Enzymes are an ingredient that's been used a lot lately. While you may have seen them on many skincare labels, if you weren't paying attention in science class (which may have been a long time ago), you might be a little confused about what exactly enzymes are and what they do. "Enzymes play a decisive role in chemical reactions," explains Alicia Zalka, M.D.certified dermatologist and founder of Deep surface. "They're a kind of spark plug that drives a metabolic process forward. They power a variety of physiological systems in the body, such as digestion.
Ingredient Type: Protein
Key Benefits: Helps exfoliate skin, strengthens DNA repair products, works well with other ingredients.
Who should use it: Almost everyone finds it in their skincare products.
How often can you use it? Daily in a formulated product.
Works well with : Most other ingredients.
Do not use with : It works well with other ingredients, but should be used sparingly with other active skincare ingredients, especially exfoliants.
Read on to find out more about the benefits of enzymes for the skin.
What are enzymes?
"Enzymes are proteins, which are chains of amino acids," explains renowned dermatologist Harold Lancer, MD, founder of Skin care Lancer. A key element of cellular metabolism, enzymes regulate the speed of a chemical reaction in the cell without altering it during the process.
"When they're used in skincare as ingredients, they may have a so-called original, holistic, natural origin, but they've been recreated or reborn as active ingredients in a product so that their main function in life is to help communicate signals in cell membranes," explains Dr. Lancer. "So, if you add enzymes to a product, it's to increase the activity of the product."
Benefits of enzymes for the skin
The list of talents for enzymes starts with their exfoliating abilities. They help break down the keratin protein in the top layer of skin to gently break down dead skin cells. This not only leads to a smoother, healthier sin, but also helps combat pigmentation and breakouts. "They offer a similar endpoint to alpha-hydroxy acids," says Dr. Zalka. "Enzymes can offer certain skin types a gentler, softer method of exfoliation and renewal."
Coming soon, the benefits of using enzyme-infused skin care :
- Exfoliation: "For the skin, enzymes help break down the keratinocytes that, as part of the skin's surface life cycle, gradually renew themselves," explains Dr. Zalka. "Enter enzymes that assist the skin's natural regeneration process."
- Boosting DNA repair products: "Usually, enzymes are added to what are called DNA repair products, such as sun damage reversal products or anti-aging products," explains Dr. Lancer. "Chances are, if it's a very high-quality product, it will contain some sort of enzymes that facilitate a greater degree of cell membrane signaling that will perhaps induce DNA repair."
- Safe for sensitive skin: "For people with rosacea or reactive, i.e. sensitive, skin, enzymes are an excellent choice for improving skin appearance without the side effects of irritation," says Dr. Zalka.
- Play well with other ingredients: "They work very well with just about everything," says Dr. Lancer.
- Protect the acid mantle: "Enzymes generally maintain a neutral pH, which can keep the skin's acid mantle at its desired set point and help keep skin in its best shape," explains Dr. Zalka.
Side effects of enzyme use
"As with any form of exfoliation or system that accelerates skin cell renewal, moderation is key," says Dr. Zalka. "When starting an enzyme product regimen at home or with a professional, start slowly to see how your personal journey goes. If your skin tolerates, say, a pumpkin enzyme facial by your esthetician, perhaps consider using an enzyme cleanser at home two days a week. But, it's always important to test the waters first. Like any new product, it's best to do a patch test first to make sure you don't have any negative reactions.
It's also best to use enzymes sparingly, especially if you're using other active skincare ingredients. "Enzymes can be used in place of other exfoliants, but using them at the same time as retinol can lead to a risk of flaking or inflammation," explains Dr. Zalka. "I suggest not using them in combination on the same application or on the same day, except on the advice of a trusted skin care professional or if your skin is initially, oily and very tolerant."
How to use them
If you want to make the most of enzymes in skincare, make sure the product you use contains enough ingredients to make a difference. "I think the important thing is to know that if a manufacturer or brand is promoting the enzyme concept in their product, the price shouldn't be a common low price," says Dr. Lancer. "It depends on where that enzyme ingredient is on the ingredient list. If it's the last part of the list, chances are it's in a tiny, barely detectable concentration.
To get the most out of your money, it's also essential to take good care of enzymatic skincare products. "In skin care, you see enzymes found in pumpkin or papaya facials and pineapple masks," explains Dr. Zalka. "Why? Enzymes are derived from certain plants, fruits and vegetables. Enzymes are delicate and have a short shelf life. That's why they need to be stored in a cool, dry atmosphere. Dr. Lancer recommends a refrigerator for skin care products for this reason.
It's also important to follow each product's instructions. "Most enzyme-containing products are designed to be applied for a period of time, not to stay on the skin all day," explains Dr. Zalka. "Think of a cleanser, mask or treatment, not a leave-on moisturizer. These plant-based enzymes are beneficial for skin polishing when used as cleansers, masks and facials. They may not be as beneficial for acne sufferers, as the enzymes do not penetrate through oils as well as the alpha and beta-hydroxyacid counterparts.
The best products with enzymes
Enzyme cleansing gel
One of Dr. Zalka's picks, this daily facial cleanser tackles uneven skin texture, dullness and excess sebum to brighten the complexion. It harnesses papaya and grapefruit extracts to refresh with its cruelty-free, vegan formula.
Eminence organic skin care
Yam and pumpkin enzyme peel
Although the ingredients scream fall, this skin is a year-round winner, making it a must-have for Dr. Zalka. Lactic acid powers this peel, gently removing dead skin cells and impurities to boost tone, texture and hydration. Yam is packed with beta-carotene and vitamins to turn back the clock, while pumpkin pulp puree is packed with enzymes, beta-carotene, amino acids and antioxidants.
Naked Papaya Gentle enzyme facial cleanser
Remove dirt, oil, make-up and impurities without stripping skin of its natural oils or damaging the skin barrier. Papaya is naturally packed with skin-brightening vitamins and enzymes. What's more, the gentle cleanser contains the brand's signature Kinbiome, their plant-based probiotic that strengthens the skin barrier.
So Polished exfoliating sugar facial scrub
Rub in to smooth skin with natural papaya and pineapple enzymes that exfoliate and brighten. Sugar supports this exfoliation and probiotic extracts lend a hand for that smoothness.
Facial mask with hemp enzymes
When your skin needs a deep cleanse, apply this pure hemp seed oil sheet mask, which will remove dead skin cells with pineapple-derived enzymes for gentle exfoliation. Safe for sensitive skin, it will leave your skin beautifully radiant and pH-balanced.
Sable & Ciel
Australian powder varnish with emu apple enzymes
All you need is water to activate the formula powder-foam. Gentle fruit enzymes work to smooth skin and remove dead cells, while the Glow Berries complex of emu apple, blueberry and pepper berry protects against free radicals and provides vitamin C. Fine lines are smoothed thanks to jojoba, aloe vera and macadamia oils.