Coenzyme Q10 - A Neat Little Antioxidant
posted on Mar 09, 2017
Coenzyme Q10 is one of those ingredients that are easy to over-look. It has been the subject of scientific study since the 1970s when its role as a cellular energy booster was scrutinized and put to the test to 'cure' or relieve a number of different medical conditions. While not all of the trials worked out perfectly this research led up to Coenzyme Q10 being a validated, TGA approved active ingredient - no small feat! Trials showed COQ10 to be an energy booster to the cells and as such it was earmarked as a potential anti-ageing active very early on. However, attempts to demonstrate an 'energy boosting' effect on skin cells failed leaving scientists to conclude that this functionality is only available and demonstrable when the active is ingested. For that reason you can't currently list Coenzyme Q10 as an active in a topically applied TGA registered product, which begs the question, what is it good for?
It turns out that Coenzyme Q10 is a great little antioxidant and in this day and age with our hustle and bustle life-styles antioxidants are exactly what we need more of!
Coenzyme Q10 levels in skin reduce as we age reducing the skins ability to stand up to damage. Boosting the skins levels by applying CoQ10 enriched skincare helps to maintain a vibrant and youthful complexion.
Antioxidants work like little cleaning bots helping to mop up the free-radical rubbish that is deposited onto our skin throughout the day. Every-day situations like walking around a city, being in air conditioned spaces, cooking, smoking, drinking coffee or alcohol, staying up too late or getting up too early all put our skin under stress and that stress translates to free-radicals and free-radicals can cause the skin to age prematurely, becoming wrinkled, over-sensitive, dry and problematic.Antioxidants are the ‘cure’ for this malaise and when it comes down to the nitty gritty of selecting one or two to put into your skin care formula I believe it is best to approach it as you would a good balanced diet - a little bit of everything please!
Just as there are many causes of oxidative stress on the skin, there are many different antioxidants to help clean it up, each works in a slightly different way, tackling the job with its own unique strengths and weaknesses and working at its own speed. The most commonly used antioxidant used in cosmetics today is natural vitamin E, an ingredient that is very good at its job, is cost efficient, easy enough to formulate into a product and abundant in supply. But sometimes your skin (or product) needs more than that and that’s where things like CoQ10 come into the picture.
So what is CO Q10 and where does it come from?
The INCI (official international nomenclature for cosmetic ingredients) name for naturally derived CQ10 is Ubiquinone and in the world of cosmetics it is quite common for this active to be extracted from the rather un-sexy sounding Japanese Knott Weed although Ubiquinone can also be synthesised in the lab (Nature Identical) to create a super high purity and concentrated biologically active ingredient. The wonderful world of pharmaceuticals created their own super-potent version of this COQ10, Idebenone. This is a slightly smaller molecule with enhanced solubility and efficacy, at least when it comes to pharmaceutical applications but for cosmetics it has proved to be a little too risky an ingredient for most thanks to its ability to induce dermal allergic reactions - possibly due to its enhanced skin penetration ability? I am not sure… In any case the cosmetic world favours Ubiquinone and has been enjoying the benefits of it for nearly twenty years.
Here are the molecular diagrams so you can see the structure of the two chemicals:
So what do we know of the antioxidant properties of Ubiquinone?
I found this table in an article I was reading about the antioxidant efficacy of the COQ10 (Idebenone: A new antioxidant. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, Vol 4 (1) - Jan 1, 2005). As you can see from this, in this round of tests the Ubiquinone scores 55 out of 100, Idebenone 95 and Tocopherol (Natural Vitamin E) scores 80. 55 out of 100 doesn’t look great but numbers can be deceptive in these things - as you can see Ubiquinone scores about the same as Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) and Alpha Lipoic Acid, another popular Antioxidant in cosmetics comes in last with 41. When it comes to dosing your product up with antioxidants I like to think of it like this. Say you want to give your house a good clean, protect it from dirt and grime, you would be best sourcing a variety of implements - duster, vacuum cleaner, broom, mop etc. - rather than just getting in 4 x vacuum cleaners. Antioxidants are the same; they work to keep your product protected from the ravages of free radical pollution. Free radicals come in different shapes, sizes and amounts and so it makes sense to try to tackle them in a variety of ways. If you are lucky your variety of tools will work synergistically creating a combination that is better than the sum of its parts. It is worth trying for that. So, when I look at the table above that’s what I see, a set of antioxidants with different levels of ability but also different chemistries, chemistries that might prove better suited to something outside of this test criteria. After all, Idebenone might perform the best here on paper but what use is that when some people react to it?
So how much Ubiquinone should you use to access its antioxidant benefits?
The amount most commonly used is 0.01-0.5% - quite a wide range but again that does reflect the fact that each formula will have a different level of need for an antioxidant both as product protection (to prevent the formula from going rancid) and in terms of claim substantiation (to protect the skin from free radicals).
The ingredient is oil soluble butpoorly so and often needs filtering before adding to a base as it won’t fully dissolve into most oils. I’ve found success in dissolving it into vegetable squalane (Vegelan) and that solvent has the added benefit of being skin-like and something of a skin penetration enhancer because of its ability to spread the ingredient out evenly.
Here at New Directions we also have a water-soluble extract form made possible by coating the COQ10 in a water soluble maltodextrin cover. This glycerin based extract can be used in a formula at between 10-20%.
Anything else to keep in mind when using CO Q10?
Well it is expensive when compared to Vitamin E (somewhere in the region of 8-10 times more) so you would tend to using less of this than your tocopherol. Also the oil form is a bright yellow in colour and that colour will run through into your base product, especially if you are using 0.5% of this active. Otherwise it is pretty much odourless which makes it quite easy to add into most formulations and because the addition rate is low it can also be dispersed through a gel (water-based) serum if needs be.
And one last thing, what is Kinetin? It also appears in that antioxidant test result table.
That is a plant hormone that stimulates growth. Apparently it is also used in skin care along with vitamin A (Retinol) to help fight ageing.
So there you go. Ubiquinone, CO Q10 is a good antioxidant for skincare and is probably worth adding to your regular round up of antioxidant hero’s, especially in those hard-to-stabilise products!