Technology’s influence on skin care innovation has been twofold over the past few years. One of the latest and most interesting trends is using new age drone technology to target aging — and I’m not talking about male wasps, rather those unmanned aircrafts that can zoom in on precise targets. Similarly, cosmetic formulators have started talking about how drone-like delivery can boost the efficacy of active ingredients. Is it a fad, a meaningless analogy, or something that will make you rethink what it takes to make an effective anti-aging potion?
Spoiler alert: You will never ask for the concentration of retinol, vitamin C or other actives before buying another anti-wrinkle cream or serum.
What does drone technology have to do with skin care?
This technology refers to the delivery of active ingredients from a product into your skin and even directly into cells. More than that, this so-called drone technology is getting so clever that it can target a specific cell and in some cases, a precise area of that cell.
This is significant because getting active ingredients into the skin, let alone where they need to be delivered to do anything useful, is a challenge. The outermost layer of skin, known as the stratum corneum, has layers of keratin and is difficult to penetrate — your skin is a protective barrier after all. There are three main entry sites into the skin: the pores, hair follicles and spaces between cells that contain an oil-water fluid matrix.
Let’s take vitamin C for example: This important skin nutrient is difficult to deliver inside skin cells where it is metabolically beneficial. For any cosmetic ingredient to arrive at its proper location in the skin, it must be soluble (dissolvable) in the type of tissue where it will reside. Trying to get around this with a high concentration — say, 10 percent vitamin C — is basically pointless. The result is just more of it sitting on the surface of the skin.
The answer is in smart delivery systems and there are currently four advanced technologies leading the way in: nanotechnology, encapsulation, peptide technology and film-forming technology. Nanotechnology uses particles up to 1000 nm in size (aka teeny tiny) and is becoming commonly used in chemical sunblock to help sunscreen actives get past the skin barrier. Encapsulation (in liposomes, for example) is a way of suspending the active ingredient until it gets through the skin and can be released slowly. This technique also means that formulators don’t have to dump high concentrations in their potions — a good thing, especially with potentially-irritating ingredients like retinol and vitamin C.
However, the drone technology goes one step further by targeting cells once the ingredient has passed through the skin barrier. This is where peptides, specifically ligand peptides, come in. A ligand is usually a molecule that produces a signal by binding to a site on a target protein. Ligand peptides target and bind to specific proteins, signaling the encapsulated ingredient to enter the cell and release exactly where it needs to be.
One company that is using this approach is GlyMed and, not surprisingly, it is called Advanced Drone Technology. "It targets the specifics of the fibroblasts [the cell in connective tissue that produces collagen and other fibers]," said Christine Heathman, CEO of GlyMed and licensed aesthetician. It also goes after the melanocytes, the melanin-producing cells located in the bottom layer of the skin's epidermis. Apparently, it targets only the overactive melanocytes without affecting the surrounding skin.
I also came across Infinitec, a biochemical company that makes something called X50, which uses a peptide ligand to go to a specific receptor on the target cell. They claim that since the delivery takes place inside the cell, “the efficacy is ensured at really low concentrations compared to other systems where the active ingredient needs to be at higher concentrations to ensure some activity due to the secondary interactions on its way to the target cell.”
Deciem NIOD, an out-there brand that I have come to know and love, uses drones in a similar way. NIOD encapsulates its peptides in a special polymer that is supposed to target the fibroblast before releasing the active with “drone-like precision.” You’ll find it in Fractionated Eye Contour Concentrate ($68 in the shop).