- What the science really says
- The clinical trials
- 4 compelling reasons it may work
- Dangerous side effects?
Creams and serums using this ingredient are not new. In fact, one contributor at Superfoodly worked in the skin care industry a decade ago and even remembers it being used back then. However those were high end products sold at the offices of dermatologists and plastic surgeons. Not something you would find at CVS or Walgreens.
But now, you can buy it just about anywhere.
This CoQ10 serum on Amazon is quite popular. Nivea CoQ10 face cream is for sale at most drugstores. At Whole Foods, you can buy Avalon Organics CoQ10 Ultimate Firming body lotion. Even Gold Bond uses it in at least one of their formulations.
Whether it’s these or other brands which claim wrinkle repair, skin tightening, or regeneration… is there scientific data out there to back these marketing buzzwords? Does it really work to reduce cellulite or help the appearance of spider veins?
What the science really says
First off, a 101 crash course in some things you need to know about this ingredient.
At this very moment, you have a little CoQ10 in every cell of your body. It’s needed for life. Not only for humans, but just about all living organisms small and large.
So why isn’t it an essential vitamin then? Because we produce it internally.
We also get a little from natural food sources of CoQ10. However even if you ate the foods with the highest amount like reindeer meat and cow hearts, you would only be getting a few milligrams per day. That’s why hear you so much about supplements instead of dietary sources.
How much CoQ10 our bodies make is a depressing chart. Following a similar trend as testosterone in men and estrogen in women, the amount we make climaxes in our youth and then decreases as we age.
Does depletion of things like this contribute to aging? Or is it aging which causes the depletion?
No one knows.
But what science does know is that trying to add it back, with hormone therapy or dietary supplements, is not something that will rewind the clock.
However, they may make you aesthetically look better. Everyone has seen those advertisements for the 70+ year old buff man who “feels better than ever” thanks to testosterone, human growth hormone, and who knows what else.
But that geezer is just getting aesthetic benefits from the treatment. And you know what? Maybe that’s good enough for skin care… you can’t rewind the clock, but if you can make your face look better, that may be good enough.
The amount of evidence involving the use of CoQ10 for skin care was almost non-existent a decade ago. Now we have some interesting findings to review…
The clinical trials
When reviewing the benefits of a food or phytonutrient, the first thing we do is check for clinical trials.
The bad news is that of the 740,000+ clinical trials listed on PubMed.gov, there are only 9 results which include the words “CoQ10” and “skin” and out of those, only 3 are relevant… sort of.
1. Multi-ingredient anti aging moisturizer
Published in 2015, this clinical trial involved 36 women, from 35 to 60 years of age, who used a skin cream with CoQ10 in it for 12 weeks (1). Based on self-assessment of results, the product “produced a statistically significant improvement in the scores of all clinical grading parameters” which were for wrinkles, fine lines, brightness, roughness, and skin tone/redness.
However this is fairly useless because:
- It was an open label study so the women knew what they were getting. There was no placebo group for comparison. Since the findings were based on self-assessment, it is possible some of these women were simply imagining better results.
- The product contained other ingredients too such as peptides, rosemary leaf extract, astragalus root, and more. Who knows how much effect, if any, the Q10 had.
2. Women with UV damage to skin
Also published in 2015, this study involved 30 women affected by facial photoaging (UV skin damage). 15 of them received a product for CoQ10 skin care but it was for oral consumption. 15 received a placebo to use (2).
The treated group saw “significantly improved” skin hydration, sebum, and tonicity after the 4 week treatment period ended. Interesting, but not very helpful for wrinkle creams since:
- This was an oral supplement, not something topically applied.
- The product, Viscoderm Pearls, also contained other ingredients like pine bark extract, glucosamine, chrondroitin, collagen, and hyaluronic acid.
3. Skin benefits of CoQ10 supplements
Published in 2016, this was a double-blind and placebo-controlled study involving 33 healthy adults (3). Those who received the real treatment were given 50 and and 150 mg of CoQ10 supplements daily for 12 weeks. The results:
“…significantly reduced wrinkles and micro relief lines and improved skin smoothness. Supplementation with CoQ10 did not significantly affect skin hydration and dermis thickness.”
Fail. The grade is a big “F” for clinical evidence.
Despite being a highly studied phytonutrient, there’s hardly any clinical data for its use in skin care. In fact, about the only preliminary opinion you can draw from these is that it’s supplements of CoQ10 you should be taking, rather than slathering it on your face and body.
Then are creams a scam?
That would be the wrong conclusion to draw. Even though there haven’t been useful human clinical trials, there is a fair amount of other research which suggests some skin care benefits.
Can CoQ10 firm skin, tighten your jowls, and plump out your nasolabial fold? There’s not evidence for those things, but there are other anti aging advantages it might offer you.
4 compelling reasons it may work
1. UV radiation
Fibroblasts are a type of cell responsible for making the connective tissues collagen and the extracellular matrix.
Outside of the body, scientists exposed human fibroblast cell samples to radiation. They found that when treated with CoQ10, there was faster regeneration and better preservation of the mitochondrial membrane (4).
Another study using cultured human fibroblasts drew a similar conclusion. While not part of the research, they mention a study involving 5 months of using a CoQ10 cream with 1% concentration, which “reduced wrinkle score grade observed by a dermatologist” (5).
