Within the skin, the natural process of shedding corneocytes slows down with age and sometimes needs a little extra help. When these corneocytes do not shed naturally, they stick together and become like glue.
So, what are enzymes and how do they exfoliate our skin?
Enzymes are organic molecules, found within all living things. Enzymes are referred to as a catalyst, as they increase the rate of chemical reactions without undergoing any damage. What this means is the enzyme can assist in multiple chemical reactions in a row without being damaged.
There are different types of enzymes that specialize in different processes. In skin care, we are usually referring to proteolytic enzymes.
Proteolytic enzymes specialize in the breakdown of the protein bonds that cause the older corneocytes to stick together. The breakdown of these protein bonds results in an acceleration in the sloughing of corneocytes.
The encouraged removal of these cells is why after using enzymes the skin is left with a brighter appearance. The other benefit of using enzymes is that they leave the skin more readily available to perform extractions and to absorb serums and moisturizers.
In skincare, we will find enzymes in the treatment room and in-home care exfoliants. Some enzyme products claim to be gentle enough to be used every day, but this really depends on the client’s skin. The two common enzymes we see in esthetics are papaya (papain, also known as papaya proteinase), and pineapple (bromelain, sulfhydryl proteases).
I have seen pumpkin enzymes advertised, but I am unable to find a supporting scientific journal article about the effectiveness and stability supporting the use of pumpkin enzymes.
In summary, enzymes are a great ingredient when combating certain skin concerns, such as dullness and dehydration. The gentle surface level exfoliation enzymes allow us to use this beneficial ingredient on a multitude of skin types and conditions.
For a very in-depth explanation on enzymes:
Robinson, P. K. (2015). Enzymes: Principles and biotechnological applications. Essays in Biochemistry, 59, 1–41. https://doi.org/10.1042/bse0590001