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Bio-availability: Understanding Critical Aspects of Skin Care Product Formulation

By Robert Manzo 

As published in Dermascope, March 2018

Understanding how skin care cosmeceuticals are formulated is important to understanding which products to recommend. The critical knowledge is the anatomy of the skin and the chemistry of the product being used. If skin care professionals understand these aspects of skin treatment, they will be more successful in treating clients.

This process requires skin care professionals to determine the dose, depth, and delivery of the product. When professionals consider these three factors, they define what is known as skin bio-availability. Bio-availability is how changes in the skin occur. Dose refers to the amount of product put on the skin, while depth refers to the anatomy – where is the organelle the professional wants to change in the skin? Delivery refers to how professionals will get the product to that organelle.


Professionals are most effective when they think carefully about the ingredients in the products they use and what changes they want to make in skin.

If skin care professionals are applying a product with low amounts of hyaluronic acid, it may not provide the plumping look the client desires, and, therefore, will not provide wrinkle reduction. Peptide concentration is critically important if professionals intend to activate fibroblasts to make collagen or elastin and repair deep wrinkles. Fibroblasts are in the dermal tissue, so the concentration of the peptides have to be higher, as some peptides will not make it to the site of action.

If the professional is trying to correct or minimize wrinkles in the skin, they may choose to change the stratum corneum and the papillary dermis. When dealing with superficial wrinkles, professionals will want to plump up the stratum corneum through the use of humectant hydrators like hyaluronic acid. Because the professional is working on the stratum corneum, the hydrator should have a high molecular weight in order to plump the skin.

Professionals may also select a product that contains peptides. In this case, the peptides work deeper in the skin (the dermis), activating the fibroblasts to produce peptides and improve deeper wrinkles.

Should professionals select a product that is in a liposome form? Liposomes are small delivery vehicles that surround an active ingredient to either protect it or make it easier to penetrate the skin. In the case of peptides, some are not compatible with the epidermal components, while others may have sensitivity to pH level. In both cases, these peptides may require liposomal delivery vehicles.

Making skin more porous is another way to encourage delivery of active ingredients. For some peels and more sophisticated applications, professionals often treat the stratum corneum with acetone/alcohol mixtures to remove the lipids in the stratum corneum; this action makes the delivery of active ingredients more efficient.

Microneedling essentially performs a similar action when used in conjunction with topicals. The creation of micro channels, followed by the application of serums, allows for more efficient delivery of active compounds. The importance of depth during microneedling cannot be overstated. The microneedling instrument must be adjusted to the depth of the anatomy the professional is desiring to change.

Professionals should always be aware of products that occlude the skin. These are products that leave behind ingredients like cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, and high molecular weight fatty acids. These ingredients will affect the bio-availability of products by partially blocking them from penetrating the stratum corneum. If the skin surface is occluded, bio-availability of ingredients will suffer.

Cleansers usually occlude the skin. Professionals can hold the cleanser up to a light: if it is see through, it will not occlude the skin.

In order to discover how much of an active ingredient is in a product, the professional should ask the manufacturer in addition to reading the label. The ingredients must be listed in order of highest to lowest concentration.

Understanding these basic principles of bio-availability will help skin care professionals tremendously in their ability to change clients’ skin for the better.



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