The Biochemistry of Beauty: It’s Not That Complicated!

While new technologies in biology have been invaluable in unraveling the complexities of skin function, there are still many unknowns, which allow for just as many ambiguous marketing claims. Unfortunately, when it comes to many beauty brands, marketing tends to take the lead and leaves science as an afterthought. For example, the rise in ‘clean’ marketing claims…but are the products really clean?

It is essential to always put science first when formulating skincare products –specifically, biochemistry. Biochemistry is the language of life; it is the science concerned with the chemical constituents and activities of living, biological cells: the forefront of the skin. And it should always be the benchmark for product development.

Science may not be static, but the biology of your skin has remained the same for thousands of years. It hasn’t just developed new talents or morphed a desire for a new trendy ingredient! When formulating skincare products, you start at the top – the stratum corneum (SC), or top layer of your skin. Because this (the skin barrier) is where having a consistent skincare regimen with the right ingredients is most effective.

Layers of the skin

Each day, the SC is exposed to ultraviolet light, free radicals, dirt, and pollutants. It is literally the ‘barrier’ between us and the world! It’s made of dead skin cells called corneocytes, which are arranged like bricks, with lipids (fatty acids) floating between them like mortar. On top of that is the acid mantle, your first layer of defense where healthy microbes defend against bad ones. In healthy skin, that barrier not only blocks out invading substances, but also locks in critical moisture.

But what ingredients are the best at maintaining healthy skin? Really, it’s pretty basic biochemistry: provide your skin with the ingredients for life – the ‘ingredients’ that the skin already recognizes that it needs and thrives on to maintain a healthy barrier and microbiome. These key ingredients are:

  1. Hydrating lipids to increase the skin's hydration and sustain barrier function
  2. Fatty acids to fight water loss and maintain the structure of the barrier
  3. Antioxidant Vitamins A, C and E to limit damage from UV exposure, and additionally:
    • Vitamin E protects the skin barrier from environmental stress
    • Vitamin C is essential for collagen biosynthesis and it also ‘regenerates’ Vitamin E for sustained antioxidant protection
    • Vitamin A/Retinoids stimulate cell renewal. I am a huge fan of those found in plants, as you don't need a high concentration level to see results.

Introducing products into your skincare regimen that have high concentrations of these key ‘ingredients’ – preferably sourced from whole plants – is the secret to maintaining healthy, balanced skin for the long haul.

Have questions, comments, or just want to chat about skincare? Shoot an email over to our Clean Chemist at!

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