We met with the man behind some of beauty’s biggest skincare innovations to find out what happens behind closed lab doors and discuss why the ingredients you pick are so much more important than the products you use
When it comes to anti-ageing , Joe Lewis has seen it all. One of the world’s leading cosmeceutical scientists, the President and CEO of US Comeceu Techs’ 30 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry has seen him develop and launch the world’s first glycolic acid (AHA) in 1983 and pioneer some of the beauty industry’s most innovative technologies.
So when it came to finding out about the direction that anti-ageing is headed, there seemed no better man for the job. Providing his insight at the launch of Elizabeth Arden Superstart - a breakthrough product in the beauty industry - he spoke with us about what truly makes an effective skincare regime.
Inspired by the Skin Health and Beauty Pyramid model which was published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology - a multi-level ‘roadmap’ to help skin see its full potential - the pyramid comprises of three pillars of success: a base focused on Repair (SPF, antioxidants and DNA enzymes), a Transform level (retinoids and AHAs) and an Optimize stage at the top (peptides and growth factors) to challenge the previous premise that ‘Cleanse, Hydrate and Treat’ were all that skin needed. In reality, the truth is a lot more complex, with correct ingredient selection proving more important than broad skincare terms.
So what ingredients work and where is science leading us in terms of new skincare technologies? We sat down with Joe to find out.
GTG: What are the cornerstones of a good anti-ageing regime that you think are here to stay and what goes into new product development?
JL: What was paramount to our new product development was to develop a strategy first and to ensure it was endorsed; and it was - it was published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. If you look at the strategy, it isn’t that complex and can be broken down into: what do we use to repair and protect our skin, what can we use to transform it and what can we use to optimise it. The ingredient technologies that do that today are SPF and EPF (environmental protection factor) and now, the DNA repair enzyme. Those three things work together to minimise the effect of the environment and need to be used every day.
Then when you look at what is truly transformational, there are two ingredients that are landmarked and have been for 35 years: retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). They’re at the top of the pack and for good reason. That’s not to say though that something else won’t come into the category in the future. The category’s really about hydration, exfoliation and cell renewal because that’s what makes a change when you look in the mirror - those three natural functions.
Then of course, there’s hyaluronic acid (HA), even though alpha hydroxy acid stimulates natural hyaluronic production in addition to its exfoliation function. We know how much the industry loves HA - we’re injecting it all the time! Juvederm, Restylane...it’s the raisin and grape effect - a grape has lots of hyaluronic acid in it, a raisin doesn’t. If you can bind a lot of water in the skin then you can plump it, which pushes the fine lines and wrinkles out.
This is different to what a retinoid does. A retinoid stimulates cellular mitosis and cellular differentiation. Vitamin A really is the metabolic vitamin, it controls skin metabolism. So if you marry that with AHA - those two ingredients are truly transformational.
At the top of the pyramid is new-age technology - peptides, growth factors and stem cells, but it’s so new and we don’t know enough about them yet. There’s a whole craze about stem cells, but we don’t put them in products - you grow stem cells in a lab and they produce all of these wonderful compounds; peptides and growth factors which are cell signal agents. The outer membrane of the cell is laced with receptor proteins and they receive signals from the environment (peptides, growth factors and stem cells) which are transferred to the nucleus which then says ‘perform a function.’ This can be to make a collagen molecule, an elastin molecule, or a new cell in the case of a growth factor.
We used to think that the nucleus was the brain of the cell because that’s where the DNA is located, but actually the brain is the cell membrane because it is controlling the signals that are sent to the nucleus which determines which genes we transcribe.
So in new development, we’re always looking at these signal pathways and how can we pinpoint and target, interrupt, block or enhance them. It becomes more and more complex with the more science we have - we’ve mapped the whole Human Genome now! It’s getting very sci-fi for the future. It’s very exciting.
The cornerstones are the pyramid - and that’s it. Everybody’s concerned with their ‘regimen’ - their cleanser, their toner etc. But they should be more concerned with their scientific pyramid, because if those products don’t have the right ingredients, they’ll never find the skin solution they’ve been looking for. That was what the whole article [in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology] was all about.
GTG: Can your genes make you predisposed to a certain level of ageing?
