One of the first places where visible signs of aging begin to emerge is around your eyes. The delicate skin in this area is extremely thin—becoming even thinner as you age—and is especially vulnerable to unsightly age-related changes in appearance, including dark circles, “crow’s feet,” and bags or swelling under or around the eyes.
While not necessarily an indication of extreme exhaustion or serious illness, dark circles and bags certainly make you look and feel a lot older than you really are.1
In response to Life Extension® member inquiries into how best to deal with this problem naturally, renowned dermatologist Dr. Gary Goldfaden drew upon his extensive expertise to offer a number of safe, innovative solutions. This article details why dark circles and swelling develop in aging skin—and how natural interventions including plant stem cells and phytonutrients afford optimal protection for the delicate tissues around the eyes.
While Americans spend millions on cosmetics to conceal problems around the eyes, studies have shown that it is possible to remedy the physiological causes behind dark circles and puffiness while improving aging skin.
An active complex of nutrients consisting of soy and rice bran peptides, stem cells of a rare apple, and blueberry and pomegranate extracts can help target both dark circles and puffiness, while strengthening the skin around the eyes. This unique combination of active nutrients has also been shown to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes.
The skin differs in thickness and function across the body, and the skin around the eyes is unique for a number of reasons.2 This delicate area contains little subcutaneous fat tissue that becomes less plump with aging.3,4 As a result, it is especially sensitive to stress from facial movements such as laughing and squinting that contribute to wrinkle development.
The eye area is also surrounded by several muscles that contract with facial expressions. With aging, however, the thick collagen network that gives skin the structural support it needs begins to lose its integrity for a number of reasons. External factors such as exposure to sunlight increase the levels of enzymes that break down collagen in the skin.5 Collagen also comes under assault from internal processes in the body. One key factor is the destructive influence of glycation that occurs when simple sugars attach themselves to proteins in collagen.6 The resulting cross-linked collagen fibers lose their flexibility and strength, resulting in looseness of skin in this area.
As a result, facial contractions in mature skin can leave a lasting impression due to a compromised collagen network. Thinning skin and loss of fat and collagen also make the skin appear thinner and more translucent4 so that the reddish-blue blood vessels under the eyes become more obvious and contribute to another cause for concern—the appearance of dark circles under the eyes.
While dark circles have a hereditary component, external factors such as exposure to pollution and topical irritants also play a significant role by triggering inflammatory processes in the skin, which can also contribute to puffy eyes.5,7,8 Exposure to sunlight also prompts the body to produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, which can make the area under the eyes appear darker. In people with allergies, excessive rubbing and touching of the skin around the eyes can worsen the condition.9,10
In basic physiological terms, dark circles and puffiness under the eyes indicate a problem retaining blood in the skin’s upper layers.9 This is caused by poor or compromised hemodynamic properties and limited blood flow. If left untreated or treated inappropriately, this can lead to a build-up of venous back pressure in the tiny capillaries in the skin, causing blood retention and eventually resulting in greater damage to the already compromised collagen and connective tissue. As a result, these fine capillaries can look more prominent through the under-eye area, which is very thin. As the damage worsens, the supply of oxygen to the affected area is likewise compromised. Fluid can also build up as lymphatic drainage decreases with aging and capillary permeability increases, both of which contribute further to puffiness around the eyes.
To be effective, any anti-aging eye care topical formulation needs to be gentle yet strong enough to target the factors described above. Fortunately, a number of natural skin care nutrients can reduce dark circles and puffiness and help preserve collagen integrity in this delicate area.
Soy and Rice Bran: Targeting Dark Circles and Puffy Eyes
An anti-aging complex made of soy and hydrolyzed rice bran peptides has shown promising results in improving microcirculation, which prevents blood from stagnating in these fine blood vessels and increases oxygen supply to the delicate tissues around the eyes. It has also been shown to strengthen collagen integrity in the skin as well as minimize the harmful effects of inflammation, visibly reducing dark circles and puffiness around the eyes.
In a clinical study, 20 subjects aged 30 and older with dry skin and visible signs of aging applied a topical formulation comprising specially purified soy and hydrolyzed rice bran peptides twice a day for eight weeks. At the study’s end, they showed significant reductions in dark circles, puffiness, and wrinkles.11 These impressive results consisted of a 35% reduction in dark circles, 32% reduction in puffiness, and 42% improvement of skin texture, while the placebo group showed only marginal improvements in these parameters.
Delving deeper for an explanation of these effects, the researchers conducted laboratory tests to study blood coagulation pathways under the skin. They showed that the complex of soy and rice bran peptides increases the time it takes for a blood clot to form. In terms of hemodynamics, this translates to a beneficial effect on the capillary circulation, or improved blood flow and oxygenation to the eye area, which explains the visible reduction in dark circles and puffiness as seen in the clinical trial. The scientists also found that in vitro treatment with this peptide complex stimulated the proliferation of major skin cells by up to 200%, which helps explain the collagen-strengthening benefits seen in the trial.11
Let’s take a look at the individual properties of soy and rice bran peptides that contribute to these effects.
