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Can Enzymes Exfoliate Your Skin?

Posted Aug 01 2011 2:01am

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Marci’s Enymatic Inquiry: My esthetician told me about Babor Enzyme Cleanser and highly recommended that I try it. She says it’s great because it uses natural enzymes that target only dead skin cells and leave living skin cells alone. Can this really work?

The Right Brain’s Catalytic Comments:

As a matter of fact, enzymes can cause very specific reactions. But let’s start at the beginning…

Enzymes are chemicals that speed up the rate of chemical reactions without themselves being consumed in the reaction. They’re incredibly useful in biological processes because they can make a reaction that normally requires dangerously high temperatures occur at normal body temperatures. Basically, without enzymes we’d all be dead.

The particular enzyme used in the Babor product is Subtilisin, which is produced by soil bacterium (Bacillus amyloliquefaciens). It’s used in the food industry as a meat tenderizer because it catalyzes the breakdown of proteins, in particular keratin protein, into smaller pieces called peptides.

The upper layer of your skin (aka the stratum corneum) is made mostly of dead keratin cells. Subtilisin very specifically breaks down keratin protein and by lysing, or breaking, the 10-end peptide bonds of keratin. Since the living cells deeper in your skin don’t contain much, if any, keratin, they are left unaffected by the enzyme. So yes, Subtilisin will break down the dead skin instead of the living cells.

Does it really work? In theory, yes. According to a report in Dermatologic Surgery , Subtilisin and related enzymes can be effective exfoliants. And they can be more gentle than other methods of exfoliation like dermabrasion. (Read our previous post on home microdermabrasion here.) However, enzymes are very tricky beasts and they won’t be stable if the product isn’t properly formulated.  For example, if the pH is wrong, the enzyme is worthless. Without testing the enzymatic activity of the Barbor product it’s impossible to know for sure how well it will work.

There is real science that says Babor could improve skin condition. But only you can decide if it’s worth the money to try it out. Gee, I wish they gave free samples.

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