Extremophiles - A New Trend in Anti-Wrinkle Products
By which, I do not mean going to ever extreme lengths to look younger. Extremophiles are plants, creatures, creepy crawlies and microorganisms that live – literally – at the ends of the earth. And they are coming to an anti-wrinkle cream near you.
An extremophile is an organism that thrives in and may even require physically or geochemically extreme conditions – think depths of the coldest ocean or a boiling hot spring - that are not merely inhospitable, but detrimental to the majority of life on the planet. Because of the extreme conditions that they are adapted to, extremophiles are more robust than your average microrganisim and are starting to be cultivated for fine chemicals, antibiotics and cosmetics.
My first encounter with an extremophile was in Osmotics’ body lotion (Osmotics tends to be at the cutting edge of anti-wrinkle ingredients, and co-produced Truth In Aging's iPhone app). Its extremophile of choice is thermus thermophilus ferment. I haven’t quite got my head around this one, but here goes. This is a marine microbacteria that is activated when the waters it resides in reach a certain temperature. The theory is that, being heat activated (eg when the skin is exposed to the warmth of the sun, it will activate the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes. This does sound a mite far-fetched to me, but it does seem that thermophilus emzymes are very interesting to scientists and that they have a “fundamental role in DNA replication and repair”.
An extremophile that is likely to pop up in a future skin cream is called ectoine. This is so micro that it isn’t even a bacteria, it is something that is found in some species of bacteria. Ectoines are kinds of osmolytes – things that affect osmosis and play a role in maintaining cell volume and fluid balance - and help organisms survive extreme osmotic stress. (eg salt or temperature).
Ectoine is emerging as an active ingredient in skin care and sun protection products. It is supposed to stabilize proteins and other cellular structures and protects the skin from stresses like UV irradiation and dryness.
Research is being conducted into the antiaging effects of ectoine. Because of its outstanding water-binding activity, ectoine might be especially useful in preventing water loss in dry atopic skin and in recovering skin viability and preventing skin aging. (source). One study’s results highlighted the ability of ectoine to protect cells from stress and prevent damage.
If you come across an ingredient called Ronacare, this is ectoine. I haven’t spotted it a beauty product yet, but it is being marketed by the German company Merk and trials have shown that it boosts the antioxidant power of grape extract.