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By Dr. Ying-Chin Wu

Hyaluronic acid, ceramide, B5, B3, and yeast extract: the 5 essential ingredients for creating the perfect skin

Dehydration not only degrades skin texture but also disrupts renewal of old skin cells, causing a plethora of skin problems. We can say almost with certainty that hydration solves 80% of skin problems. Hydration serum should be something that everyone keeps in their cabinet, and given the wide variety of products on the market, we recommend choosing products that contain hyaluronic acid, ceramide, B5, B3, and yeast extract, 5 of the most highly discussed ingredients in recent years. 

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is a substance of high molecular weight made up of many saccharides that exist within our skin tissues and connective tissues. It stores moisture and fills the gaps between skin cells and collagen fibers, thereby improving glow, smoothness, suppleness, and elasticity of the skin while keeping the skin protected and in constant state of renewal. A human weighing 75kg has about 16 grams of hyaluronic acid; a third of which is broken down and reformed on a daily basis, and aging, sun exposure, stress etc. may all decrease the amount of hyaluronic acid, which compromises the skin’s ability to hold on to moisture and makes the skin dry. 

Hyaluronic acid has withstood the test of time and secured its place among the most popular hydration factors year after year, owing largely to its excellent moisture absorbance properties. It can attract moisture more than 500 times its size, and one gram of hyaluronic acid draws up to 1000c.c. of water, which is 16 times the volume of collagen and is unmatched by any other ingredient. This is why hyaluronic acid is used in virtually every skincare product, whether they are intended for hydration, repair, anti-aging, or whitening. 

Hyaluronic acids in hydration solutions have progressed from single-factor formula to multi-factor formula. The rationale behind this movement is that, although hyaluronic acids of higher molecular weight are able to attract more moisture, they cannot be easily absorbed into the skin and therefore serve limited purpose only to retain moisture on the surface. In order to deliver moisture to all layers of the skin, multi-factor formulas combining hyaluronic acids of different molecular weight with complementing properties are being designed to optimize overall hydration performance of the final product. Large molecule hyaluronic acids generally have a mass of 1.2 million to 2.2 million Da; they are able to hold high volume of moisture and form a hydration film over the skin surface to keep the stratum corneum moisturized. Small molecule hyaluronic acids, on the other hand, have a mass of 6,000 to 10,000 Da and measure 15-25 nm in size, which enables them to slip past the 50 nm intercellular gaps in the stratum corneum and bring hydration to deeper layers of the skin. There is also the introduction of acetylated hyaluronic acid with improved lipophilicity that allows hyaluronic acid to be more closely bound to the stratum corneum, where grease is abundant.   

Despite its many benefits, users should be reminded that hyaluronic acid absorbs but does not create moisture. It is not recommended to use hyaluronic acid undiluted, because doing so would actually take moisture away and make the skin dryer. Hydration serums should carry significant volume of water, and the formula should be designed to work with other concurrent hydration solutions for the optimal effect. 

Ceramide

Ceramide is another ingredient that is gathering attention in recent years, and is commonly used in hydration and repairing solutions. Ceramide is a substance commonly found in intercellular lipids of the stratum corneum; it makes up approximately 50% of intercellular lipids but exists in many different forms. As many as 1000 types of ceramide can be found in the skin. The function of ceramide in our skin is best explained using a common analogy of brick and mortar: if we picture the skin as a wall, then cells of the stratum corneum are like bricks laid on top of each other, whereas ceramide is the cement that binds the bricks/cells closely together. By filling the gaps between bricks/cells, ceramide enforces the skin's defense against external irritations and locks in moisture. Skin that lacks adequate amount of ceramide is like a wall without cement, which is too unstable to weather against threats and may even topple over time. As we age, our skin loses ceramide at an increasing rate, which undermines the structure of the lipid layer and makes the skin less effective as a protective barrier.   

There was a study that aimed to analyze the composition of ceramides in the upper arm skin of healthy adults, and according to the study, Ceramide NP was the most common form of ceramide, representing 22% of the total, followed by Ceramide NH (14.5%), while Ceramide EODS was the least prevalent of all (less than 1%). As mentioned above, there can be as many as 1000 different ceramides in our skin, and the composition varies in different parts of the skin. 

