The Theory of Neurocosmetics

By Maggie Staszcuk 

Neurocosmetics refers to a science based on the brain-skin connection that argues our emotions affect our skin. This is not necessarily new, and many can attest that stress, lack of sleep, and even poor diet—which may all contribute to low mood—can take a toll on the appearance of skin. This very idea is what keeps many estheticians in business. What is new are the terms associated with this phenomenon. "Emotional aging,” “winter face,” and “mood beauty,” are some examples supporting current studies indicating that individuals can have a positive influence on their mental state through the topical application of products. 

Of course, we are talking more than just self-care and a nice massage. While a facial and the application of a product can lift spirits, this is a psychological effect rather than a biochemical one; the aim of neurocosmetics is to produce the latter. 

The skin supports the largest number of neuroreceptors. In one cubic centimeter, there are up to 800,000 neurons and more than 10 meters of nerves.1 Neurocosmetics include “neuro-active ingredients” that are proven to regulate the nervous system connected to the skin and improve its appearance by targeting these receptors.2  

Neurocosmetics are at the intersection of neurology and skin care. Consider this—the brain and skin have the same embryonic origin, meaning the skin may be an extension of the brain. The skin and brain begin to form in the fifth week of pregnancy, with the outermost part of the embryo—the ectoderm or ectoblast—forming into both the central and peripheral nervous system, the epidermis, and the eyes and inner ears.3 As a result of this formation, keratinocytes, Langerhans cells, melanocytes, endothelial cells, fibroblasts, and other skin cells become regulated and controlled by nerves. 

For instance, strong emotions have the potential to trigger goosebumps or produce sweat. Conversely, the skin can influence neural activity through sensation, heat regulation, and excretion. All of this suggests that the integumentary, nervous, and even the immune system are integrated in their own unique system—the neuro-immuno-cutaneous system (NICS).4 

The theory behind neurocosmetics runs parallel with inflammaging, a clinical term coined in 2000 by researcher Claudio Franceschi to describe low-grade, chronic inflammation in the body that ultimately leads to disease.5 It's recently started to catch on as an aging term in the esthetics community, partly due to an increase in stress affecting global society. Psoriasis, eczema, and even aging can be attributed to a chemical imbalance related to stress (cortisol) or relaxation (endorphins or oxytocin).6 

Stress increases the production of cortisol, a hormone that can trigger inflammation. On the other hand, relaxation and positive emotions can stimulate the release of endorphins and oxytocin, which have anti-inflammatory and healing properties. When the body is constantly in a state of stress, the delicate balance between these chemicals can be disrupted, leading to an overactive immune response. This can manifest as redness, itching, flaking, and other symptoms commonly associated with skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. 

While there is still more research to be done, evidence so far supports the idea that the brain-skin connection is stronger than previously thought. For estheticians and the skin care industry, that means product and tech development and innovation in neurocosmetics is likely to continue growing. 

Interested in more content like this? Tune in to ASCP's Esty Talk Ep 257, Neurocosmetics: The Brain-Skin Connection where hosts Ella and Maggie  discuss the studies to back the science of neurocosmetics and how skin care can be mood lifting.

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