5 Ingredients to Look for in Your Skincare Products

By Nicolas Perricone, MD, celebrity dermatologist and bestselling author. Click here to read an excerpt from his book, Forever Young, The Science of Nutrigenomics for Wrinkle-Free Skin and Radiant Health at Any Age.

Posted on | By Nicolas Perricone, MD

Alpha Lipoic Acid

Alpha lipoic acid is one of the most powerful anti-aging, antioxidant, anti-inflammatories available. Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is called “the universal antioxidant” because it is both fat- and water-soluble. This means that ALA is easily absorbed through the lipid layers of the skin and works equally well as a free-radical fighter in the cell plasma membrane and in the watery interiors of the cell.

Further, it is 400 times stronger than vitamins E and C combined (both of which are renowned for their antioxidant properties). 

ALA has great benefit when applied in a topical lotion. When put in an eye lotion, it will greatly decrease under eye circles and puffiness.  ALA will also reduce swelling and puffiness in the face. Its anti-inflammatory effects reduce redness and blotchiness, resulting in an evening out of skin tone, often making foundation unnecessary. ALA will shrink pore size and impart a healthy radiance to the skin. ALA is excellent at decreasing the appearance of lines and wrinkles; its capacity to regulate production of nitric oxide, which controls blood flow to the skin, transforms the complexion from dull, pasty and pale to vibrant and glowing.

DMAE

For several decades, I have been extolling the virtues of DMAE as both a nutritional supplement and as a topical treatment to combat the signs of aging of the face and body. 

DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) is a nutritional substance that is a powerful anti-inflammatory and membrane stabilizer.  DMAE is a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that causes muscles to contract and tighten under the skin. Therefore, it can help maintain muscle tone in the face and body as we age, helping to prevent both sagging and drooping of the muscles under skin. In fact, it is not wrinkles that are the greatest culprit in giving the face an aged appearance – it is the loss of anatomical position that results in the sagging and drooping of the underlying muscles.

When applied topically in the form of a lotion, the effects are almost immediately visible. The effects are also cumulative. Studies looking at weeks, months and even up to a year of use show that improvements and benefits continue to accrue. 

Application of a DMAE-rich topical treatment results in almost instantaneous benefits. The skin looks firmer, lifted, less lined, and smoother. If a pea-sized drop of a DMAE-containing lotion is spread on one side of the face, gently rubbed into the nasolabial fold, around the eye, forehead, under the chin and on the neck, results can be seen in about 20 minutes. The side of the face and jaw line with the DMAE will appear more contoured, the eye will be open wider, the nasolabial fold lessened. The effect is dramatic. There will also be an immediate reduction in lines and wrinkles. DMAE is also outstanding in tightening up the dimpled skin on the back of the thighs and the upper arms. 

Also, the appearance of both fine and deep lines is reduced, and best of all, there is a wonderful (and very visible) increase in overall radiance and evenness of skin tone and color.


Vitamin C Ester

Many skincare products contain antioxidants, however, sometimes they can be irritants such as vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid.  What few people know is that there are two forms of vitamin C – water-soluble and fat-soluble – with distinctly different properties. 

Water-soluble vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
This is the form of vitamin C found in standard vitamin supplements. Although I recommend taking this form of vitamin C as a nutritional supplement, ascorbic acid has some serious drawbacks when used as topical ingredient. It cannot protect cell membranes, nor can the skin maintain adequate levels when we experience oxidative stress, either from internal sources such as poor diet and stress, or from external sources such as sunlight. 

Ascorbic acid can also create a powerful free radical known as a hydroxylradical, via a Fenton reaction with iron in the body. It is also irritating to skin and unstable when used in topical formulations.


Fat-soluble vitamin C ester
Unlike the ascorbic acid form, fat-soluble vitamin C ester realizes this essential nutrient’s full potential as an anti-aging agent. It displays greater antioxidant activity in our cells than ascorbic acid does, and performs this vital work at lower doses. In fact, compared with ascorbic acid, vitamin C ester delivers 8 times higher levels of vitamin C activity.    

And because vitamin C ester can reside in our cells' fatty membranes, it continuously regenerates the vitamin E depleted by that fat-soluble antioxidant’s ongoing fight against free radicals. 

Vitamin C ester also possesses superior ability to stimulate growth of the cells (fibroblasts) that help produce collagen and elastin, the strands of tissue that give the skin its strength and flexibility.

Last but not least, vitamin C ester is also more stable in topical solutions, maintaining its efficacy while it delivers its incomparable benefits. And it does not produce the negative Fenton reaction that occurs when products containing water-soluble ascorbic acid are applied to skin.


Neuropeptides

Incorporating neuropeptides dramatically improves the appearance of skin's resilience, tone and texture, while decreasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It combats the appearance of crepiness by re-energizing and hydrating the skin, while increasing firmness. It is safe for damaged, mature or fragile skin.

It is important to differentiate between neuropeptides and the more commonly marketed pentapeptides. 

The neuropeptide topical formulas I have developed contain multiple peptides delivered in a special base that allows the molecules to penetrate the skin, where they can activate receptor sites and achieve maximum benefits. To achieve this level of quality and activity, these neuropeptides must be synthesized in a laboratory in small batches with a resultant cost of the peptides of up to $30,000 per kilo. These neuropeptides should not be confused with simple peptide preparations that work by a totally different and simplistic mechanism. 

Pentapeptides, for example, are not the sophisticated neuropeptides which have to be synthesized on an individual basis. These pentapeptides cost dollars per pound and simply cannot deliver the level of efficacy found in the neuropeptide formulas.


Polyenylphosphotidyl choline (PPC)

Polyenylphosphotidyl choline (PPC) is unsurpassed in relieving dry skin. This is because the chief moisturizing agents in skin are phospholipids. When we apply an unsaturated phospholipid like PPC, the moisturizing action is even more effective and powerful than that of the natural phospholipids we find in our skin. 

Topical PPC provides the following benefits:

  • Acts a natural moisturizer to provide superior emollient benefits to skin
  • Helps heal dry, chapped and inflamed skin
  • Increases the appearance of a radiant, rosy glow
  • Rapidly moisturizes severely dehydrated skin
  • Helps to improve the appearance of damaged skin

Article written by Nicolas Perricone, MD
Celebrity dermatologist and bestselling author.