Animal models using mice have also concluded that by using a topically applied CoQ10 serum, it helped to greatly restore antioxidant activity after UV radiation (6):
“…levels of superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione and total proteins were restored by 81.3%, 72.1%, 74.8 and 77.1%, respectively.”
Perhaps this is why early research from over a decade ago suggested that if you have naturally low CoQ10 levels, you may be at higher risk for skin cancer.
In a study involving 125 volunteers with suspect melanoma, low levels seemed to correlate with the odd of development into skin cancer. The lower the levels were in their blood plasma, the higher the likelihood that metastasis would occur. It’s why they said it might be a “powerful and independent prognostic factor that can be used to estimate the risk” (7).
Though to be clear, there is not any evidence whatsoever that using CoQ10 helps to prevent skin cancer. Much more research needs to be done on this topic.
2. Elastin, collagen, and other benefits
What could this phytonutrient possibly have to do with space travel?!
Maybe a lot.
Without the earth’s protective atmosphere, in space humans are potentially exposed to much more radiation. That might be why scientists in Beijing at China Aerospace Science and Technology studied this topic (8).
Through experiments using skin samples taken from 3 different humans, they claimed that CoQ10 had the following effect:
- increased elastin gene expression
- promoted collagen expression (type IV)
- promoted the production of fibroblasts
- reduces activity of the enzyme tyrosinase (that would support evenness of skin tone, since tyrosinase promotes melanin production)
- “significantly decreased” UV damage
Elastin is what helps skin return to its original shape after it movies. It is true that having healthy production of that as well as collagen is important for combating saggy skin. However this definitely is not sufficient evidence to claim CoQ10 skin tightening or firming effects.
Your outermost layer of the skin (the surface lipids, which are part of the stratum corneum) contains ample amounts of natural CoQ10. However, the levels in that location decrease with age, as well as from daily bombardment of UV and toxins. As a result, scientists in Germany concluded that “all ages” will benefit from using products containing the ingredient (11):
“the data presented here show that topically applied Q10 can penetrate the skin, is metabolically transformed, exerts antioxidant effects, and can support the maintenance of cellular energy levels.”
However others argue it does not absorb well. One piece of research claims that despite being a powerful antioxidant…
“CoQ10 was barely satisfactory in topical drug delivery because of its lipid solubility”
…but by using a NLC (nanostructured lipid carriers) they claim it can help overcome that problem (12).
Another study used something similar; SLN (solid lipid nanoparticles). They saw the CoQ10 cream have “good dermal penetration” and “useful activity” on the 25 human volunteers who used it (13).
Other research involving ultra-small lipid nanoparticles found they are “very suitable” for combining with CoQ10 in order to increase antioxidant activity in the skin (14). The best CoQ10 skin care products hopefully are making use of nanotechnologies such as these.
4. Skin repair and wound healing
Some scar creams are now incorporating this ingredient. However the research of using CoQ10 for acne scars and injury related wounds is almost non-existent.
In a study with mice, their skin was cut and the results suggested that for those treated with CoQ10, it seemed to have an “anti-inflammatory and a wound healing effect.”
Separately, laboratory experiments using cell cultures suggested the benefit may be due to the antioxidants (9).
Several years ago there was a study involving a specific brand, Cutanvoa Nanorepair Q10 cream.
Though despite the product’s name, they were just looking at hydration rather the literal skin repair of an injury or acne scars (10).
Dangerous side effects?
Even though it’s extremely preliminary, the research is exciting for many to use it topically.
Though you will want to avoid the wrinkle creams containing this ingredient if you have a history of vitiligo.
A few years back, the British Association of Dermatologists published an interesting paper about patients who seemed to experience facial vitiligo after using CoQ10 skin care (15).
After they stopped using the products, the affected skin returned to its normal color. The conclusion was that these products…
“…can be harmful to individuals susceptible to vitiligo.”
If you’re not someone who has vitiligo, then this is probably a side effect you don’t have to worry about.
What’s interesting is that the previously mentioned Chinese researchers made a note in passing about the “depigmentation” effects of CoQ10, due to the tyrosinase enzyme being inhibited. Just a theory, but we speculate that might be the cause for the vitiligo occurrences.
On the other hand, less tyrosinase activity might be beneficial for those wanting an even skin tone.
In normal and healthy individuals, the ingredient seems to be well tolerated when used on the skin, without adverse side effects. Upon researching the websites of several different major retailers, we saw a large number of positive customer reviews about Avalon Organics Wrinkle Therapy and Cleansing Milk. Nivea CoQ10 face cream and body lotion also received high marks. Likewise for the products coming from Eucerin and Gold Bond.
This is what it boils down to…
There are not clinical reviews for plumping up of thin skin, minimizing crow’s feet, skin firming, and similar claims. While not clinical, using gotu kola for skin tightening actually has more preliminary evidence.
Claims of using it for cellulite really have nothing behind them, clinical or otherwise. Ditto for spider and varicose veins. Possible evidence for acne scars (or any other type of scarring) is only indirectly related, at best.
However outside of clinical studies, there is a fair amount of research which suggest that using CoQ10 for skin might be beneficial for premature aging from UV exposure. There may be additional benefits – including some of those other ones which were discussed – but there needs to be research about them to find out.
Even though the research specific to dermatology is lacking, there is other relevant research about how CoQ10 works which would suggest it may serve a role in skin care, too. Not only the creams and topical products, but also possibly with supplements.