Can you ‘inject’ skincare without needles? EV investigates…
TEXT: INGEBORG VAN LOTRINGEN
DATE: 21st February 2022
If syringes make you shudder, our EV experts share how skincare ingredients are now being delivered where needed to make a real difference to your skin
Skincare’s holy grail is getting actives past the skin barrier and into the deeper epidermal and dermal layers, where they can stimulate collagen and efficiently hydrate and protect skin cells. The hitch, as most doctors will tell you, is that this is extremely hard to achieve without injections, leaving most skincare ingredients to act on the skin’s surface, to limited effect. So where does that leave the many people who have no intention of taking to the needle? Well, with options, it seems, as clinics as well as skincare brands are increasingly offering needle-free ways of ‘opening channels’ in the stratum corneum in order to infuse skin with actives. How effective are these, what is the science behind them and how do they truly compare to syringe-based skin boosters like Profhilo and Nucleofill? We asked the experts to explain the differences exactly.
Transdermal iontophoresis and electroporation
These are similar methods that use electric currents to drive medications, or in this case skincare ingredients, beyond the skin’s horny layer (stratum corneum) and into the skin. “Iontophoresis uses galvanic electric current to temporarily reduce the skin’s barrier function. It allows active molecules to absorb into the basal layer of the epidermis which is where fresh skin cells are produced,” says holistic skincare and wellbeing expert Gemma Clare. “That is significantly deeper than the level of product penetration you would achieve with, for example, an exfoliating peel”. The current also neutralises free radicals, firms, tightens, and calms nerve endings, making it a great therapy for rosacea-prone skin, in Clare’s opinion. “As part of my Cosmecutis Prescription Facial, the technology boosts the performance of a whole array of actives.”
Cosmetic physician Dr Emmaline Ashley of Ashley Aesthetics rates electroporation, which uses short high-voltage pulses to cause a temporary and reversible breakdown of the cell membranes. “The pulse only lasts a millisecond during which a micro-channel is opened in the membrane, allowing molecules and active ingredients to enter the cells and penetrate at a much greater depth than they normally would be able to,” she says. “Common active ingredients used include neuropeptides and growth factors, as well as substances like hyaluronic acid. Treatments tend to last between 15-20 minutes and can be repeated several times a week.” Because Electroporation helps increase its absorption into the epidermis and even the dermis, applying a substance like hyaluronic acid this way can delivering plumper and tighter skin for weeks – although exactly how long depends on how quickly the individual metabolises hyaluronic acid. “The treatment has the advantage of being well-tolerated and needle-free, but it is worth noting that the molecules cannot penetrate as deeply as they can when using a syringe,” says Ashley. “Profhilo, for example, involves injecting hyaluronic acid directly to the dermis and the results last months.”
Okay, these are effectively syringes – but they are just 0.6mm and cause tiny pin-pricks rather than deep injections plunged into skin. Fillmed Nanosoft delivers a hydrating, amino acid-rich mesotherapy solution (NCTF 135-HA) through a small treatment head spiked with three ‘nano needles’ that go just deep enough to reach the lower epidermis in thin areas like the eyes, lips and backs of the hands. “It’s different from microneedling skin and applying a mesotherapy solution on top,” says aesthetics practitioner Dr Vincent Wong. “That results in the actives staying within the skin for only a short time. Nanosoft locks them in long term, allowing them to incrementally seep into the dermal layer and stimulate superficial fibroblasts (collagen-producing cells) to be more active. So they will bio-stimulate cell regeneration and improved moisture distribution.”
It’s certainly stingier than entirely non-invasive options and you end up with tiny bubbles around the treatment area (and potentially swollen undereye skin for a few days) as the fluid slowly absorbs. With three recommended initial treatments (top-ups every 6-12 weeks are also suggested), skin will not just look more hydrated, but should get brighter and less crepey as well. “It’s a great and painless way to rejuvenate skin,” says Wong,” and I would say that the absorption rate with NCTF is much higher than with electroporation.”
It sounds like a marketing term for gullible people, but drone delivery in skincare is prized by skin brands that mean business, like Medik8 and Sarah Chapman. “It’s a relatively new technology that pushes active ingredient lifespan and their level of penetration to a whole new level,” says facialist Pietro Simone, who incorporates it in his eponymous skincare. “Ingredients are placed in a microscopic dual-layer capsule that’s composed of an inner matrix and an outer shell with a ‘ligand’ or marker peptide or amino acid bound to it to target specific types of cells,” he says. In short, it’s a sort of intercellular Sat Nav. Encapsulated like this, actives such as peptides and retinoids can be ferried through the stratum corneum and past digestive enzymes and other dermal ‘roadblocks’ to reach live cells deep inside the skin.
“Quite frankly, having tried thousands of products and technologies, I can say that the results if see with this drone delivery are more structurally visible, deeper and longer-lasting,” says Simone, who actually prefers it over in-clinic iontophoresis in terms of effectivity.
Microneedle patches, studded with hundreds of mini needling cones, press tiny channels into the skin in order to deep-deliver moisture and actives. These are either applied first in a serum, or contained in the actual cones, which can be made out of crystallised skincare that will ‘melt into’ the skin once pressed on. The technology is used to deliver medications (it was even considered for Covid vaccines) and has been deployed by brands such as ZitSticka, Vice Reversa, Vichy and Beauty Pie. According to Clare, they may perform better than topicals “but they certainly don’t get as far as the base of the epidermis or the nerve endings in the way that galvanic currents do.” Simone has a different take: “I’m not a fan. I my experience, I haven’t seen significant results that indicate they deliver ingredients better than regular skincare,” he says.
Ultrasonic diffusion and magnetic misting technology
Patented by beauty tech brand Reduit, these are two technologies that together have been shown to make skincare penetrate 300% more efficiently. Held in a sealed pod are skincare emulsions (there are five formulas, from £28.90 for 40 applications) made up of micronised actives and hydrators, but free from fillers, fixatives and other inert ingredients that consist of large molecules that prevent topicals from getting beyond the stratum corneum. Placed in a Reduit device (from £87.35 at cultbeauty.co.uk), the emulsions are ultrasonically diffused as a super-fine mist of micro-droplets (50x smaller than your average mist), that then get pushed into skin via ‘magnetic waveforms’. “Basically, a magnetic coil in the device and the water (which has its own magnetic field) in the emulsion repel each other, creating a pressurised force field that drives the product beyond skin’s protective barrier, says Paul Perros of Reduit. “This principle has similarities with that of iontophoresis, which also makes use of negative ions and magnetic fields, but employs an electrical current and specific ingredients that carry an electric charge. Reduit works with all formulations, and makes a tiny amount of emulsion considerably more effective than any large blob of lotion of cream without traumatising skin in any way.”