Essential Micro-Nutrients for Beautiful Skin

Frank Schönlau, Ph.D.



A healthy diet with unsaturated fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals, support every organ, including the skin. Micro-nutrients are required building blocks, a source of energy and are needed to satisfy the skin’s basic needs.

The major feature of the skin, which sets it apart from other organs, is its permanent renewal, mirrored by the growth of hair and nails. Billions of dead skin cells are shed from the epidermis daily, which need to be replaced at the same pace. Apart from the skin, there are only two other organs in the body that permanently grow new cells: the mucosa and the bone marrow. The micro-nutrient demand involved in cell duplication is of a different quality and magnitude than other cells, such as nerves, muscles or the liver, which require nutrients for every-day performance.

The skin and the mucosa, in fact, are an integral part of the immune system. These organs represent the first defense against harmful foreign organisms. The skin and mucosa bear immune cells that serve as “watch dogs” to immediately identify harmful pathogens. The skin mirrors the body’s health, reflecting immune status and nutritional status. It plays a tremendous role in our attractiveness to others; studies indicate minor inflammatory processes and sub-optimal nutrition affect skin tone, elasticity and smoothness.

Skin cells are rich in enzymes necessary for constructing molecules required to build daughter cells. Most of these enzymes depend on the availability of their corresponding essential co-factors for their performance. The most prominent co-factor involved in skin renewal is biotin (vitamin H), which is required for carboxylase enzymes. Biotin is also involved in duplication of DNA required for generation of a daughter cell. Insufficient supply of biotin is known to manifest in visible skin problems, such as flaking and rashes. Also, nail and hair growth are slowed and, in more advanced cases, hair loss may occur. Interestingly, studies from the University of Arkansas, Little Rock have found borderline deficiency of biotin is more common than previously thought.

Another vitamin playing a crucial role in skin health is vitamin C. It not only acts as an antioxidant but is also a co-factor for an enzyme converting the amino acid L-proline in “premature” pro-collagen or elastin into L-hydroxyproline, which results in functional collagen and elastin. The interesting news is increased presence of vitamin C stimulates the synthesis of new collagen within hours. Skin biopsies of post-menopausal women showed increased collagen synthesis in response to vitamin C application.

Many enzymes depend on transition metals as cofactors to be fully functional. The most prominent element is zinc, which is a key component of about 200 enzymes that are involved in trangascription and replication factors. Zinc has a central role wherever cells grow rapidly, not only in the skin, but also in the functional immune system (bone marrow) and in tissue healing. Zinc is also required for the detoxifying enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), which neutralizes the particularly aggressive superoxide radical. An estimated 20 percent of the body’s zinc is located in the skin. Even a minor lack of zinc leads to visibly blemished and roughened skin.

Selenium is a trace mineral and plays a key role in producing endogenous antioxidant enzymes, which are required for recycling oxidized (spent) glutathione. Selenium is of great importance for repairing oxidative damage in the skin resulting from exposure to harmful ambient substances and ultraviolet (UV) radiation.The highest amounts of selenium are found in skin areas exposed to the sunlight, supporting its role as photo-protector.

Some specific flavonoids, such as French maritime pine bark extract, have been shown to have a high selectivity for binding to collagen and elastin. Studies with the patented extract Pycnogenol® have shown this affinity, in turn, may protect collagen and elastin from degradation by free radicals and enzymes in the skin which decompose these connective tissue proteins such as during UV exposure. Pycnogenol acts in concert with vitamin C for collagen synthesis and was shown to speed up the healing of wounds in humans.This study also demonstrated using Laser Doppler techniques that Pycnogenol significantly improved skin micro-circulation. As a result, Pycnogenol improved cutaneous respiration as judged by higher oxygen presence and decreased carbon dioxide in the skin, suggesting it may improve hydration as well as delivery of other cosmeceuticals to the dermis.


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