For many years products containing alpha and beta hydroxy acids have been an effective solution for resurfacing away fine lines, hyperpigmentation (age spots, freckles, etc), and reducing acne formation. But one limitation of these formulas is that they only dissolve the "glue" (desmosomes) between the outermost layers of cells, yet do not actually dissolve away dead skin cells themselves. So for decades hydroxy acid products have needed the final step of manual exfoliation to finish the job of removing the "unglued" top layer of dead cells from the skin's surface. Now there is a group of natural enzyme extracts that complete this resurfacing action by actually dissolving away dead surface cells that the hydroxy acids have prepared for removal.
The most widely studied enzyme for resurfacing formulas is papain. Papain is a cysteine protease hydrolase enzyme naturally present in papaya fruits, where it is extracted from to be used in skincare. There are synthetic versions of this enzyme as well, but only the natural variety is widely tolerated by the skin with much less risk of allergic reaction that synthetic papain carries. Papain has been used extensively in natural medicine, most notably as a topical treatment for jellyfish, bee, and wasp stings as well as mosquito bites (papain breaks down the protein toxins from the venom).
Enzymes & New Methods Of Skin Resurfacing
In skincare the papain enzyme functions to speed up the removal of epidermal cells by breaking them down in a controlled fashion until they have completely dissolved away. This is a wonderful compliment to the actions of alpha and beta hydroxy acids because hydroxy acids merely "unglue" skin cells from the desmosome matrix they are contained in. After these cells have been unglued they are ready to be exfoliated. However, to exfoliate one must manually scrub the skin and work to make sure all is sloughed off so that no flaking occurs. This no longer has to be the case. When hydroxy acids release dead skin cells from the glue that binds them to the epidermis the papain enzymes can intercede to actually break them down on the molecular level to the point that they are dissolved away without flaking or manual exfoliation.
Another very effective enzyme in resurfacing products is bromelain. Bromelain is a proteolytic protease enzyme extracted from pineapple fruit. The bromelain enzyme extract was first introduced as a therapeutic supplement in 1957 in the US and has since spread around the world. It's used extensively in natural medicine for the alleviation of muscle strains, arthritis pain, gout, minor injuries, and has even been shown to be effective against the eczema sensitive skin condition. Germany has recently taken a great interest in bromelain research for many medical conditions and it is currently the 13th most widely used herbal medicine in that country.
What's so interesting about the bromelain enzyme in skincare is that even though it is effective for skin resurfacing applications it actually has an anti-inflammatory effect. This is quite unique in the anti-aging field because nearly all substances that have resurfacing effects have been traditionally associated with increasing skin sensitivity, while as the bromelain enzyme actually helps sensitive skin conditions while it resurfaces. For this reason it's beneficial to combine papain and bromelain enzymes to gently dissolve away excess skin cells that the alpha and beta hydroxy acids in the product have readied for exfoliation. Combining all these natural fruit extracts together creates a more complete spectrum of resurfacing actions.