Research in the area of wine and health has exploded in recent years and in this blog I sort through it to see what is really useful. For a definitive resource please refer to my book Age Gets Better with Wine: New Science for a Healthier, Better, and Longer Life.
What would the ideal anti-aging skin
care product look like? To begin with, it would need to provide protection against sun damage from UV exposure.[i] Of
course any sunscreen does that, so what we really want is something that can
help reverse the effects of UV exposure, which include mutations in the DNA of
skin cells. This is where the idea of working at a molecular level comes into
play. While many products talk about “DNA repair” the evidence for a role for
resveratrol is particularly strong. There are several ways that resveratrol
functions in this regard, the best known of which is its powerful antioxidant
Healthier DNA means not only more
attractive skin but a lower risk of skin
cancers. The use of antioxidants such as resveratrol to lower risk of skin
cancer is known as chemoprevention. There
is evidence that it may help prevent many other types of cancer as well.
Another measure of aging has to do
with integrity of sequences on the ends of the chromosome known as telomeres[ii].
Each time a cell replicates, the DNA must “unzip” to provide a template for the
chromosomes in the new cell. It is prevented from unraveling by telomeres, which
are sort of like the caps on shoelaces, but with each cycle the telomeres get
shorter.. Restoring telomeres is a major effort in anti-aging, and it appears
that resveratrol may activate the enzyme that restores telomeres (telomerase),
thereby improving cellular health and longevity.
Nothing will magically undo every
DNA mutation or the visible manifestations of them in the skin (such as discoloration,
wrinkles, and other blemishes) so our ideal product should help with those too.
One way that resveratrol improves skin is by inhibition of the enzyme that
makes pigment, which results in lightening of dark spots and overall brightening[iii]
of the skin.
is another manifestation of the type of inflammation associated with
accelerated aging. Resveratrol has also been shown to reduce facial redness
with a twice daily application for 6 weeks, and continued improvement beyond
We all know that good skin is built
by good collagen and elastin (a
typeof collagen.) These proteins are
constantly being rebuilt by enzymes known as matrix metalloproteinases, referred to as
“MMP’s.” Regulation of MMP activity is critical to skin health and aging. It
should come as no surprise then that resveratrol is implicated in regulation of
MMP via SIRT activation[v],
improving the skin’s stress response to UV exposure. This translates into
healthier collagen and more elastic skin.
Sometimes however collagen
rebuilding is overly exuberant, resulting in thickened scars. An extreme form
of scarring is keloid, and treatment
of keloidsremains a challenge for
plastic surgeons. An effective weaponmay be found in resveratrol, which has been shown to inhibit the cells
(fibroblasts) that are overly active in keloids, while having no adverse effect
on normal fibroblasts.[vi]
Acne is another common problem, and
not one limited to teenagers. While there are effective treatments for acne
such as benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin (Retin-A), these can cause irritation. Resveratrol is proving to be a useful
adjunct to acne treatment,[vii]with more than one mode of action: It is antibacterial with specific
effects on the type of bacteria associated with acne, while its
anti-inflammatory properties reduce the redness and irritation.
A later life issue is changes in the skin with menopause. These
include thinning due to lowered collagen production, dryness due to lessened
moisture retention, and others. Given the controversies with estrogen
replacement therapy, the need for a product providing estrogen-like effects in
the skin is substantial. Resveratrol is one of the few ingredients capable of
stimulating collagen production through estrogen-like effects.[viii]
If resveratrol is going to
accomplish all of these anti-aging feats in a skin care product, it has to
permeate the skin and reach the cells active in regeneration (bioavailability.) resveratrol is
uniquely suited to traverse the barrier of hardened surface cells known as the
stratum corneum because of a few features. One is the small size of the
molecule, probably the smallest of the antioxidant polyphenols; the other is
that it is hydrophobic, meaning that it is more comfortable in lipids (fatty
molecules.) These types of molecules are able to penetrate better.
Nichols JA, Katiyar SK. Skin photoprotection
by natural polyphenols: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and DNA repair
mechanisms. Arch Dermatol Res. 2010 Mar;302(2):71-83
Recently I was honored to join
Professors David Sinclair of Harvard and Joseph Vercauteren of the University
of Montpelleir at an anti-aging symposium at the invitation of Mathilde Thomas
of Caudalie in Paris. Caudalie has been using wine extracts (and specifically
resveratrol) in their products for more than 15 years, after Vercauteren
identified it in wine grape vines. Sinclair has become well known for his work
identifying the role of sirtuin (SIRT) genes in anti-aging, and resveratrol as
a natural sirtuin activator. While much remains to be proven, it is fair to say
that science is finally beginning to have an impact on skin care. With an
increasing understanding of what causes aging in skin cells and how botanical
antioxidants such as resveratrol work at a molecular level, there is no excuse
to use anti-aging skin care products that don’t multitask.
Before delving into the potential
benefits of resveratrol in skin care, it may help to review how resveratrol
came into the spotlight in the first place. By just about any measure, moderate
wine consumption is among the most potent anti-aging lifestyle habits known.
And although resveratrol is present in only small amounts in wine, it is the
best known source; coupled with an impressive array of anti-aging properties
identified in laboratory conditions, resveratrol has been offered as the
mediator of wine’s benefits. Sales of resveratrol supplements have soared. (One
study noted that 2/3 of people who take supplements include resveratrol.)
Wine drinkers do enjoy healthier
skin. For example, a study from Australia (where skin damage from sun exposure
is a big deal) found that wine drinkers had a 27% lower risk of developing
premalignant lesions known as actinic keratoses (AK’s.) Another study, from
Germany, found that wine consumption – but not topical application of wine to
the skin – reduced the redness from controlled exposure to UV light; in other
words, a sunscreen you can drink.
From here the picture gets a bit
more complicated, so bear with me for a moment. Topically applied resveratrol
confers protection against damage from UV light in skin, just as it
provides a handy explanation for why wine drinkers have healthier hearts and brains,
and live longer. But remember that there isn’t enough resveratrol in wine to
produce the effects seen under lab conditions without consuming enormous
amounts, and supplements of resveratrol have a problem with what is known as “bioavailability.” That means that enough
of it has to be absorbed into the circulation and distributed to the target
tissue (in our case, skin) before being metabolized. Our digestive systems are
pretty efficient at disposing of resveratrol (or at least metabolizing it into
other compounds), and there is a high degree of variability between people.
To make matters even more confused,
there is the issue of a phenomenon known as hormesis.
This refers to paradoxical effects from the same thing in different amounts.
Resveratrol has demonstrated hormesis in several cancer types wherein it
promotes growth at low levels but inhibits at higher ones; the opposite may
occur with Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis. Balancing these opposing effects is a
considerable challenge, even if predictable levels of resveratrol in target
tissues could be achieved.
The upshot is that if you are
looking for the effects of resveratrol in the skin, it may be best to just put
it there in the first place. Fortunately, there is good evidence that resveratrol
is absorbed into the skin when applied topically. In Part 2 of this post I will
detail the ways in which resveratrol functions as the ideal anti-aging skin