Updated: October 2017
Chirality is certainly not a term many people are familiar with, but we are certain to hear more about it in the coming months and years. Have you ever found yourself wondering why costly, specially formulated skin care products just sometimes don’t work — at all? In theory, these skin care remedies contain everything the skin needs to restore balance and regenerate. Still, not only do some of these products fail to alleviate or remedy any ailment — some of them actually cause allergic reactions, the release of free radicals, and a host of other maladies. Researchers in both the pharmaceutical and skin care industries are now beginning to realize that the problem with many products boils down to the chirality of the ingredients themselves.
Chiral (rhymes with “spiral”) is derived from Greek and loosely translates into “handedness”. Just as our hands are mirror images of one another, researchers now conclude that molecules are the same way: all molecules exist in both a right-handed and left-handed form, or isomer. Each molecule is composed of an L-isomer and a D-isomer.
The different isomers have different effects upon your body. For generations, chemists have been adding molecules into products with both isomers present at the same time. When this happens, there are three possible effects upon the body:
The body will recognize and use one side while considering the other side to be waste and disposing of it. Each isomer will cancel one another out and there will be no effect upon the body. The incompatible side will cause harm and be considered toxic by the body and most likely lead to increased free radical production. It helps to take a look at an example, like vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. Scientists and nutritionists have known for years that vitamin C boosts immune system function, helps fight oxidants, and can even stimulate the synthesis of collagen, which is why it is such a popular ingredient in skin care products — especially anti-aging remedies. Theoretically, vitamin C should be positively great for skin care — so why don’t all skin care products with this beneficial nutrient work?
It’s because ascorbic acid, exists as two isomers: L-ascorbic acid and R-ascorbic acid. The L-ascorbic acid has all the beneficial properties listed above and is a great inclusion in any skin care product. D-ascorbic acid, however, leads to increased dryness, itching, scratching and free radical production. Few skin care companies isolate the molecules into their respective isomers and instead present both of them at the same time, leading to one of the three scenarios listed above. It is easy to recognize chirally correct ingredients: they will all feature either a D- or an L- preface.
The pharmaceutical and skin care industries are both spending billions of dollars each year making sure their new products are “chirally” correct. However, there have been cases when presenting both isomers in a product at the same time led to devastating results, as is the case with Thalidomide. This drug was prescribed to pregnant women during the 1950’s to help curb morning sickness. In 1979, it was discovered that although the D-isomer was recognized and used by the body as intended, the L-isomer was responsible for birth defects.
Skin care remedies made with chirally correct ingredients will not cause side effects and will be recognized and used by the body as intended. The human body is chirally selective and so too must be skin care companies when formulating their products. Chiral compounds are at the heart of every life process, which is why chirality is so important for pharmaceutical and skin care products.
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