JL: You can be pre-determined to a particular gene. Look at Angelina Jolie for example who found out that she had the gene for breast cancer and so took drastic measures to make sure she didn’t develop it. In the future though, it would be a lot simpler if we could just figure out how to turn that gene off and block that pathway signal and so not have to have such dramatic changes done.
It becomes gene therapy (although skincare is still a long way from gene therapy!) The problem in the past when developing drugs was that they would work and would affect the right gene, but they would also affect two thousand other genes and that’s where you’d get all of the side-effects - sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. So it was a case of having succeeded in blocking the gene, but having screwed up 2000 other genes in the process! So the future is really about narrowing the signal and the message to affect just the one gene.
GTG: Where do you think the world of anti-ageing is headed and are there are any emerging trends in your opinion?
JL: The huge emerging trend is peptides, growth factors and stem cells, but it’s only 10 years old and still very young considering retinoids and AHAs have been around for 35 years. We’re still trying to figure out all of the different pathways and screenings. We can build hundreds of thousands of peptides while growing stem cells is a case of ‘taking the broth off,’ looking into it, identifying the peptides and growth factors that are in there and then trying to grow them in the lab.
GTG: How do peptides and growth factors work?
JL: The human body is a protein machine; there are about 100,000 proteins in your body that control every function - digestion, respiration, muscle contraction, you name it. Machines wear out though, as do proteins. When proteins break up, they make peptides. So an amino acid is the smallest unit. You hook a few together and you make peptides, you hook a few of those together and you make proteins.
Lots of things degradate proteins such as heat (like when you fry an egg and it turns white) - when you get a strong chemical peel and it froths? That’s protein degradation there. Protein degradation also occurs by free radicals, so right now we’re developing antioxidant complexes that protect proteins and that are amino acid based. It’s an exciting technology. When we can identify the right kinds of peptides and growth factors and map the signal pathway, then ultimately that’s the name of the game.
With cosmetics though, it’s a very thin line for when a cosmetic becomes a drug. We’ve been using peptides for many years and there are many available that help for example to enhance lash growth, length and density and increase collagen deposition.
Growth factors are a little trickier though, because they stimulate cell division and new cells. Cancers occur because of cell growth, so you have to be very careful with them so they target the right kinds of cell.
GTG: Are there any new anti-ageing ingredients on the rise - a new retinoid so to speak?
JL: In our PRO line, we have our first AHA-retinoid combination molecule. It’s the first new retinoid to be created in over a decade. We’ll gain a lot of experience in the professional marketplace and use it to guide it into retail later on when we know more, albeit at a much lower concentration. The molecule is a combination of retinoic acid and lactic acid so it’s very interesting.
GTG: Are there are any lessons that we can learn from the past when it comes to the advancement of the anti-ageing industry?
JL: We screen thousands of antioxidants that don’t work. A lot of technologies have fallen by the wayside as they were not nearly as critical to the solution as what’s in the pyramid today.
A good example would be when looking at the base of the pyramid. We have antioxidants to control pigmentation, with the gold standard being hydroquinone in the United States. It’s cited as a toxic ingredient though, so we need hydroquinone substitutes - new molecules that do that same thing without being cited as toxic. We’re always learning, so things fall off.
One thing that hasn’t changed though? Retinoids and AHAs are still the powerhouse of transformation after 35 years, so you know they aren’t a fad.
GTG: Could you tell us about the new Superstart launch from Elizabeth Arden?
JL: It targets the stratum corneum and it’s unique - the rest of the industry is literally going to get caught with their pants down here, because no one is thinking about it as it’s dead like your hair. However, Dr Walter Smith wrote an article 30 years ago called The Living Stratum Corneum and nobody read it, because they were always thinking about going deeper within the epidermis and dermis - focusing on collagen and elastin etc. It’s a bit like rearranging the furniture in a house, but nobody’s watching the front door! If you’re not watching the front door, it doesn’t matter how much rearranging you do, all the damage is coming straight back in through the front door. That’s really the concept behind Superstart.
Skin ageing is primarily the result of a mild chronic inflammation that is happening all of the time throughout your life as you’re letting toxins in and the good stuff out through the ‘holes’ in the skin. So therefore, the first step is to fix that stratum corneum before anything else.
Elizabeth Arden Superstart is £45 and available to buy online from elizabetharden.co.uk .