How do skincare delivery systems work and what are the main types?

There’s a plethora of choice when it comes to skincare products and if the marketing hype is to be believed then they all claim to deliver results. However, it’s important when selecting a range for your salon or clinic that you understand your objective as a skincare professional and have a good grasp of the science.

A targeted facial will give a results-led performance, and it’s the performance we will explore more deeply. The corneocytes in the top layers of the stratum corneum are in their dying phase, so while it’s always important to preserve the integrity of the stratum corneum for optimal barrier health, to effect change we need to target at a cellular level. In other words, we need the active ingredients to penetrate deep down into the skin.

This sounds simple but in fact it’s not, because the barrier is designed to be waterproof and impenetrable to prevent trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) and the invasion of parasites and micro-organisms. Most topicals, professional or otherwise, have a molecular size that is just too large to penetrate the skin barrier.

Research shows that only molecules of 500 daltons or less can pass through the corneal layers. So, products may well contain phenomenal ingredients but if they can’t get through the barrier to where they need to be, then they will just sit on the surface of the skin.

This may be acceptable if you’re needing an occlusive barrier to protect against TEWL, but not so if you wish to encourage impactful cellular change. So, how do we get deeper into the skin if the molecules are too large? This is where our sector has looked to the pharmaceutical industry which, for years, has been using delivery systems to make topical applications bio-available.

In essence, cosmeceutical skincare ranges have combined the innovative science of carefully designed delivery systems with potent, active, and proven ingredients to encourage targeted and sustainable results. By encapsulating molecules – which is a costly process – with ingredients that are compatible with the lipid bilayers of the skin, we can effectively trick the skin barrier into green-lighting absorption. The most widely used delivery systems in thecosmetic industry are liposomes.

Liposomes are an empty vesicle with a phospholipid shell. The active hydrophilic or lipophilic molecule is placed inside, and this keeps it stable, until it is slowly released at its point of destination. Risk of degradation and dissipation of the ingredient are diminished in the process, ensuring minimal irritation and potent efficacy.

There are other delivery systems – transfersomes, niosomes, microparticles and nanoparticles – and research will keep improving and fine-tuning these.

Maria Rylott-ByrdMaria Rylott-Byrd is a facialist, owner of Maria Rylott-Byrd Skin Health and Transformation in Buckinghamshire, and a member of The Skin Collaborative – an online platform that educates the public on skin.