Ingredient Science Spotlight: Heparan Sulfate
We are learning more about an exciting moisturizing and anti-aging ingredient in skin care called heparan sulfate (HS). New studies have found that decreased levels of HS in the skin may contribute to signs of aging, so adding a topical HS analog could help to improve lines, wrinkles, and sagging or thinning skin. Read more about what this ingredient is, how it works, and where you can find it in skin care here.
What Is Heparan Sulfate?
Heparan sulfate is a naturally-occuring glycosaminoglycan (GAG), like hyaluronic acid (HA). Hyaluronic acid and heparan sulfate both bind to water and are found throughout your body. However, new evidence suggests that HS plays an even more important role. It helps cells to “hear” signals better.
Cells need to “hear” signals from growth factors and cytokines to know when to start making more collagen and hyaluronic acid. When cells are old, they don’t “hear” these signals as well. Heparan sulfate surrounds the growth factors and protects them and escorts them to the cell so that the growth factors bind the proper receptor sites and tell the cells to make collagen.
Heparan Sulfate in Skin Care
As we age, HS, HA, collagen, elastin, and other important proteins begin to diminish, contributing to signs of aging skin. For years, we have understood that enhancing the skin’s ability to produce collagen and hyaluronic acid could reduce signs of aging. Now, heparan sulfate is yet another key player in anti-aging skin care.
Not only does HS help to transmit messages to the skin cells that make collagen, but it also acts as a moisturizing agent to help plump and smooth the skin, much like hyaluronic acid. However, both HS and HA need to be formulated with smaller molecular weights so they can penetrate skin when applied topically. Studies have shown that the proper formulation of HS can readily penetrate skin and improve skin hydration and the appearance of lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone.
Where Can I Find Heparan Sulfate Skin Care Products?
Right now, heparan sulfate skin care products are only available through doctors. The cosmeceutical brand Senté, which focuses on glycosaminoglycan-based anti-aging skin care, now carries a product that contains heparan sulfate. As more information becomes available about the use and formulation of HS in skin care, more anti-aging products may begin including this novel ingredient. For now, you’ll need to talk to a physician about adding heparan sulfate products to your skincare regimen, because these products are only sold by physicians.
What’s the Future of Heparan Sulfate in Skin Care?
Heparan sulfate is proving to be a very promising topical ingredient that could have many different uses in skin care. In addition to its role as an anti-aging and moisturizing agent, heparan sulfate could be used to aid in wound healing, reduce redness, and protect against pathogens.
As far as we know, HS analog formulations are very well-tolerated by people with sensitive skin types, including aging skin and rosacea. While more research is needed to determine if this may be the case, current evidence suggests that HS may be a good alternative to retinoids for certain skin types.
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