Enzymes are used in skin care products to exfoliate and reduce inflammation. They are naturally derived from fruit, with the most common ones for home use being Papain from papaya and Bromelain from pineapple.
You can find them in cleansers, exfoliators, chemical peels and even masks. Their enzymatic action makes them effective exfoliants, yet they are gentler than physical scrubs, microdermabrasion or even Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), particularly because they do not disrupt the pH of the skin.
Enzymes work to clean pores and break down the keratin protein to remove the dead skin cells, helping to create a smoother skin and more radiant complexion. Like Alpha Hydroxy Acids, they may improve the texture of skin and the appearance of fine lines, age spots and pigmentation.
Those with sensitive skin or rosacea often find that AHAs cause a burning sensation and irritate their skin, however they may be able to tolerate enzymes in their skin care routine.
Enzymes exfoliate only dead skin cells and leave live ones intact, thereby retaining the skin’s healthy bacteria. This means that those with more reactive skin may still be able enjoy some of the exfoliant-linked benefits of AHAs, but at a slower and gentler pace.
All exfoliants speed up the process of removing old surface cells from the epidermis. Our skin is efficient in doing this naturally when we are younger, however as our skin ages this process does not work as well and the proteins that bind our cells act like ‘glue’ to keep the skin barrier intact. The result can be thickened flaky skin, uneven skin tone, dehydration, due to greater trans-dermal water loss, and even acne.
The use of enzymes can promote cell regeneration and improve the absorption of treatment ingredients.
When used in a cleanser, enzymes work to breaking up dirt, oil and makeup without disrupting the skin’s natural pH and moisture content, however this type of formulation will provide very limited exfoliation. If you have sensitive or fragile skin, enzymes in cleansers may be all your skin will tolerate initially. Other skin types will derive more benefits from enzymes that are included in leave-on product, such as a serum or cream. Some products will combine enzymes with Alpha Hydroxy Acids or Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) for greater exfoliation.
AHAs are best known for refining the skin’s texture and promoting moisturisation and collagen synthesis. BHA can also exfoliate the skin, however it is more commonly used to improve blackheads and whiteheads. BHA has an affinity for oily skin and can penetrate pores and help normalise the lining of the pores and reduce breakouts. BHA also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and this is why it is often used in products for those with acne or rosacea, but it can be drying and irritating.
Enzymes can be formulated into facial or body scrub products too to exfoliate and soften the skin.
The use of enzymes as part of your skin care routine can enhance the effectiveness of your treatment serums by improving absorption, much in the same way way as AHAs.