Cutaneous Benefits of Soy
A staple of many Asian diets for centuries, soybeans and soybean products such as tofu are packed with a number of phytonutrients that provide beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.12 Among the most notable are a group of phytoestrogens called isoflavones. Soy isoflavones have weak estrogenic effects. The isoflavone genistein shows potential to help build and maintain healthy bone density.13,14
Soy has considerable versatility beyond its application as a food ingredient. Topical soy has been shown to improve hyperpigmentation, elasticity, and moisture in the skin.15-17 In laboratory studies, soy has been shown to stimulate collagen synthesis and initiate the skin’s process of repairing elastin.18-20
Constituents of soy are also effective in suppressing the increase in collagen-degrading enzymes in the skin (called matrix metalloproteinases, or MMPs) that occurs in response to ultraviolet (UV) irradiation.21 Topical delivery of soy extracts is effective in protecting the skin against UV radiation-induced photoaging, oxidative stress, and secretion of inflammatory mediators within the skin.22,23
The benefits of soybeans are further augmented by virtue of their content of small proteins known as serine protease inhibitors, which have been suggested to regulate skin pigmentation—one of the factors implicated in dark circles.24,25
Researchers studied 65 women with moderate facial photodamage who applied either a soy or placebo moisturizer to their skin for 12 weeks.25 At the end of this period, the active soy moisturizer was statistically better than the vehicle in improving mottled pigmentation, blotchiness, dullness, fine lines, skin tone, and appearance. The superiority of the active formulation was observed starting at week two. Furthermore, by week twelve, all subjects showed decreased skin roughness and increased skin clarity. The researchers concluded, “a moisturizer containing stabilized soy extracts is safe and effective, and can be used to ameliorate overall skin tone and texture attributes of photoaging.”
While both soybeans and rice bran have individually demonstrated impressive actions against hyper- pigmentation, free radical-induced inflammation, and UV damage, the unique combination of both is even more effective than either one alone.
What Makes Rice Bran Important
Like the soybean, rice bran has been highly valued in the Far East. For a long time, Japanese women who rubbed rice brain onto their faces to keep their skin smooth were referred to as “nuka bijin” or “rice bran beauty.” Given their cultural obsession for flawless skin and youth, Japanese beauty products such as rice bran have traditionally focused on anti-aging and sun damage. Now, these prized eastern beauty treatments are making their way to the west.
Rice bran is a co-product obtained from rice processing. What makes it so special is that it contains high levels of two remarkable antioxidants: gamma-oryzanol, made up of a mixture of phytonutrients called sterols and ferulic acid, and vitamin E,26 which together help slow the formation of facial wrinkles and reduce inflammation.27,28
Rice extracts also have moisturizing and UV- absorbing properties, which helps prevent melanin formation and age spots, making these ingredients effective against dark circles and sunburn.29 Given its UV-protective properties, formulators have made rice bran a common ingredient in sunscreen products as well as lipsticks.
Another skin-smoothing ingredient found in rice bran is called phytic acid, which is a major component of all plant seeds. Phytic acid is an antioxidant that may help improve skin color by inhibiting tyrosinase,30 a key enzyme involved in skin pigmentation.
Rice bran also contains small quantities of the powerful emollient squalene, which forms a major component of skin surface polyunsaturated lipids and is critical for reducing free radical-induced oxidative damage to the skin.31
While both soybeans and rice bran have individually demonstrated impressive actions against hyperpigmentation, free radical-induced inflammation, and UV damage, the unique combination of both is even more effective than either one alone at combating dark circles and puffiness around the delicate eye area.
Apple Stem Cells: Epidermal Renewal
Epidermal cells are crucial in replacing skin cells lost due to continual shedding. Like humans, plants also have stem cells. Scientists have been keenly interested in the benefits of the fruit of a rare Swiss apple tree. When they cultivated the stem cells from this tree for its anti-aging effects, they found that they stimulated human stem cell proliferation, protected human stem cells against UV-induced death, and mitigated aging-related changes in gene expression.32
In a clinical trial, 20 participants applied an anti-wrinkle cream containing the apple stem cell extract twice daily to the crow’s feet area around the eyes. The scientists found a 15% reduction in wrinkle depth after just 4 weeks.32 This special apple extract therefore provides a valuable topical agent that helps reduce the signs of aging.
To complement all of the above botanical extracts, two other scientifically proven nutrients described below can help inhibit the glycative processes that cause cross-linking of the skin’s collagen fibers.
Blueberries and Pomegranate: Rebuilding the Dermal Matrix
Blueberries contain powerful constituents that complement soy and rice bran extracts by blocking the detrimental sugar-protein reactions that occur during skin glycation. Blueberries contain abundant quantities of phytonutrients called anthocyanins that have been shown in studies to naturally protect against glycation by stabilizing the collagen matrix, promoting collagen biosynthesis, and improving microcirculation.33-36
A controlled clinical study in which a preparation containing 4% blueberry extract was topically applied to the skin of 63 women aged 45-61 years found significant improvements in cracking, creping, and thinning of the skin after three months. All test subjects in this study showed a significant improvement in fine lines, deep wrinkles, firmness, tactile roughness, and overall appearance37—factors that can all be compromised by skin glycation.
Pomegranate extract provides another layer of skin protection by virtue of its phenolic compounds such as ellagic acid.38 Topically applied pomegranate extract may boost the skin’s healing capacity in several ways: by inhibiting collagen-breakdown enzymes in the skin,39 promoting a thickening of the epidermal layer,39 and protecting against UV light and inflammation.40
Antioxidant Support with Tea Extracts
Natural antioxidants found in white, green, black, and red tea provide complementary support for topical skin-rejuvenating nutrients. All of these tea extracts lend powerful antioxidant support, while strengthening the zone of protection against UV light and free radical-induced damage and inflammation to the under-eye area.41-44
A special dermatologist-formulated topical preparation using stem cell technology has been shown to quickly and effectively target dark circles and puffiness around the eyes. At the core of this active botanical complex is a combination of soy and rice bran extracts that have been clinically proven to improve microcirculation, preserve elastin and collagen, and combat free radical damage in tissues surrounding the eye area. These extracts are supported by powerful phytonutrients found in blueberries, which inhibit the glycative processes that contribute to skin aging, along with natural antioxidants from pomegranate and tea extracts that strengthen skin around the delicate eye area.
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