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Morganti, P.; Lohani, A.; Gagliardini, A.; Morganti, G.; Coltelli, M. Active Ingredients and Carriers in Nutritional Eco-Cosmetics. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 19 June 2024).
Morganti P, Lohani A, Gagliardini A, Morganti G, Coltelli M. Active Ingredients and Carriers in Nutritional Eco-Cosmetics. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 19, 2024.
Morganti, Pierfrancesco, Alka Lohani, Alessandro Gagliardini, Gianluca Morganti, Maria-Beatrice Coltelli. "Active Ingredients and Carriers in Nutritional Eco-Cosmetics" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 19, 2024).
Morganti, P., Lohani, A., Gagliardini, A., Morganti, G., & Coltelli, M. (2023, June 06). Active Ingredients and Carriers in Nutritional Eco-Cosmetics. In Encyclopedia.
Morganti, Pierfrancesco, et al. "Active Ingredients and Carriers in Nutritional Eco-Cosmetics." Encyclopedia. Web. 06 June, 2023.
Active Ingredients and Carriers in Nutritional Eco-Cosmetics

Beauty and personal care became a significant part of the global economy for two reasons: (1) The elderly growing in the global population and (2) the desire of women and men to appear younger and more attractive. Thus, both young and old people are looking for revolutionary nutritional eco-cosmetics (combined use of cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals) manufactured by natural active ingredients, using biopolymers as substrates, and made by innovative and sustainable technologies. Consequently, the market of both cosmetics and diet supplements is continually growing together with the request of natural active ingredients, including bio-peptides and biological macromolecules such as chitin and lignin. Therefore, both consumers and industry need to recover innovative active ingredients and carriers (vehicles), naturally derived and supported by advanced methods for controlling their effectiveness and safeness on skin and mucous membrane layers. The use of selected bio-ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid and bio-mimetic peptides, obtained by advanced, innovative and sustainable bio nanotechnologies, will be of interest to develop smart cosmeceutical and nutraceutical formulations. Innovation is considered the key business strategy to drive sustainable economic growth. For trying to reduce waste and produce sustainable, biodegradable and innovative products, the realization of new non-woven tissues, used as carriers for making innovative cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals was considered. Both carriers and active ingredients have been obtained from food waste to reduce loss and pollution.

biopeptides biomimetic peptides cosmeceuticals cosmetics

1. Introduction

Beauty/personal care is an important economic sector of the worldwide economy with a global market revenue of around USD 565 billion in 2022, projected to be worth USD 758 billion by 2025 and expected to grow annually by a compound average growth rate (CAGR) of 4.76% in the forecast period 2022–2026 [1].
It represents one of the fastest growing consumer markets, driven by the entering of young consumers, women and men, and reinforced by social media and the increasing of e-commerce [2]. Consequently, the market size of cosmetic ingredients, evaluated USD 22.89 billion in 2016, is forecasted to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.6% until 2025, amounting to roughly USD 33.8 billion by 2025 [3]. Moreover, by the awareness today of waste and dangerous pollution, the growing inclination towards natural cosmetics and the increasing prevalence of age and life-style related diseases, consumers have become more conscious of their personal appearance and healthcare measures [2]. Therefore, the increasing necessity for the regular use of cosmetics and diet supplements have ignited the worldwide interest of consumers [4][5][6][7]. These products are useful to obtain a personalized and tailor-made beauty “from within” and should be characterized for their effectiveness and safeness for both humans and the environment [4][5][6][7]. Therefore, the current situation led to the development of environmentally-friendly multifunctional cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals (i.e., nutritional cosmetics) made by natural ingredients, including botanical extracts, biopolymers, enzymes, aminoacids and other active compounds [2][3][4][5][6][7]. Thus, despite their higher cost in comparison to synthetic materials, natural or organic ingredients are increasingly preferred by consumers, due to a focus on maintaining human health and the environmental ecosystem, with a crossover between skin care and cosmetic dermatology [5]. Moreover, due to the central concern of consumers towards beauty and health, the skin care supplement market is notably increasing, which is also sustained by the concept of “beauty from within” with the modern and worldwide perception of a global beauty value [7][8]. Nutraceuticals, therefore, account for the largest share of more than 35% of the global beauty supplements market, being projected to grow from USD 71.81 billion in 2021 to USD 128.64 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 8.68 during the 2021–2028 period [9]. Moreover, the positive outlook of both the cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals market is encouraging manufacturers to focus on R&D initiatives for developing innovative and sustainable products based on collaborations with universities and research centers as requested from scientists and consumers [10].

