What do you think about steam for delivery of skin care ingredients?

Unknown Member
edited May 2014 in Starting a cosmetic line
Hello everyone,
I am a skin care enthusiast, but I lack a background in cosmetic chemistry. I was wondering if anyone might be able to help answer some basic questions, or perhaps just steer me in the right direction.
I've been steaming my face for years, adding in drops of different essential oils depending on my specific skin needs. I feel like it's helped my skin, but there is nothing in the market like that. I'm wondering, can steam be a viable vehicle for more sophisticated skin care ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, urolic acid, niacin, etc? Could steam carry a liposome to the skin and aid it's absorption?

I realize these may sound like silly questions to many of you. But any help, advice or education would be very much appreciated.

Thank you so much in advance!

De Anna


  • vitalysvitalys Member
    De Anna, I find it's a very interesting question. It relates to the biggest task in Cosmetology and Dermatology as well - Effective skin penetration and transdermal transport. The human skin is a great barrier for almost all chemicals. Thus the skin performs its the most important function - protection against the outer and quite aggressive environment. It's a challenging task to overcome this strong barrier in order to deliver even "good" and "useful" chemicals to a place in the skin where their action is expected, since from the skin's point of view every "import" chemical ( even "good" one) has a potential danger for the skin itself as well as for entire body. It is functioning as a very strong Custom and Home Land Security and Border Control :) And the skin has multiple "security points" on the way of any outer potential danger - chemical, mechanical and biological ones.
    There are several ways of the transdermal transport:
    - Diffusion of water soluble ingredients ( The most difficult one)
    - Diffusion of lipid soluble ingredients (Through the lipid layers of the corneocytes, the dead skin cells)
    - Sebaceous and sweat ducts
    - Decreasing the thickness of the Stratum Corneum ( Horny skin layer)
    - Direct injection (with a syringe for instance)

    The steam is a one of the form of water - In a form of gas. When you apply the steam onto the skin surface water molecules attack the Stratum Corneum cells, that build with the one of the hardest and strongest natural protein ( Keratin) and the swelling of those cells occurs. You may easily observe this process right after sauna or taking shower. Obviously the swelling of the skin's Horny layer makes it easier the penetration of the water soluble ingredients, because it intensifies the diffusion. However, the Keratin is able to get some water (swell) relatively fast and at the same time it gives the water back very quickly as well. It terms of transdermal transportation, of course, the steaming is able to help to deliver some water soluble ingredients. But it only helps to deliver them and we can not consider it as a "carrier" - just a helper.
    Many professional cosmetologists use the water steam and even some solutions ( and ultrasound steamers) as a part of a regular cosmetic professional routine especially in a preparation stage for the main procedure.
    Swelling leads to the visible improvement of the skin - less wrinkles, better surface quality and of course - moisturizing for the Stratum Corneum, which is the most important factor in the challenge of the young skin maintenance. There is another challenge - how to keep the water in the Stratum Corneum and stop evaporation ( The rate of water loss in terms of professional language) for a longer time. But it's another theme another methods :)
  • Chemist77Chemist77 Member, PCF student
    @vitalys You have explained a very complex chain of phenomenon in the simplest way possible and a layman like me too could comprehend every single word you have written. Hats off to you Sir.
  • vitalysvitalys Member
    @milliachemist . Thank you. I'm glad I could explain it the simplest way I could, but the topic is huge and I guess there are many aspects would be disscussed here.
  • Unknown Member
    Wow Vitalys. Thank you!
    May I ask a few (possibly ridiculous and naive) additional questions? Feel free to ignore me at any point ;-)  I've been told that I ask a LOT of questions.
    I wonder if you just took water out of the equation entirely? Could you formulate something that could perform similar to water (i.e. could be transformed into steam or "misted") but not actually contain water? I came across a skin care line that has made a proprietary blend called "hyaluronix" to replace water in their products. Given the natural efficiency of the stratum corneum to repel water, it seems crazy that skin care formulas still rely so heavily on water. Haven't we found a way to "trick" the skin or eliminate the need for water?
     And, if you could remove water, would that not also eliminate much of the need for preservatives and other fillers and possibly create something with increased potency? 
    What about "heavy water"? Would its lower evaporation rate increase the absorption of the ingredients into the skin?
    I find all of this so interesting. I should probably really learn more of the science behind it all. Is there a good "beginner's" book to cosmetic chemistry that you would recommend?
    Sorry again for pelting you with questions. 
    De Anna
  • vitalysvitalys Member
    De Anna, you're very welcome. I think the questions are the part of educational process. And this source is one of the best where people generously share all their knowledge. :)

    There are a lot of types of formulations including waterless ones. Of course, you may prepare a waterless product based on oils, for instance and make it similar to steam using aerosol package. It won't be a steam, but as you have said "misted" form of the product.

    Re: Hyaluronix. I haven't read much about this complex. But it seems to me it's a regular marketing gimmick. I suppose there is a Hyaluronic acid in this complex and the truth is that this acid is water soluble substance. I really don't have an idea how they could incorporate this type of ingredient for "replacing" water. I just could assume that they just put the acid into anhydrous carrier and when it comes into contact with a skin's water, Hyaluronic acid begins to bind this water giving almost immediate and visible improvement of the skin's surface. It would be interesting approach to the formulation.

    Re: water. We are not able to eliminate the need of water, since it's an essential and the most important part of a human body Chemistry. I would say even more definitely: More water in your skin - the healthier and younger it appears. But what is the most important part of the cosmetic art is a challenge to retain the water in your skin preventing it's loss. There are many tricks to make it possible. For example, you may hydrate the Stratum Corneum effectively and then apply the mineral oil onto the skin surface in oder to make it skow the water evaporation. By the way- the mineral oil is one of the best moisturizing agent and it works the way I have described above.

    There are many other tricks how to keep the water in the skin. We may use moisturizing substances and the best of them belong to so called Natural Moisturizing Factor of the skin ( NMF) - the group of chemicals found in the skin - Urea, some salts, Hyaluronic acid, proteins like Collagen and Elastin etc. All of them prevent the water loss binding the water. The bad news is that the skin (and it's anatomical parts as collagen fibers) is loosing an ability to keep the water with aging and inevitable genetic process begins to play the active and prominent role in the skin's Physiology. Unfortunately, we are still able only to slow the aging. We could even stimulate the formation of Collagen and Elastin fibers temporarily ( by peeling or needling etc), but we're not capable to stop it completely.

    Re: Heavy Water. I have never thought and researched this idea, so I can not discuss it right now. I just would assume that this kind of water would affect or even destroy many physiological functions. Probably the mentors of this forum have their opinion on this to share... :)
  • vitalysvitalys Member
    I almost forgot about books. I think an excellent source (among all other nice books and publications) is "Physiology of the skin" by Peter T.Pugliese. This book is focused especially on interests of cosmetologists and skin care professionals.
  • Bill_TogeBill_Toge Member, Professional Chemist
    in chemical terms, heavy water is almost identical to ordinary water; the only difference is that it's more dense (hence the name, "heavy" water)
    UK based cosmetic chemist with 13 years' experience at the bench. I've worked with pretty much everything apart from pressed powders, soap, solid lipstick and aerosols.
  • Vitalys,
    Thank you again!
    I have a lot to learn, but I do find it all so interesting! I just attended a symposium put on by NYSCC and was completely fascinated (if a little confused at times).
    Thank you again for your input. I shall be looking into the book you recommended.
    De Anna
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