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Mitochondria in Skin Health


It’s probably the only thing we remember from middle school biology: Mitochondria are the powerhouse of our cells. But what are they really, how do they affect the health of our skin, and can targeting them improve our appearance on a molecular level?


To start, the skin is the largest organ of our body, and it is constantly exposed to environmental stressors such as UV radiation, pollution, and oxidative stress. All of these factors can damage our skin cells and contribute to premature aging. This is where mitochondria come in.These tiny organelles are responsible for producing energy for the whole cell in the form of ATP, which is necessary for all cellular processes including collagen production, wound healing, vascular homeostasis, pigmentation, and skin cell turnover [1]. Enzymes and their cofactors in the inner cellar membrane of the mitochondria convert metabolites from food into energy (ATP) while also generating reactive oxygen species (ROS) as byproducts [2]. Thankfully, they also have their own antioxidant system to combat ROS and we can target this system to slow the signs of aging and protect our skin [3].  


Although there is no causal link between mitochondrial dysfunction and aging, it is very common to observe reduced metabolic efficiency of mitochondria and more mutations in mitochondrial DNA in aged tissues compared to younger tissues.The “free radical theory of aging” proposes that the damaging activities of ROS (generated by mitochondria during homeostasis or in response to stress) overwhelm our bodies natural antioxidant system and eventually lead to damage of DNA, cellular proteins, and membrane lipids [4]. However, congenital (from birth) mutations in genes that encode for mitochondrial proteins usually cause diseases of the central nervous system (CNS) before symptoms appear on skin [5]. This is because the CNS requires way more energy production than the dermis on a daily basis. However, just as this damage accumulates over time, we can use active ingredients regularly to combat this damage. 


Several skincare ingredients have been shown to target mitochondria and improve skin health. One of these ingredients is Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) [6–8]. CoQ10 is a cofactor and can benefit the skin both topically and when taken orally [9]. It helps to protect the mitochondria from oxidative stress and supports their function, leading to improved energy production and cellular health [10]. 

Another skincare ingredient that targets mitochondria is niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3. Niacinamide helps to improve the function of mitochondria by increasing the production of ATP [11,12]. Niacinamide is actually a precursor to NAD+ which is used constantly throughout the body for DNA damage repair and other vital mechanisms. Niacinamide leads to improveenergy production and cellular metabolism, which can help to reduce the signs of aging and improve skin texture. Niacinamide also has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to soothe irritated skin.

Resveratrol is another skincare ingredient that targets mitochondria [13]. Resveratrol is a natural compound that is found in grapes, berries, and other plants. It has been shown to protect the mitochondria from oxidative stress and improve their function, leading to improved energy production and cellular health [14,15]. Resveratrol also has anti-inflammatory properties and can help to reduce the signs of aging.

Astaxanthin is a lipid-soluble antioxidant that is more powerful than vitamin C or E [16,17]. Astaxanthin is red-tinted and can be found in algae and seafood, for example giving salmon its pink color. It is also available as a dietary supplement. Astaxanthin is unique in its ability to neutralize ROS both at the cell surface membrane and also directly in the mitochondrial inner membrane [18]. 

Melatonin, commonly taken to support sleep, is also a powerful antioxidant produced by the skin [19]. Topical melatonin is extremely effective against UV radiation and regulates the fission and fusion (nuclear reactions that produce energy) activities of mitochondria within a cell [20]. Through these activities, topical melatonin can be used to reduce the signs of wrinkles and reverse photoaging [21].

In conclusion, mitochondria play a crucial role in maintaining skin health. They help to neutralize harmful free radicals, protect our skin from oxidative stress, and regulate cell turnover. Several skincare ingredients have been shown to target mitochondria and improve skin health, including CoQ10, niacinamide, resveratrol, and astaxanthin. While targeting the mitochondria may be a slower process, this is similar for all anti-aging type therapies. Consistency is key with these ingredients. Incorporating them into your skincare routine can help to support the function of your mitochondria and improve the health and vitality of your skin.


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