2. Active Ingredients of Bio-Nanotechnology

The market for active ingredients for both cosmetics and beauty diet supplements is increasing year by year [1][2]. Thus, consumers and companies, looking for the best way to address a younger appearance try to find more effective formulations that are able to restore a healthy prematurely aged or altered skin [11][12]. As a result, it is essential to focus more studies on recovering active ingredients that can be used to make innovative cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals, which are effective and safe for both skin health and the environment [13][14][15]. To this end, many scientific research studies have been oriented to the use of nano biotechnology-derived ingredients. With bio-nanotechnology, it seems possible to develop innovative compounds, new delivery systems and tools, which are able to control the product effectiveness and safeness at the level of the cell biology through new smart techniques, including the molecular biology, recombinant DNA, and gene and microbiome regulations [13][14][15]. New active micro-nano ingredients were, therefore, recovered and applied to different biological systems, including skin and mucous membranes, for overcoming the various biological barriers by the use, for example, of dermal and transdermal delivery systems [16][17][18][19]. Some active ingredients, such as chitin nanofibrils(CN) and nanolignin (NL), may be diffused by nanocarriers, such as liposomes, niosomes, innovative nanovesicles, matrices, nanocomposites and nanoparticles applied to biological systems, for example by electromagnetic fields [16][17][18][19].

However, what does bio-nanotechnology mean? It “is the branch of nanotechnology with biological and biochemical applications”, including the use of biomolecules as part of nanotechnological devices, supported by mathematic, physic, engineering, computer science and information technology [20]. This new branch of science, therefore, is currently developing environmentally-friendly processes that produce zero waste and low consumption of water and energy, which are requirements for obtaining a cleaner and healthier planet. Thus, in the sector of nutritional eco-cosmetics (used topically or by oral route), bio-nanotechnology is playing an important role, ameliorating performance and bioavailability of the active ingredients, which, for example, encapsulated or adsorbed on the surface of nanoparticles, might enhance their penetration through skin or mucous membranes [21]

3. Natural Ingredients Used in the Medical, Cosmetic and Diet Supplement Field

As examples, among the ingredients of more common use are: Ascorbic acid (vitamin C), utilized for its antioxidant properties in the pigment-lightening formulations together with alpha lipoic acid, arbutin and Kojic acid [22]; aloe vera, which finds applications for its antibacterial, antiviral and immune modulating effectiveness [23]; grape seed oil, used as anti-aging agent thanks to its antioxidant and healing properties [24]; and green and black tea rich in antioxidant and antibacterial molecules, which are also able to inhibit the virus entry [25]. Some selected natural ingredients of common use in the cosmetic field and obtained from waste, micro algae and bacteria are reported in Table 1 as an example [26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36], while the more used ones, such as hyaluronic acid, oligopeptides, biomimetic peptides and collagen, are described reporting their supposed mechanism of action.
Table 1. Natural active ingredients of cosmetic use obtained from waste, microalgae, fungi and bacteria.
Bioingredients Source References
Flavonoids, polyphenols fruits, vegetables, cereals (Coffee, tomato, rice, etc.) [27][28][29]
Salicilic/cinnamic acid Aloe vera plant [30]
Tocopherols/FFA Argania Spinosa oil [31]
Chitin Crustaceans, fungi, insects [32]
Lignin Agro and forestry waste [32]
Vitamin b and C, minerals Potato [33]
Cannabinoids, terpenes Cannabis sativa [34]
Minerals, proteins Microalgae [35][36]

