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Active concentrations- how much is enough

Reviewed by Marta July 25, 2011 14 Comments
Via the Truth In Aging Facebook page, I was recently asked about a product that claimed to have a 20% concentration of apple stem cells. The question was whether I thought the claim to be true. But it put me in mind of a different question: does it even matter? By which I mean, even if we take on trust that a product has a high concentration of an active – such as “25% Matrixyl 3000” – is it necessarily more effective?

Whether more is really more is an intriguing question (at least to me) and I’ve been wondering how to get to the bottom of it. One place to start is the manufacturers of the actives. Once I wrote to Sederma, the makers of Matrixyl 3000 about a specific product that boasted a very high concentration of this collagen boosting active. The reply I received was diplomatic, but referred me to the amounts used in their own clinical trials. The implication was that anything above that was subject to the law of diminishing returns.

Apparently, one of the reasons why chemists love peptides is that very small amounts of are needed. They possess, if correctly chosen and formulated, very high biological potency. That means, according to Special Chem 4 Cosmetics, cosmetic effects can be obtained with very low quantities (only a few ppm compared to a retinol, which is used at 600-700 ppm level). So this makes me a bit suspicious of something that says it has 20% of the peptide combo Matrixyl 3000 in it.

There are several brands that boast 20% Matrixyl 3000. I once compared three of them - Isomers, NCN and Firm Skin. However, Sederma originally tested Matrixyl at only 4%.  I have also found that Sederma conducted a more recent trial on men. Again the concentration of the active was 4% and formulated at 4% was tested in-vivo on two panels of 24 men, with a mean age of 54. After a two month daily application on half-face, Sederma claims (there are no independent trials) visible results were observed of a decrease in the area occupied by deep wrinkles of 29.4%, and a decrease in density 30.4%.

What if you were to multiply that concentration by 5X to 20%, is it conceivable that these results would improve by a commensurate extent? A decrease in wrinkle density of 150%! That indeed would be a miracle cream.

If more is more, wouldn’t it be in Sederma’s interest to up the dose in the trials with the double whammy of 1) better results and 2) selling more quantity of its active. The recommended use level of Matrixyl 3000 is 3-8%.

To see if this is widespread, I decided to take a look at some other actives made by different manufacturers.


The question on the Truth In Aging Facebook page was about a specific product called Emerge that uses a 20% concentration of an apple stem cell active marketed under the name of Phytocelltec. Mibelle, the company that makes Phytocelltec, publishes the results of its clinical trials where it used a 0.01% concentration and a 0.04% concentration.  Now, there is a marked improvement in the results at the higher 0.04% concentration, supposedly achieving an 80% improvement in stem cell “colony-forming”. If this is achieved at less than half a percent, is there really much point in paying $120 for a product that claims to have 20% (incidentally Emerge also claims to use Matrixyl 3000 at a 10% level).


I am right now testing a cream by Hydropeptide called Even Out. It contains a skin lightening ingredient called ChromaBright. I don’t know what concentration Hydropeptide uses, but I can tell you that the manufacturer, Lipotec, tested it at 0.5%.


Also made by Lipotec, the expression inhibiting peptide, has been tested at a concentration of 10% to achieve a 17% reduction in wrinkles. Interestingly, another test achieved 27% improvement over the same time period using only a 5% dose.

Vitamin C

There’s a lot of independent research on vitamin C as a topical anti-aging ingredient. I have seen concentrations of 5% used and up to about 10% for ascorbic acid. There is one that also tests tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate at a 7% concentration.

Sodium hyaluronate

Although some cosmetic companies boast 25% sodium hyaluronate, very little – as little as 01% to 1% - is actually recommended. In fact, as our video shows, using much more than 1% results in a Jell-0 like goo.

At this point, unless I see some evidence to show that more is more, I am not going to be lured by a product just because it boasts a high concentration of an active.
  • July 28, 2011

    by Darrell

    Hi Julie,
    Gram-for-gram, HA is a moderately-costly ingredient. Because it's only needed in very small quantities to reap benefits though, HA's impact on a formula budget is relatively minimal.


  • July 28, 2011

    by Julie Kay

    Is HA one of the expensive ones, Darrell? ~jk

  • July 28, 2011

    by Darrell

    Hi Pat,
    I'm only familiar with hyacare as a brand-name form of HA, but will read up more on it.

    Kinerase lists HA high up in their ingredient list as "hydrolized hyaluronic acid" which would indicate they're using a water solution containing HA. So, that said most likely they are using a solution of HA at 25% in the product and the formula does not actually contain 25% HA.


  • July 28, 2011

    by pat s

    Interesting comments.............I have been reading alot lately that hyacare is better than HA - any thoughts on that?

    And what about Kinerase Hydraboost that brags about 25% HA in their product? Too good to be true?

  • July 28, 2011

    by susan


    My thoughts exactly! I was going to write basically the same thing, but restrained myself. I'm so glad you didn't.

    After reading up on hormones and the role they play in our bodies, the overriding evidence is they should be treated as pharmaceuticals--even the bio-identical or the bio-mimetic.

    If any one decides to use skin care containing hormones, one should have hormone blood serum levels checked at least every six months by a physician knowledgeable in this specialty.

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