Currently, Ceramide EOP, Ceramide NP, andII Ceramide AP are the most common forms of ceramide to be used for repairing sensitive and damaged skin in skincare solutions. Ceramide EOP and NP work to repair the stratum corneum and keep the skin hydrated, which makes it useful for dry and sensitive skin. Ceramide AP, on the other hand, promotes renewal of old skin cells and improves smoothness and suppleness of the skin. Many hydration and repairing solutions on the market would emphasize the addition of 1 to 3 ceramides, and given the complexity of how ceramides work on the skin, a more diverse composition would offer more comprehensive protection. 

D-Panthenol

D-Panthenol is a precursor to pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), and our skin converts the D-Panthenol it absorbs into pantothenic acid, which is a usable form. So why don't we use pantothenic acid directly for skincare? The reason is that pantothenic acid is relatively unstable and easily affected by temperature and the overall formula, whereas D-Panthenol has none of the disadvantages.  

D-Panthenol, too, is a popular hydration and repairing factor in recent years. It offers many skincare benefits including: 1. Hydration - vitamin B5 promotes growth of skin barrier, improves hydration properties of the stratum corneum, enhances moisture retention, and has a small molecular size that can be easily absorbed through skin; 2. Repairing & anti-aging - it reverses the redness induced by dryness and lightens wrinkles, and is commonly used in products such as post-surgery ointment and diaper rash cream for its effective calming properties; 3. Enhanced sun protection - studies have shown that adding B5 into sunscreen helps improve the skin's resistance against UV ray; and 4. Hair health - B5 is commonly used in shampoo and hair care products as it helps strengthen the hair root, lubricate the chaff scale, and smoothens the hair strand.   

Vitamin B3

The form of vitamin B3 used in skincare is niacinamide, whereas the form of vitamin B3 taken orally is niacin. Niacin cannot be applied directly to skin, as it can easily irritate and cause redness to skin.
Vitamin B3 has been one of the most popular skincare ingredients in the last couple of years, as the substance is involved in the functioning of many coenzymes within the body. B3 is also considered a well-rounded skincare factor for its ability to hydrate and repair the skin, promote formation of lipids and proteins at the skin barrier, reduce loss of moisture, and relieve redness. This versatility is why B3 is commonly combined with B5 and ceramides in hydration solutions. Then there is the anti-glycation property, as B3 prevents glycation of the skin to improve yellowing and wrinkles. Whitening is another benefit of B3 that has been exploited to the fullest in recent years, as B3 has the ability to inhibit transfer of melanin from melanocytes to the stratum corneum, which effectively suspends production of melanin. Lastly, B3 inhibits oil secretion and corrects widened pores, making it ideal for people who have acne-prone skin.    

Yeast

Probiotics and microbiome care are two trending concepts in the field of skincare, and it is increasingly common to see yeast extract being added to skincare solutions. These concepts recognize the fact that our skin is home to an ecosystem of micro-organisms, some of which are beneficial to us (such as Bifidus, L. acidophilus, and yeast) while others have adverse impacts on our health (such as S. aureus, propionibacterium acnes, and mold), and it is important to keep the balance between good and bad bacteria in check during our skincare routine, otherwise we may encounter problems such as dryness, flaking, redness, sensitivity, and pimple.  

The microbiome approach presents a storage risk, as it is impossible to put live probiotics directly into the bottle, so instead manufacturers came up with the use of "postbiotics" in the form of probiotic lysate or bacteria ferment extract, or "prebiotics" such as lactose and xylitol that aim to feed the good bacteria in return for hydration and oil-water balance among other benefits. These ferment extracts can be obtained through diverse sources, such as alcohol, rice, potato, and substances that contain glucose; meanwhile, the fermentation process produces amino acids, vitamins, nucleotide, glutathione, minerals, and trace elements that are useful to skincare, from hydration, repair, whitening to anti-aging.