4. Structure of Skin

On the surface of our body, the skin provides a protective barrier offering thermal insulation, preventing water loss and repairing against the external aggressions, including toxic and irritant micro-nanoparticles, microorganisms, ultraviolet [UV] irradiation and allergens [37]. This organ, generally less than 2 mm thick, is divided into three anatomically distinct viable layers—epidermis, dermis and hypodermis—covered by the non-viable stratum corneum (SC) that plays an important role in skin protection and hydration (Figure 1) [37].
Figure 1. Skin structure (a) and corneocytes organized by lipid lamellae (b).
The major cellular component of the epidermis includes keratinocytes, which, at the end of the skin turnover, forms an overlapping structure made by non-living cells, the corneocytes, bridged together by specialized junctions, named corneodesmosomes (Figure 2) [37][38][39]. However, keratinocytes, held together by desmosomes, provide cell-to-cell adhesion while corneocytes enveloped together by lipid layers (i.e., Lipid lamellae) contribute to the structure and function of SC (Figure 3) [37][38][39]. Therefore, the SC thick layer is able to adsorb three times its weight in water, is basically represented by a two-compartment system composed of vertically stacked cells, the corneocytes, which, filled with keratin filaments and enclosed in a membrane envelop of protein and lipids, are released from lamellar bodies within the epidermis during the skin turnover (Figure 2) [37][38][39].
Figure 2. Skin turnover.
Figure 3. (a) skin penetration of chitin through the SC of the epidermis; (b) intracellular and intercellular penetration paths through SC.
Thus, corneocytes, migrating on the top of the skin, extrude their lipidic surrounding content (i.e., the lipidic lamellae) which, degraded to the NMF compounds, contribute to make the hydro-lipidic and moisturizing barrier [38][39]. These lipid lamellae, being around 20% of SC, are present mostly in a solid crystalline or gel state. They consist of 10%–15% of the dry weight tissue and are mainly composed of fatty acids (10%–20%), cholesterol (25%) and ceramides (30%–50%). They are also responsible for the skin hydration and homeostasis [40]. The lamellae, in fact, located on top of each other, form a lipidic stack consisting of a repeating structure with alternating hydrophilic and lipophilic domains [41]. In conclusion, keratinocytes, multiplying themselves through cell division and migrating toward the skin surface for becoming corneocytes, continually remove the outmost hydrophilic/hydrophobic structure, thus modifying both the barrier and the skin appearance [37][39]. However, dermis composed of various amounts of glycoproteins (PGs) and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and prevalently made by the extracellular matrix production (ECM) network embedded by collagen fibers and secreted by fibroblasts, forms a three-dimensional scaffold surrounding the cells [37][38][42]. This important skin structure contains vessels, lymphatics, and nerve cells, in addition to skin appendages, while the hypodermis is formed from connective tissue and fat. A special mention must be reserved for the previously reported ECM which, mainly composed of GAGs and PGs, negatively charged saccharide chains, includes collagens, elastin, fibronectin and laminin. This complex structure, which is necessary for giving the skin elasticity and adhesiveness [38][40], acts not only as a simple and mechanical scaffold for the cells, but also represents a dynamic environment that mediates the skin functions [41].

5. Skin Penetration and Supposed Mechanism of Action of Carriers/Active Ingredients

It is necessary to remember the different skin penetration modalities, achievable through three pathways -intercellular, intracellular and trans-follicular. They depend on the barrier disruption area and frequency of application, the degree of friction or rubbing of the product onto its surface and naturally to the composition of carrier and the selected active ingredients (Figure 3) [43][44][45]. The primary purpose of the carrier, in fact, is to enable the cosmetic active ingredients to be conveniently spread upon the skin for their better penetration through its layers. Consequently, composition and physicochemical characteristics of the carriers represent an important instrumental role of the products’ activity, which depends principally on the scaffold porous material used to make the carrier structure. The product effectiveness and safeness, in fact, are determined by the intrinsic activity of the selected active ingredients and the capacity of the carrier to deliver them at the right skin or mucous membrane layers [43][44][45].

