Science Nature Beauty

Neurocosmetics, the overture

Skincare brands are constantly on the lookout for new trends and innovations. New technologies, offered by science, are picked up, translated into an interesting and appealing concept or efficacy claim, and then put on the market. The average consumer is eager to try out new things and is likely interested in innovations. She/he will buy the product when its marketing is appealing but wants to see results before buying again – that’s the key to success for brands. Providing consumers with satisfying results requires science.

Science, by definition, is a slow process, much slower than consumers and marketers in the personal care industry would like. More often than not, scientific innovations are adopted by the industry when the science is still in its early days and the topic at hand is still not fully understood. This obviously leads to a conflict between what is communicated about the science “out there” and what scientists feel comfortable with. Nevertheless, the cosmetic industry and the consumer will not change their attitudes and views, and that is alright. In the end, we are all consumers, including scientists.


One of the trends we are seeing in the market is called “neurocosmetics.” Neurocosmetics are defined as cosmetic products which can interact with cells and processes in the skin which are connected to the nervous system. Indeed, our skin is closely connected with our body’s central nervous system. Consequentially, our skin is connected with our brain. Cell biological processes in our skin can give a signal to our brain, which can lead to either a positive or a negative sensation. Often it is a negative one. Especially people with sensitive skin (about 50% of global consumers) are familiar with the sensation of itch or burning of the skin. This is a typical example of a result from the skin–brain connection. Skin signals to the brain, and the brain tells you your skin itches.

There are also plenty of positive sensations which are generated in our brain and, luckily, are closely linked to the skin. Using cosmetic products makes people feel well and better about themselves. This feeling is generated in our brain. Using cosmetic products has a significant positive psychological impact. This impact should not be confused with what neurocosmetics are about, however. Although, by definition, they will make you feel better – as every cosmetic product is supposed to – neurocosmetics are designed to interfere with the interaction between the different skin cells and nerve cells which have direct access to our brain. They should have more value than the positive psychological impact using a cosmetic product already has.


Skin, brain, Nobel Prize

Making effective neurocosmetics requires an understanding of the skin–brain connection. The science of the skin–brain connection is only partly understood, however. As mentioned above, science is a slow process. Every discovery, big or small, is checked and rechecked before it is considered to be a real discovery. A real discovery mostly leads to more questions than the scientists had before. One of the winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize for medicine was David Julius, who, in the late 1990s, discovered TRPV1 (found in the skin and mouth, for instance) as key to the way capsaicin leads to a burning sensation (a process which takes place in the brain). This research was done more than 20 years ago and only in 2021 was recognized as breakthrough science.

The research of David Julius and many other academics who are interested in understanding the human body’s ability to sense heat, cold and touch, continues. The essence of their research lies in the way nerve impulses are initiated so that temperature and pressure, but also negative sensations, can be perceived. The neurocosmetics concept, for by far the biggest part, taps into the research of these scientists.

If you know active ingredients well, TRPV1 is not new to you. There are quite a few active ingredients on the market which have shown to be antagonists for TRPV1. They prevent the production of a signal (neuromediator) which would have been produced after TRPV1 activation. If the neuromediator is not produced, the sensory neurons (nerve cells) in the nerve endings in the skin (of which there are plenty, and in sensitive skin even more so) will not be activated. If the nerves are not activated there will be no signal to the brain. If the brain does not get a signal you will not feel an itch.


Two pieces of a puzzle

This is a solid neurocosmetic approach; theoretically, sensitive skin will become less sensitive if the active ingredient does what it promises to do. However, as mentioned above, the science of the skin–brain connection is only partly understood. Those of you who work in the basic science of skin will appreciate the notion that we still know only little. How do calcitonin gene–related peptide (GCRP), substance P, bradykinin and all the other neuromediators interact with each other, with cellular receptors, with cells themselves, and how do these lead to the brain? Some of this we already know, but even if we knew more, we would still have only one half of the puzzle. We would then better understand how to solve problems related to the skin-brain connection. We would not just be able to alleviate skin sensitivity more effectively, we would also have more effective ways of providing (pharmaceutical) treatment to people who suffer from skin diseases.

The other half of the puzzle would have to be focused on the positive aspects of the connection between skin and brain. Imagine a consumer who does not have any inflammatory problems with her or his skin, no irritations, no itch. Maybe that person’s skin is a bit dry or getting a bit older. This consumer is either using a daily moisturizer or maybe an antiaging cream. Nothing that helps in resolving an issue related to some inflammatory problem. Imagine that the product which this consumer uses has a neurocosmetic angle to it. On top of the aforementioned generally positive psychological impact of using a cosmetic product, the neurocosmetic properties of the product will help in making this person feel even better.


Happy skin?

These neurocosmetic properties would be reflected in some cell biological activity in the skin which triggers a positive signal to the brain through the nerves, or at least through activity on neurotransmitters. The activity of the nerves and their regulation as part of the body’s nervous system is not yet understood well at all. We do know, however, that some neurotransmitters which are associated with positive emotions in the central nervous system, such as endorphin and dopamine, play an important role in skin. Could the increase of production of endorphin and dopamine in the skin lead to positive emotions in the brain? Could it be that simple? If this were the case, we would already have developed an active ingredient with this focus a long time ago.

The fact of the matter is, molecules such as endorphin and dopamine play totally different roles in the skin than in the brain. Endorphin is associated with melanogenesis, and dopamine with skin barrier, for instance. They play other roles in skin too, both positive and negative. Boosting the production of endorphin or dopamine does not simply lead to “happy skin.”


Improving on already good things

At CLR we take our science seriously. We don’t want to develop a product which is not backed by solid science and which is not relevant for the consumer. We understand that we are part of the cosmetic industry, an industry which is incredibly dynamic and marketing-driven, and we are enjoying every minute of it. For us, it is all about finding the right balance between the science we want to provide and satisfying our customers, most of whom want new products quickly. Science is slow, but at the end of the day it always prevails. Science is like pea soup: it might taste good on the day you have made it, but it always tastes much better the day after.

The most difficult thing is to improve on things which are, in essence, already good. Providing solutions to problems is a fairly straightforward affair, however complex the problem might be. Consumers want products that work, but most of them don’t have big problems with their skin. Using skincare products gives them a sense of control and makes them feel good. This is where the big challenge for neurocosmetics lies: not to reduce a problem, but to improve on skin which is already fine and on emotions which are already boosted due to the use of the cosmetic product alone.


The overture

The title of this this article includes the word “overture.” Let’s look at neurocosmetics as an opera. We are just at the beginning, the overture. We are getting there, step by step. New studies are constantly initiated. On the other hand, 50% of your neurocosmetic needs can easily be met by our AnnonaSense CLR™. It acts on the endocannabinoid system of our skin. It is CBD-like, if you will. Except that actual proof of its effects exist and there are no regulatory issues. Ingredients in AnnonaSense CLR™ interact with the cannabinoid receptor type 2. Through this interaction TRPV1 is automatically deactivated. If you want to know what happens next, see above: neurocosmetic AnnonaSense CLR™ makes skin less sensitive and improves quality of life and wellbeing, as proven in clinical studies.



Harald van der Hoeven

Director Product Design & Development