Exploring the Science Behind Beauty

Science editor Jack Coles swaps the lab for the salon and tells us all there is to know about the chemical ingredients of our beauty products.

Jack Coles
13th November 2017
Image Credit: @thealchemistuk (Instagram)

Up until a few months ago, I had no idea what Omega-3 actually was. Obviously, I’d heard of it, it gets marketed up the arse as some kind of wonder chemical that cures heart disease, reverses ageing, and brings back 10p Freddos. Moisturisers, in particular, seemed to tout its restorative properties. I was very sceptical of these claims, so here’s what I’ve dug up on this stuff.

First of all, Omega-3 is a catch-all term for a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Its name comes from an old biological rule where the first carbon from the end is denoted ω (omega), and the first double bond begins at carbon 3. There are about ten common Omega-3 molecules, which are found in oily fish and various plant oils.

Vegans and other people avoiding animal products watch where your Omega-3 comes from. Linseed oil and walnuts are used as sources, but so are fish and chicken products. Not that it really matters. Omega-3 doesn’t really do that much for your skin anyway.

NEW NUTRITION ARTICLE ? • Written together with the ultra-talented PUL Executive Assistant, Mitra (a dietetics student in the 4th year of her program to become a dietitian) ??‍?. This article is all about those super popular and beneficial #healthyfats: Omega-3! The most commonly cited sources are various types of fish, but did you know certain plant sources are high as well? Learn more about the importance of #omega fats, the sources, and how to get enough omega-3 on a plant-based lifestyle in the latest PUL article ? • ? link in profile ?? • ??ooh and this might be the first time you're meeting Mitra; if so, please send her some love by leaving a comment to say #hello and to let us know what other articles you'd like us to create ☺️

A post shared by Sadia Badiei, BSc Dietetics (@pickuplimesdotcom) on

OK, I’m not going to bother with the suspense here; antioxidants are pretty useful, in moderation. Too much and you risk hampering your immune system, but you need to consume quite a few for this to be a problem. For the same reason, don’t rub them into an open wound.

Antioxidants work by deactivating “reactive oxygen species” (ROS), which are small molecules generated by UV light, the immune system, and (to some extent) most other cells in your body. ROS cause all sorts of damage, especially to DNA and collagen. This is what causes “aging”.

At this stage you might be phoning up Welch’s to get a bathtub of antioxidant-full grape juice, so you can wallow in it and stay young forever. Put that phone down. Bathing in the stuff isn’t going to do much more than a surface application. If you get the wrong antioxidant, it might not even do anything at all.

Most antioxidants in beauty products do, however, work. Vitamins A, C, and E, as well as epigallocatechin gallate (green tea extract) and anthocyanins (grape extract) are great. Buy them, rub them into your skin, add them to your list of “chemicals I like to hear about”. Some products will advertise superoxide dismutase as an antioxidant; while technically correct, it’s practically useless. Antioxidants do their best work inside a cell, but superoxide dismutase is a big protein that’s just too large to get into your skin cells. If it ends in “-ase”, just stay away.

Image Credit: @burtsbees (Instagram)

Image Credit: @burtsbees (Instagram)

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