When I was in high school I learned about cloning and thought it would be a great idea to clone myself. I wasn’t particularly serious about it however, it was the basis for my choice to study Biology in college. Clearly, I could have used the services of a better career counselor.
Anyway, Biology was a fine enough subject to study. There is lots of interesting stuff to learn and it was not particularly hard. Chemistry was much more difficult. I switched to Chemistry in my second senior year because I had a Chemistry minor and there were more jobs for people with chemistry degrees than biology degrees.
I’m glad I had my background in Biology though because these days concepts from biochemistry are making there way into cosmetic chemistry. In fact, many of the new, most interesting cosmetic technologies are taking advantage of research done in biochemistry. As a formulator for skin and hair products, it will be helpful for you to know the meaning of some of these terms so you can both take advantage of new technologies and not be snowed over by the marketing material of your raw material suppliers.
Epigenetics - This is the study of changes in biology that are not the result of genetic differences. It refers to changes in the transcription of DNA to proteins. It turns out that genes alone are not the whole explanation for why some proteins are expressed and others aren’t. This has huge implications for cosmetics as there may be ingredients that can have an influence on the expression of genes. Look for lots of advance cosmetic technology coming out of this research in the future. See the wikipedia post on epigenetics for more
Proteomics - This is the study of proteins, their structure and their function. Lots of research is going on to find proteins that can halt the aging process. This has the potential to lead to some breakthroughs in topical cosmetic products. It’s worth checking out the wikipedia entry on proteomics.
Amino Acids - The basic building blocks of life. These compounds which contain an Amine group and a Carboxylic acid group are strung together to make proteins and everything else in the body. There are 20 of these that occur naturally and are the basis for all life on Earth. Cosmetic marketers have used amino acids for years as a claims ingredient. There is scant evidence that they do much more than moisturizing when put on the skin or hair.
Peptides - Any sequence of amino acids made up of less than 50 amino acids strung together. They could be a useful anti-aging technology but mostly it’s just hype. We did a whole post on cosmetic peptides.
Proteins - The chemicals the make life work. They are long chain polymers made up of amino acid building blocks. They can take on numerous structures depending on the way they fold. I really believe the future of all cool new raw materials will be based on proteins. Consumers are familiar with the term even if they don’t know exactly what it means.
Enzymes - A special type of protein that causes some type of biochemical reaction to happen more quickly. They are catalysts. Most consumers are familiar with the term but don’t know exactly what it means. They just know it is some kind of important science.
Protease - An enzyme that breaks down a protein. Some anti-aging products are said to stop the proteases that break down important skin proteins like collagen and elastin.
Stem Cells - These are basic cells that have not differentiated and can be coaxed into becoming any type of cell in the body. The stem cells in the dermis are the source of all new skin cells that are produced. There is a lot of research going on to use stem cells in future treatments but the technology is not particularly advanced. This hasn’t stopped cosmetic marketers from coming out with products that contain stem cells. The stem cells aren’t viable and they don’t do much in the formula but consumers have heard of the term and many of them find it a compelling reason to buy the product. We wrote a post on stem cells in cosmetics.
Bioreactor - This is a technology for mass producing compounds using bacteria, yeast or other microbes. You get the right bacteria strain, feed them, shelter them and they’ll make you all kinds of useful ingredients. This technology could represent the future of cosmetic ingredients since it has the potential to replace all petroleum derived ingredients.
I’m sure there are more terms and if you think something should be included, leave it in the comments below. Also, if you wanted even more terms from biochemistry, go see this biochemistry glossary. It really is a fascinating subject.