as well as to reddening and flushing of the skin in response to irritation.

Vitamin K, phytonedione, in a topical 5 percent formulation, unlike the other topical vitamin preparations mentioned that are intended to treat photoaging, is intended for treating dead-end vessels, “broken” blood vessels (telangiectasias) and to protect the vascular integrity of the tiny, coiled vessels in the dermis. It is also purported to possess some antiinflammatory properties.

Although the benefits of topical vitamin K await confirmation in large controlled studies, significant anecdotal evidence suggests that daily applications may be helpful for speeding the resolution of skin bruising from a variety of causes, including photodamage; for reducing the redness associated with rosacea; for diminishing the appearance of facial spider veins; and for lightening dark circles under the eyes.


Antioxidants in skin care products are chemicals that work by neutralizing various kinds of free radicals and reactive oxygen species that are generated by our normal metabolic processes, ultraviolet light exposure, cigarette smoke and other environmental insults. Unchecked, free radicals and oxidative chemicals act like loose cannons wreaking havoc to cellular and nuclear components of normal cells and are believed in large measure to be responsible for both the esthetic and medical damage we know as photoaging and skin cancers.

Vitamin E is certainly no newcomer to topical preparations in which it has been used in one form or another to preserve shelf life and product stability. However, more recently it has been increasingly touted for its  free-radical scavenging, antioxidant capabilities, and its ability to protect cell membranes and thus prevent cell destruction. Alpha-tocopherol is the most active biologic form of  vitamin E.

Reports in the cosmetic literature suggest that the use of alpha-tocopherol in concentrations of between 5 percent and 8 percent can smoothe skin roughness and diminish fine wrinkling. Animal studies, as yet subject to confirmation in humans, also indicate that topical application can prevent sunburn redness and even prevent the subsequent development of skin cancers. At the same time, vitamin E is a well known cause of contact allergic dermatitis and a trigger of acne, all of which leaves the place of this vitamin in skin rejuvenation open to question.

Alpha lipoic acid is one of the newest and most post antioxidants to come along. It differs from vitamins, which are generally either soluble in water or lipids (fats) by being soluble in both. For this reason, in topical preparations, it is rapidly absorbed down to the subcutaneous fat layer. It has been shown to be protective within cells of vitamins C and E, themselves important antioxidants. Additionally, it possesses anti-inflammatory properties and in 3 percent concentrations has been demonstrated in preliminary work at least to diminish fine wrinkles, presumably by stimulating the synthesis of collagen. Further investigations are ongoing to verify these findings and to determine the optimal formulation for this promising acid.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), also known as ubiquinone, and idebenone, its chemical relative, is found naturally within mitochondria, the energy producing units within of our cells, and plays a vital role in cellular energy production. It owes its name ubiuqinone to its ubiquitous presence throughout all the cells of our body. There is evidence suggesting that when applied to the skin, these agents may increase the proliferation of collagen-producing fibroblasts and also reduce the amount of collagenase, an enzyme that can be induced by ultraviolet light and that speeds the breakdown of collagen. In one small study, these properties  translated into reduction of fine lines and smoothing of surface irregularities. CoQ10 has the added benefits of being non irritating, even for sensitive skin.

The arena of antiaging potions and elixirs is growing steadily fuller. What is needed now is more research to find out which ones truly fulfill their promise and what combinations work best for which problems.