Should you be scared of cholesterol in your skincare ? While high levels can incite a certain level of fear and trepidation from a health perspective (having been linked to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions), from a beauty perspective, perceptions are quite different. In fact, they’re actually pretty favourable due to some of the industry’s biggest brands drawing attention to its skin strengthening and protective abilities by incorporating the ingredient into many of their products.
Why is cholesterol important?
Already present in our skin, cholesterol plays a major role in supporting and boosting our barrier function. What does a stronger skin barrier mean? Ultimately, a more resilient first line of defence against environmental aggressors and an increased ability to retain moisture. “A fragile barrier means a tendency towards drier skin and therefore more wrinkles, dull skin (lack of tone) and sagging,” explains Dr Pedro Catala, pharmacist, cosmetologist and founder of TWELVE Beauty .
The outermost layer of the epidermis is the focus for its activity. “When you think of cholesterol as it relates to diet, there can be certain negative connotations. However, research shows that it actually plays an essential role in the skin’s epidermis, better known as the stratum corneum,” explains dermatologist Dendy Engelman. Ceramides, cholesterol and lipids are key players in its make-up, with their respective proportions certain to come as a bit of surprise to many. “While ceramides represent about 50 per cent of the skin’s lipid layer, cholesterol actually represents about 25 per cent of the lipids in this layer, with other fatty acids making up another 10-15 per cent,” highlights Dendy.
How do they work in synergy to support good skin integrity? “Collectively these lipids act like mortar in a brick wall, with the ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids binding skin cells – which are the ‘bricks’ in this analogy – together,” explains Dendy. Think of them as the glue that keeps the barrier intact and the skin’s foundations, sturdy.
Who is it good for?
Due to its skin strengthening abilities, Dr Catala identifies delicate, sensitive and dry skin types as the ones that will benefit most from cholesterol-containing products. Age-wise, he highlights those over 50, but recommends earlier use in order to reap greater rewards later on. “The levels of natural cholesterol in the skin start decreasing dramatically from our mid-fifties, so it's an essential ingredient to incorporate into our skincare at this age,” advises Dr Catala. “For optimal benefits however, I always recommend incorporating it from your late 40s in order to prepare and strengthen the barrier before the levels of cholesterol start decreasing more rapidly.”
What should you look for in your labels?
“Most cholesterol-containing products will simply say ‘cholesterol’ on the label,” notes Dr Cantala. “You might find that it’s from an animal source (i.e. animal fat), or of vegetable origin, the main source of which is squalane (the basis of TWELVE's Purifying Cleansing Beauty Cream , £22).”