We know that dry skin can be relieved by creams containing certain vitamins, but what we don’t know is why this the case, and what quantity of vitamins is needed for it to be effective. Researchers at Malmö University are investigating.

An important first step is, therefore, to test specific vitamins separately and study their pathway through the skin.

Sebastian Björklund

Vitamins are used in a number of skincare products and clinical studies have shown that creams containing vitamins or provitamins lead to smoother and more moisturised skin, but there are still big questions about how different substances actually affect what is actually the body's largest organ.

“One of the pitfalls of many clinical trials is that people have been allowed to test creams with a rather complex mix of components. But what works and why? An important first step is, therefore, to test specific vitamins separately and study their pathway through the skin,” says Sebastian Björklund, Associate Professor of Physical Chemistry at the Department of Biomedical Sciences.

The researchers will test both fat-soluble vitamins, such as retinol, and water-soluble vitamins such as niacin. A key question is how much of the vitamins are actually absorbed through the skin and reach the target where they can have an effect.

What is the right dose is also an important question. The body can easily get rid of an excess of water-soluble vitamins. However, some fat-soluble vitamins should not be overdosed as they tend to accumulate in some of our organs and negatively affect the body's health.

“For different vitamins to promote biological processes in the skin in a similar way as when we eat them, they need to pass through the skin barrier and reach living cells. But we don't know how effective this is and what concentration is required, so we will look at both the skin permeability of these vitamins and their impact on cultured cells,” Björklund says, adding:

“We do not exclude that some of the substances can promote the skin barrier properties in a more direct way, without having to reach the living cells.”

The researchers are collaborating with the company Oriflame Cosmetics and will use its laboratories for some of the tests. Other partners include CELLINK, MatTek, and Insplorion.

“We have started to study how vitamins affect skin cells when they are grown in a solution either with or without vitamins. In parallel studies, we are investigating how they are transported through the skin barrier. In the future, we will also study how the vitamins affect the process where living skin cells form the skin barrier, which can be seen more as a dead tissue that protects our water-filled body,” concludes Björklund.

Text: Anna Dahlbeck & Adrian Grist

Read more about the research project

Beneficial effects of vitamins in skin - Towards next generation skin care and 3D skin models