The quest for younger, fresher looking skin is one familiar to many of us, and the market is overloaded with products that claim to help achieve it. Creams, serums, masks – you name it, we’ve tried it, which is why when the molecule resveratrol came to our attention, we were on it like bees on honey!

Found in various berries, grapes and nuts, there is mounting evidence that resveratrol can reduce acne, boost skin moisture and elasticity, reduce blood pressure, decrease development of certain types of cancer and help prevent Type 2 diabetes. Blimey! Resveratrol is nothing new – since the start of the 20th century, it’s been thought by some to contribute to the “French paradox”, a phenomenon that refers to the relatively low rate of heart disease in France despite a high intake of dietary saturated fat. In more recent times, Men’s Fitness, Forbes, The Guardian and the New York Times (to name but a few) have all sung the praises of resveratrol. In fact, the hype surrounding it has been so large that an entire scientific conference on it was held in 2010.

So could this be the solution we’ve been looking for? The anti-ageing properties of resveratrol were discovered when researchers found that it supplementation slows down the ageing process and increases the lifespan of certain species of worms, flies and mice. It can also delay the onset of age-related diseases in mammals like rodents (although notably many studies have not have an increased lifespan specifically in these models).

So how does resveratrol work?
Reactive oxygen molecules (molecules that can induce cellular damage by reacting with cell components like proteins and DNA) are always being produced in cells, but normally this is balanced out by the production of enzymes like superoxide dismutase which neutralises these threats. When a cell experiences oxidative stress (due to factors such as exposure to UV radiation or cigarette smoke) this balance is interrupted and the reactive oxygen molecules can cause the cell to behave abnormally. Gradual accumulation of damage over time is thought to lead to the development of wrinkles, reduction in skin elasticity and moisture, and can even be the basis for some cancer types.

Resveratrol is an antioxidant, which means it helps protect against UV radiation-mediated oxidative stress and damage by helping neutralize reactive oxygen species. There is a specific resveratrol receptor in 90% of human skin cells in the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin. This provides a channel for the chemical to be transported into the cells to act, and suggests it may be useful for preventing age-related skin disorders or even visible skin ageing itself.

It has been proven in mice to protect skin against damage from UV-B rays found in sunlight. Although human studies are still limited, applying resveratrol directly to the skin does seem to protect our skin against the effects of sun damage by decreasing the formation of sunburn cells. Studies also found it led to decreased depth of wrinkles and skin roughness, and reduced colour intensity of age-spots.

So now we’ve looked at the benefits of resveratrol, is it time to rush out and get our hands on all the supplements we can? Being the science-savvy Beauty Geeks we are, to help us decide we’ve taken a closer look at the research conducted to see if this chemical is as amazing as it seems.

The main limitation of resveratrol is that is has very low bioavailability, which means it is metabolised and passes out of the body very quickly and so only has a short time to act. This means it can be difficult to achieve the kinds of concentrations used in experimental models (like cultures cells) when it comes to getting resveratrol into an actual person! Also, generally when used topically in beauty products, microparticles are used to slow down the release of resveratrol into the skin. However, this also restricts the penetration of resveratrol into the skin, so less arrives where it needs to in order to have the desired effects.

Notably, most of the resveratrol studies that have been conducted have been in species other than humans, on small samples and over short term periods only. It appears that resveratrol is extremely tissue-specific and metabolism-dependent, and so the effect it exerts may be very different to in us compared to in the organisms it’s been tested in and we are currently unaware of the long term effects (good or bad!) of taking it.

The conclusion from the first international resveratrol conference was that the evidence of the benefits was “not sufficiently strong to justify recommendation for the chronic administration of resveratrol to human beings, beyond the dose which can be obtained from dietary sources”. So it’s certainly not what the doctor is ordering just yet!
It seems there’s a bit more work to be done, but resveratrol holds great potential for the future! We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this little wonder, and be on the lookout for any resveratrol-containing products on the market. Interestingly, Fountain’s “The Beauty Molecule” nutritional supplement contains resveratrol – head over to our Science behind the Bottle feature on that to take a closer look!