The carrier, mimicking the skin ECM, may perform its essential functions, such as anchorage, proliferation and migration of the cells [46][47][48]. Thus, for example, the right porosity of the carrier-tissue permits growth and migration of the cells, which, through its pores, may have not only the necessary oxygen and nutrients but also the possibility to eliminate the waste materials [46]. This is the reason why many scientific research studies have been published during the last years on the topic of carriers and nanocarriers, including micro/nano emulsions, liposomes, lipid nanoparticles and polymeric nanocomposites, all realized with the aim to overcome the skin’ penetration problems [44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51]

Regarding the delivery of nutraceuticals, they can be administered by the same water-soluble carrier-tissues through the trans-mucosal sublingual route [52]. The oral mucosa, in fact, is characterized by a high permeability and capability to bypass the first-pass metabolism of liver. Thus, the active ingredients may slowly diffuse into the systemic circulation in a relatively short time, avoiding their distraction by the gastric juices [53][54][55]. Therefore, the necessity to realize specialized nano-carriers able to traverse this thick web, evading adhesion to the sticky mucin fibers [56][57][58]. Just for trying to better understand the problem, it is interesting to remark that mucosa, covered by an adhesive gel, the mucus, is composed of a density network of natural mucin polymers [52][53][54][59]. These macromolecules, interspersed with a variety of glycoproteins made by about 10 carbohydrate side chains, create a selective barrier to the diffusion of other macromolecular systems across mucosal surfaces [43][57]

6. Skin and Mucous Membrane: Penetration, Safeness and Effectiveness and the Ambiguity of the Rules

The outmost layer of skin, as previously discussed, is made by a compact keratinized layer of cells covered by a thin hydro-lipidic film [37][38][60], while mucosal surface is made by less keratinized layers covered by a protective lubricant film of mucus rich of mucins’ polymers [52][53][61][62][63]. However, both skin and mucous membranes are characterized by a daily turnover rate of cells produced mainly by the respective basal layers [58]. Moreover, all the different mucous membranes, but specifically the oral ones, are made by permanently and maximally hydrated tissues, showing an increased permeability to water compared to body skin, also if the mucus acts as an efficient barrier against the entrance of many substances [62][63][64]. Thus, the reported necessity to formulate specialized carriers which, made by selected macromolecules and specialized particulates, should have the ability to load and release the active ingredients to the skin and mucous membranes’ layers, being compatible with both the structures.
In conclusion, nutritional eco-cosmetics, designed and formulated for their effectiveness and safeness should be able to remodel and remove the cellular dysfunctions of skin and mucous membranes of people affected, for example, by premature aging processes [65]. Therefore, they might be formulated by selected active ingredients embedded, for example, into emulsions and/or the proposed tissue-carriers made by the complex chitin nanofibrils-nanolignin (CN-NL) [65]. For this purpose, some active ingredients, such as vitamins A, C and E have shown to be cell regulators in both the carriers, acting as important antioxidant compounds capable to delay different skin aging processes [23][24][66]. They, in fact, may be applied on the skin by cosmetic emulsions or innovative tissues and/or taken by oral route as nutritional supplements. However, it has been shown that their penetration and effectiveness through skin and mucous membranes is enhanced, when active ingredients and carriers are used at their micro/nano dimensions [i.e., nanoparticles and nano emulsions] [67][68][69][70][71]. Moreover, it is important to remember the effectiveness of both cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals may be obtained, only when the selected active ingredients have the possibility to be delivered to the designed site of action at right concentration and time [70]. Consequently, the product effectiveness depends directly to the penetration of the active ingredients through the skin/mucous membranes because, loaded and carried by the right vehicles and released at level of the viable tissues and cells, may achieve their function [71][72][73]
Unfortunately, the skin\mucous membranes penetration seems to represent a problem not yet solved, also because of the ambiguity of the rules, which arise in the definition of the activity of cosmetics products vs medical devices and drugs [74][75][76][77][78]. Cosmetics, in fact, should have a preventive action only, “acting without modifying the skin physiology”, in comparison with drugs and medical devices which may modify the skin structure by its pharmacological activity. It is difficult, therefore, to understand how it may be possible for the cosmetic products to ”protect (the skin), keeping it in good condition” [78]. The cosmetic active ingredients, in fact, should not penetrate through the skin structures, so they can’t carry their biological activities at the designed and necessary skin layers, as necessary. For these reasons dermatologists and consumers are looking for the so-called cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals, hoping and thinking on their supposed increased effectiveness [76][77][78][79].


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