Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tonicity's Effects on Cells

I enjoy writing articles periodically about more serious science topics that play into developing a better understanding of cosmetics. This one is on tonicity. Tonicity refers to the affect of a solution on a cell. A solution  is a mixture of two or more substances in which one (a solute) is dissolved in the other (a solvent). So a solute is the substance that is dissolved in a solvent to form a solution. This solution is homogeneous, meaning that it is a single phase and none of the solute is visible in the solvent. Common solutes would be salt or sugar. A common solvent would be water.

That solute can exert a certain amount of pressure referred to as tonicity. This pressure can affect the fluid volume and the pressure in a cell by affecting the movement of water down its concentration gradient. Yes, water, as other molecules will move down it’s concentration gradient.

Tonicity has three classifications; hypertonicity, hypotonicity and isotonicity. These refer to the concentration of a solution in reference to a living cell (a membrane bound structure). 

Hypotonic –refers to a solution that is lower in solutes than that of the fluid inside of a cell.  As a result, water will flow across the cell membrane into that cell (down its concentration gradient) from the surrounding environment eventually causing the cell to swell and burst (c).

Hypertonic  - refers to a solution that  is higher in solutes than that inside of a cell. As a result, water will flow out of the cell into the surrounding fluid eventually causing the cell to shrink or crenate (d).

Isotonic - refers to a solution whose concentration of solutes is equal to the concentration of solutes inside of a cell. The water flows equally across the membrane in both directions causing no change in the volume or shape of the cell (a,b).

You may have heard of isotonic saline being given as intravenous fluid. Isotonic saline has the same concentration of salt as the blood. The isotonic solution is safe to put into the blood whereas a hypotonic solution would cause blood cells to burst and a hypertonic solution would cause blood cells to shrink which could tear their membranes and cause loss of fluid.

So what does this have to do with skin care? While water movement is important in skin care and we want to make sure we are allowing water to move into the skin not out of the skin, the strength of the stratum corneum is not so fragile that we need to be concerned with tonicity. Where it does come in important is in preservative properties. I’ve had several questions about salt or sugar being preserving and its ability to kill bacteria. While its true that salt and sugar have preserving ability, it is highly dependent on the concentration. When the concentration of salt or sugar is hypertonic to the bacteria water will be pulled out of bacteria cells destroying them. But if that salt or sugar concentration is diluted to isotonic levels the bacteria cell can then thrive. 

Hypertonic solutions are not typically used in skin care because they can have a drying effect on the skin, but they are used in some topical applications. For instance in nasal sprays hypertonic solutions will dry sinuses. Hypertonic solutions can also be used for cleansing wounds or even for exfoliation.
The principle of hypertonic solution for preservation is used somewhat in food applications such as with jams and pickles.  However, the concentration of sugar and salt is still not enough to protect the food so refrigeration or canning is also used. So too with cosmetics, tonicity can help contribute to preservative, but alone is not enough.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Winter Skin Care

In Colorado winter is brutal on the skin. The arid conditions dry the skin, cause chapped hands and lips, and even dryness on areas that don't see the sun. Here are a few tips to help this winter:

1. Drink plenty of water. It will go to the skin to moisturize.

2. Use a mild cleanser in the shower. Some cleansers are harsh and can remove the skin's oils. Most handcrafted soaps are a good choice as they contain a good amount of natural oils. And don't overwash; soap up the personal areas, feet and underarms in the shower. Water may be enough for the rest.
3. Apply body oil or moisturizer immediately after showing while the skin is still damp. This will help lock in that moisture.
4. Don't take too long or too hot of a shower. Both can strip the skin of its natural oils.
5. Try using a salt scrub in the shower. Removing dead skin cells can help the oils soak into the skin better. And its easier in the shower to get to those dry spots. 

6. Wear gloves when going outside to protect your hands.
7. Make sure to get good oils in your diet. These oils help form the barrier function of the skin and hold water in. Olive oil is a good one, use it on your salads and vegetables.

Some people tend to use heavier balms and butters in the winter, the type that do not contain water like a lotion or cream does. Remember that 'moisture' means 'water' so to moisturize your skin you really need a cream or lotion that can actually bring water to the skin. An all oil product can coat and protect the skin from loosing water but cannot add water  to the skin.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nutmeg, a Holiday Spice

Nutmeg, a spice often used in holiday drinks such as eggnog is a nut from several species of the Myristica tree. This is an evergreen tree found in Indonesia. Nutmeg is the seed of the tree while mace is the seed covering or aril; so both of these spices are obtained from the nut. And no, this mace is in no way related to the spray often used for self defense.  Like most herbs, nutmeg is rich in antioxidants but also is said to sooth a stomach ach and help diarrhea. It may also relieve stress and improve mental ability. However, nutmeg is also toxic so keep its use to a few sprinkles. Try buying nutmeg whole and grating it fresh when you use it – it won’t take much because the freshly grated has much more flavor than dried.

There is also some evidence that nutmeg can increase the fat tissue under the skin. This may prove useful in skin care to help fill in wrinkles. Something I will have to look into more.


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