Exploring the skin to brain connection.
To understand neurocosmetics we need to understand human skin first. Its unique composition and properties are at the focal point of this whitepaper, helping us to explore the connection between skin and the brain.
Before getting into the structure of the skin, we should look at its functions. Interestingly enough, there is no comprehensive, generally agreed list, as the list continues to grow with the emergence of new research. More traditional view pointed at protection and thermoregulation, but one can expand this list to much more. Albert Kligman in his work only starts to name those: (Immunologic, Endocrine, Metabolic, Psycho-social, Neuro-psycho-immunologic, And so on…). One can also simplify this to two general functions:
- It establishes barriers.
- It filters the exchanges with the outside world.
And it’s the latter function that we look into to comprehend the connection to brain.
Skin, as the biggest organ is also the carrier of the largest number of neuroreceptors.
In fact in one cubic centimeter you can find up to 800 000 neurons and over 10 meters of nerves.
The exchange can happen at multiple levels of sensory inputs from the skin surface, also described as cutaneous skin sensitivity.
The skins neural architecture allows for a very broad spectrum of reactions like communicating temperature, pain or itching, as well as one of the most fundamental sensations for human development, the touch. Some of them happen at the physical level, others at a biochemical level, a sphere explored mainly by medical experts rather than the cosmetics industry.
Two-way communication, skin to brain and brain to skin can help the entire cosmetics industry to explore the notion that on one hand the mental condition has a direct impact on the health and look of the skin, on the other that you can positively influence the mental state by communicating with the entire neuro network with topical applications of oils, creams and serums.
NEUROCOSMETICS – A HOTLY DEBATED DEFINITION
Although not an official scientific term, neurocosmetics has been hotly debated in the recent years, with marketers and product experts from the cosmetics industry trying to adapt it to their needs.
There have been attempts to adopt the name to describe various types of products. One of the most common ones promoted by cosmetic marketers was a notion of feel good or mood-lifting cosmetics.
As much as a nice piece of clothing or good looking make up can lift your mood, cosmetics can have the same effect. However, this effects comes from psychological rather than biochemical sources. And it is the latter is what truly characterizes the neurocosmetics, as described by Prof. Misery in 2000:
“we can summarize this group of products as, not absorbed products applied on the skin, exhibiting activity on the cutaneous nervous system or in general effects on the skin mediators“
So, it is the neurotransmitters present in skin cell receptors are therefore the target audience of true neurocosmetics.
Therefore the field is predominantly concerned about exploring ingredients, both natural and synthetic, that can impact the nervous system. The range of these effects can vary tremendously, from temperature sensation – both cooling and heating, through inflammation and pain releasing to the ones that affect the levels of endorphins and cortisol.
As early as 1925 it has been discovered that various skin conditions can be treated by a combination of psychotherapy. Inflammation, psoriasis, eczema, as well as aging can be attributed to chemical balance related to stress (cortisol) or relaxation (endorphins or oxytocin). Finding new natural ingredients and compounds to be utilized as active substances. A new scientific field called psycho-neuro-endocrine-immunology (PNEI) has been developed to explore relationships between the mind and the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems.
Some of the examples from the scientific community explore the effects of neuroactive ingredients on cutaneous nervous fiber endings, as modulators of the neurotransmitter release. This can be exemplified by active ingredients that stimulate face muscles to relax, thus having wrinkle smoothing properties. It can also decrease skin sensitivity to external stimuli – making it less reactive.
Neurocosmetics are usually composed of various active ingredients interacting with our nervous system that can be combined or can amplify the effects of other ingredients.
Some of the examples include calming substances like glycyrrhetinic acid, hydrating substances like polysaccharides (of which the most popular one is hyaluronic acid) or plant extracts that promote penetration of active substances into the epidermis.