CoQ-10 for Skin

Anyone shopping for skin care products has seen CoQ-10 in eye creams and face creams at the drugstore. CoQ10 is advertised as a skin toner and wrinkle cure. This article looks at the scientific rationale for using CoQ10 as a wrinkle-reducer. We will also examine the clinical evidence for this anti-aging treatment.

CoQ-10 declines with age: a double-shot
Mitochondria are the cellular component that convert the oxygen you breathe and the calories you eat into energy your cells can use. Coenzyme Q10 is an important part of this process, called cellular respiration. Over time, CoQ-10 levels decline, and mitochondria accumulate other forms of damage, becoming less efficient (1,2). This inefficiency leads to harmful byproducts called reactive oxygen species (or ROS).

In skin cells, these ROS contribute to oxidative stress and ultimately lead to wrinkles (3). Aging in skin is an immensely complex process involving a number of players. The simple version is that oxidative stress leads to an inflammatory response in skin. During this response, immune cells get activated and proteins called matrix metalloproteases break down the connective tissue in skin in order to make way for the immune cells. Although these tissues are subsequently repaired, the repeated break-down and reconstruction lead to identifiable features of aging, like wrinkles and sagging skin (4).

Putting antioxidants on your face is thought to be a means of stopping these free radicals. In fact, CoQ-10 also acts as an antioxidant, quenching these ROS free radicals (5).

In short, declining CoQ-10 levels delivers a one-two punch:
1. Lower mitochondrial efficiency creates more of the ROS species that lead to wrinkles
2. Fewer cellular antioxidants that prevent the ROS from doing damage to individual cells

Does CoQ-10 reverse aging skin?
The first place to look for effects of CoQ10 reversing aging is in skin cells isolated in the lab. Several studies have come out supporting the use of CoQ10 to reduce the inflammation process caused by UV light that ultimately leads to wrinkles (6,7,2). While these results suggest that supplemental CoQ10 is acting as an antioxidant, a newer study from Beiersdorf (the company that makes Nivea skin products) has a different take. The Beiersdorf study shows that CoQ10 application probably helps to makes the cellular respiration process more efficient, too (8). Regardless of which mechanism we are working with here, the answer from cells isolated in the lab is yes, CoQ10 appears to work to reduce the aging process.

The most impressive set of data supporting CoQ10 wrinkle reduction is over 10 years old 2). In this study, some fairly sophisticated technology was deployed to show both that CoQ10 is acting as an antioxidant, and to quantify the reduction of wrinkles. To quantify wrinkles, casts were made of the subject's faces and subsequently recorded with quantitative microtopography. Using this technique, an actual reduction in the depth of wrinkles was observed in response to CoQ10 treatment.

The bottom line?
Significant evidence indicates that topical application of CoQ10 is an effective treatment for wrinkles. In particular, CoQ10 is probably more useful for photoaging (deep wrinkles) than intrinsic aging (fine lines and shallow wrinkles). CoQ10 is also reasonably well tolerated in clinical studies.

Some dermatologists recommend CoQ-10 supplementation for skin care as well. Evidence is mixed on this. Click on the link to see an article on oral supplementation.

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1. Sohal, RS, Forster, MJ. "Coenzyme Q, oxidative stress and aging." Mitochondrion 7S (2007) S103-11.
2. Hoppe, U, Bergemann, J, Diembeck, W, et al. "Coenzyme Q10, a cutaneous antioxidant and energizer." Biofactors 9 (1999) 371-78.
3. Sharffetter-Kochanek, K, Brenneisen, P, Wenk, J, et al. "Photoaging of the skin from phenotype to mechanism." Exper. Gerontol. 35 (2000) 307-16.
4. Thornfledt, CR. "Chronic inflammation is etiology of extrinsic aging." J Cosm Derm. 7 (2008) 78-82.
5. Bentinger, M, Brismar, K, Dallner, G. "The antioxidant role of coenzyme Q." Mitochondrion 7S (2007) S41-50.
6. Fuller, B, Smith, D, Howerton, A, Kern, D. "Antiinflammatory effects of CoQ10 and colorless carotenoids." J Cosm Derm 5 (2006) 30-38.
7. Inui, M, Ooe, M, Fujii, K, et al. "Mechanisms of inhibitory effects of CoQ10 on UVB-induced wrinkle formation in vitro and in vivo." Biofactors 32 (2008) 237-243.
8. Prahl, S, Kueper, T, Biernoth, T. "Aging skin is functionally anaerobic: Importance of coenzyme Q10 for anti aging skin care." Biofactors 32 (2008) 245-55.