Mitochondria are little power houses inside your cells. These organelles are like little engines that fuel all the metabolic activity that happens in your skin (and in the rest of your body for that matter). Mitochondria transforms nutrients (specifically glucose) and oxygen to create ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is the energy (think gasoline in your car) that drives your cells. All the metabolic activities of your cells are dependant on mitochondria to build and repair skin cells and structures that keep your skin looking young and vital.
Besides glucose (sugar) the mitochondria also needs oxygen to make energy. Oxygen is really important for healthy skin but it also has a down side. During the production of cellular energy some of the oxygen becomes potent free radicals known as ROS (reactive oxygen species). As you may know, free radicals are a major contributor of aging. So it seems we have a double edged sword. We need energy to repair and replace skin cells and keep them metabolically alive and active but aging occurs as an outcome of this very process.
Unlike the diagram of cells from your high school biology class, there are many mitochondria in each cell. This is because the need for energy is so vital. Mitochondria even has its own DNA, different from elsewhere in your body. Because of the role of oxygen, mitochondrial DNA is particularly vulnerable to damage.
With damage to the mitochondrial DNA we create less and less energy which results in damaged cells, mutant cells and cell death. This decline can start as early as in your 20s, and by the time you reach middle age you may be producing only half the energy that you did in your 30s. Fine lines, wrinkles, the loss of collagen and a decrease of barrier function are a direct result of the loss of mitochondrial energy.
In general your genes determine at what age you are likely to start slowing down your production of ATP, but surprisingly this may not be totally out of your control. The science community has a rising interest in anti-aging research connected to epigenetics, or how we can manipulate your genes by turning on desirable genes and shutting off undesirable genes. Wouldn’t it be great if we could boost energy production in mitochondria by manipulating the genes that regulate this. Sounds like the fountain of youth? Yes, but their are real coming. The big question is when.
What can you do right now to boost skin energy?
Just like plants your skin has the ability to absorb light and convert it into energy. One way to boost mitochondria to make ATP is with red LED light. LED means light emitting diode. Different waves of light do different things for your skin. Infrared light creates heat which increases circulation that brings in nutrients. Red light affects your skin by building, strengthening, and maximizing cellular structures through the production of ATP. You can get LED light treatments in spa or purchase a machine of lesser strength for home use. You want to make sure that your LED device has the right combination of red, near red and amber lights.
Another way of harnessing cellular energy is with CoQ10. CoQ10 is short for coenzyme Q10 also known as ubiquinone, it is a substance similar to a vitamin and found in every cell of the body. This nutrient is essential for the generation of energy as well as being an important antioxidant, protecting the body from damaging free radicals.
As we age, the body starts producing less CoQ10 and we can notice the effects of this in the form of a dull look, sagging and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. CoQ10 supplements can be helpful but CoQ10 can also be found in high quality skin care serums. Whereas some nutrients are too big to penetrate the skin, CoQ10 is not. You can effectively apply CoQ10 topically to the skin via a high quality serum.
Ergothioneine, also found in skincare serums and naturally in mushrooms. It protects the skin from oxidative stress (free radicals) and DNA damage. It is an antioxidant, that is outstanding at protecting the mitochondrial membrane against oxidation. It will transfer fatty acids into the mitochondria to help use oxygen more efficiently and to produce more energy. If you happen to be on a low carb, high fat diet ergothioneine helps you burn fat as energy.
Niacinamide also plays an important role in the enzymatic reactions needed to make ATP. Niacinamide is an antioxidant that defends against ROS free radicals and at the same time boosts the replication of fibroblasts in the dermis. Fibroblasts are the cells that lay down new collagen and elastin fibers as well as hyaluronic acid and other natural moisturizing factors that support these dermal fibers and plump the skin.
How to proceed
While most of us thought that the primary cause of free radical damage came from environmental factors like the sun, it turns out that major damage comes from within. While you should never step outside during the day without a broad spectrum sunscreen (and supplement with Vitamin D), you still need to load up on antioxidants from both your diet and performance based skin care products. Topical antioxidants can effectively fight against ROS and therefore limit mitochondrial damage. An enzyme that works as a great antioxidant to protect mitochondrial DNA against ROS is superoxide dismutase. Trace minerals like magnesium, copper and zinc also increase skin energy while acting as antioxidants to protect your skin.