In the crowded field of buzzworthy antioxidants, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is getting more attention for its ability to, in essence, stop the clock. Produced by the human body, CoQ10 (also known to aid in everything from obesity to infertility) strengthens cells, slows down tissue damage by helping to fight free radicals, and boosts cells’
mitochondrial energy. Yet after about age 30, CoQ10 naturally begins to decrease in skin cells, which blocks the skin’s ability to produce collagen and elastin. This cues the skin to wrinkle and sag. To make up for its depletion in the body, the vitamin is extracted from natural sources and is now being more widely used in anti-aging skincare products.
“It really seems to work as an antioxidant—a sponge that absorbs energy released by free radicals,” says Neal Schultz, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. “The beauty of antioxidants is that they absorb the bad energy and then get destroyed, instead of the cells getting destroyed, which is what causes aging.” Calling it “one of the first antioxidants that was legitimately promoted,” Schultz says the dermatology field first started noting its efficacy more than a decade ago. He names CoQ10 as a favorite antioxidant along with vitamins C and E, and green tea.
CoQ10 arguably became more prevalent when pioneer Nicholas Perricone, M.D., began touting its benefits, naming it one of his top 10 super supplements. He recommends a minimum of 30 milligrams per day, though its topical uses are now being explored. Clinical studies have shown that six weeks of daily treatment reduces crow’s feet by 27 percent; after 10 weeks, it reduced fine lines and wrinkles by 43 percent. “The [ingredients] found in the skin are the ones you want to use in topical products to help restore it,” says Schultz. Lake Louise, founder and CEO of the skincare brand Lotus Moon, which uses CoQ10 in its power-packed Hyaluronic Intensive, states, “I’m moving into a direction of including, when appropriate, ingredients we take internally and finding ways to include them in serums to be applied topically.” She takes CoQ10 internally to help neutralize free radicals inside the body and also help the skin. “When you take it internally, it does all the work inside and doesn’t necessarily get to the skin,” explains Louise. “Applying it topically gets it directly to the skin.” Though, like a healthy diet or exercise, the results accumulate over time. “It’s not one of those things where you wake up and say, ‘my skin’s amazing,’” she says. “One of the things people need to understand is that antioxidants are a long-term plan.”
CoQ10 underscores a more modern philosophy in skincare, which is to build up the skin as it becomes thinner with age—the thicker the skin, the more resilient it is to creasing. Older technology, like products infused with collagen and elastin, known to some as the “fluff and puff” of skincare, is now being replaced by the more effective CoQ10. “Collagen can’t repair cells,” says Tina Zillmann, director of Advanced Rejuvenating Concepts, who began using CoQ10 in both her anti-aging treatments and her Cellular Solutions line, which launched about six years ago. KayDel Shelton, founder of The Myrtle Leaf, uses it in its highest recommended dosage of 3 percent (most range from 1 to 3 percent) in her Nature’s Chemistry Firming Eye Serum and newest product, Cranberry and COQ10 Super Antioxidant Firming Serum. “If it’s used at its proper percentage, you definitely will see the color,” which she describes as a rich orange or amber, similar to beta carotene (unless the powder has been bleached). Shelton says looking for a great CoQ10 product is “just like when you’re shopping for nutrients for your salad—the brighter fruits and vegetables are, the more antioxidants they have.” She recommends reading the ingredient list and making sure it’s in a base of pure botanical oils—it will penetrate into skin and be more effective rather than just sitting on top of the skin.
In part, it’s a partnership with hyaluronic acid that makes CoQ10 a superstar. “People started looking at ingredients that change the cellular structure by applying it topically, then adding hyaluronic gel or using ultrasound during treatment to help it penetrate,” says Zillmann. Because CoQ10 works inside the cell, she suggests pairing it with another ingredient like hyaluronic acid, which she says “plumps the skin like a drink of water,” producing an effective topical difference. For the all-in-one-cream ONE, which she developed about six years ago after working as a Hollywood makeup artist for actors on high-definition TV, True Promise Beauty founder Gail Johnson uses DMAE, a super firming agent, and hyaluronic acid, a true skin plumper, with the master antioxidant CoQ10. Hyaluronic acid along with DMAE, she explains, will boost whatever it attaches to, to 1,000 percent of its moisture value. “If a molecule is small enough, it will take whatever it attaches to and take it to the dermis from the epidermis,” says Johnson. “Antioxidants pumped into the skin are now getting to the cells, because we’re not just letting them sit on the surface. This particular combo of antioxidant and vitamin is going to boost energy and the life of stem cells by stopping radical damage to the cells.”
Though increasingly available in over-the-counter products, CoQ10 does some of its best work in the hands of knowledgeable estheticians. Cecilia Wong of the eponymous holistic skincare spa and product line in New York City offers an indulgent Omega and Vitamin C Treatment ($170, 60 minutes) that she recommends clients experience once a month. It features a potent antioxidant serum containing omegas 3, 6, and 9 and CoQ10. This nourishing cocktail helps reverse sun damage and brightens the complexion. While CoQ10 does its work under the skin’s surface, there are immediate visible results. “The skin is suppler, firmer, and just looks more awake,” says Wong. Julia March of Julia March Skin Care in New York City, who has been working with CoQ10 for nearly a decade, was sold on the ingredient after trying Luzern Laboratories’s hydrating Force De Vie Pure Oxygen Crème Luxe and Lotion. Since she began using it in her treatments, she says her clients have fewer visible lines and a brightened epidermis. “I look at their skin and think, gosh, they haven’t aged since I started seeing them almost 10 years ago,” says March.
CoQ10 is another step toward unveiling the power of antioxidants in anti-aging skincare. “Skincare is not like it used to be,” says Zillmann. “It’s very scientific and results-oriented. The technology now is incredible. I think this is the stepping stone of what you’re going to see CoQ10 in—more complex anti-aging routines.”—Brooke Showell