Let’s talk about ingredient penetration into the skin and how deep skincare products actually need to go to get the results you’re looking for.
*We’re not talking about transdermal ingredient absorbing into the bloodstream, which is a different topic, you can read studies here.
Let’s start from the top…of the skin.
Not all skincare ingredients have to penetrate deeply into the skin to work their magic, some do their best work on the surface.
Which skincare ingredients work best on the surface?
The surface of your skin, aka the epidermis, is made up of protein cells (keratinocytes) that form a "brick and mortar" that safeguards your skin from toxins and invaders.
When the cells become old, they are naturally sloughed off from the top and replaced by new cells, which form at the deeper layer of the skin and are pushed up to the surface.
When the balance of this natural process becomes disturbed or slowed down, the dead cells become accumulated, resulting in dull appearance, premature fine lines, dryness, and even acne.
In this case it’s a good idea to help speed up the shedding process by using a mild exfoliant. You DON’T want the exfoliant ingredients to have small molecules because that will allow them to go too deep, irritating healthy tissue. All you want is to get rid of the dead cells at the top, thereby signaling to the deeper layer of the skin that new skin cells need to be made. Not only does this simple nudge clear dull complexion at the top, it also boosts cell production, making the skin thicker and more plump.
For this very topical action DO stick to ingredients that have large molecules, which will not go deeper than the very surface. Large molecule exfoliants such as mandelic and phytic acids can be found in our Nightly Calibrator , they ensure topical exfoliation without irritating the deeper layers.
Now let’s dive deeper…
What skincare ingredients need to go deep to work?
When we say “deep” - for skincare this means the dermis, the second layer of skin, made up of protein cells known as fibroblasts responsible for producing skin structures such as elastin, hyaluronic acid, and collagen.
The dermis dictates the health and outlook of your skin. When the skin is exposed to environmental stressors, the fibroblasts are affected, taking a toll on the dermis, resulting in sagginess, wrinkles, thinning, dryness, and fine lines.
To ensure that the fibroblasts are healthy and strong, you'll need to use skincare that contains antioxidants that can permeate through the epidermis to the dermis.
Ingredients like sea kelp penetrate deeply to strengthen this deep layer. Sea kelp is a potent antioxidant that wards off signs of aging while hydrating the skin from within. Also, it is a natural penetration enhancer, meaning it helps other useful ingredients make their way into the deeper layer of the skin. Our T-zone + Cheeks moisturizer features Sea Kelp as one of the key ingredients.
Deep diving ingredients such as mushroom extracts have been proven to fight off collagenase, hyaluronidase, and elastase, enzymes that break down collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid respectively.
Do oils penetrate into the skin?
For the most part oils will remain on top and can play an important protective role. There are some really useful elements inside oils, such as antioxidants and hydrating molecules that can dive deep. However, oils can also clog pores, so choose the types of oils or oil derivatives wisely.
For instance, Olive Oil Unsaponifiables, ingredient used in our T-Zone + Cheeks, is an olive oil derivative that is lightweight and absorbs easily into the skin. This extract is mostly made of squalane. It is deeply hydrating and gentle for sensitive skin, and unlike pure olive oil, this ingredient does not clog pores.
Essential oils are a separate group. The volatile compounds responsible for the fragrant qualities in these oils have tiny molecules, allowing them to slip through to the dermis. But these are elements you DON’T want to let through, for they are highly irritating. This is why we are fragrance free and always recommend to avoid essential or fragrant oils in your skincare.
Does massage improve the penetration of ingredients in skincare products?
Yes! You can improve the penetration of your skincare mechanically by practicing techniques such as simple tapping and circular massage.
Gently patting your products on your skin boosts blood flow, tones your muscles, and drains your lymph nodes. Also, tapping your skin after using your product aids penetration.
From easing up sore muscles and draining lymph nodes, circularly massaging your skin is a sure way to enhance the penetration of ingredients. In addition, the warmth generated during massage aids the absorption of skincare ingredients because heat is a another penetration enhancer.
Sea buckthorn oil (in our 2-step cleanser system) is rich in antioxidants and vitamins, when massages into the skin in circular motions, the rich nutrients will travel into the deep layer of your skin to help preserve the integrity of your collagen and elastin structures, keeping your skin healthy and vibrant.