If you’ve ever velcroed a child’s shoe closed, or flown in an airplane, then you’ve seen the concept of biomimetics at work. The term ‘bio’ means life, and ‘mimetic’ comes from the word imitate, so in its simplest definition, biomimetic means synthetically copying or replicating a biological process.
Airplanes took their inspiration from the flight of birds; velcro from the stickiness of burs. But the latest application of biomimetics is being adopted by cutting-edge skincare brands who are turning to the natural world to discover new ingredients that can support our skin’s natural health.
How Do Biomimetics Apply to Skincare?
“Biomimetic skincare involves the formulation with synthetic or natural materials that can mimic our own skin’s natural function [and] processes to achieve a specific goal,” Vanessa Thomas, a cosmetic chemist, says.
This is not quite the same thing as adding something to your skin via products that your body naturally makes, like collagen, to boost that substance’s efforts. Instead, biomimetic skincare involves using ingredients that trigger your body’s own natural production of things like collagen, sebum, or elastin without actually adding these end products to the formula, as cosmetic chemist Ginger King explains.
To grasp this distinction, think about your favorite houseplant. You wouldn’t give a plant chlorophyll, a key ingredient of plant health, in order to help it grow more vibrant and lush; instead you would give it a boost with fertilizer that contains nitrogen and magnesium, and then expose the plant to sunlight in order to support its ability to naturally produce this vital substance on its own.
In order to help your skin make collagen, for example, it doesn’t actually need to be fed collagen. “The idea of using biomimetic ingredients, especially as it relates to collagen, is that you are providing your body with the tools it needs to produce its own collagen, as it is unclear if providing your body with collagen is effective or beneficial,” Thomas says.
One reason for this is that most of the collagen ingredients, as well as things like regular hyaluronic acids (another naturally occurring substance in the body), that are found in skincare have a molecular weight that is larger than their biological counterparts, meaning your skin cannot efficiently absorb them. So, if you use a moisturizer that contains collagen, it likely won’t do much for you; but if you biomimetically encourage your skin to make its own collagen by using products that contain things like date palm seed extract, then that’s an entirely different story.
Ceramides offer another example of how biomimetic ingredients work. These lipids are a key component of cells in the outermost layer of skin. But ceramides that mimic the ones our bodies produce can also be found in nature or made synthetically. When these skin-identical ceramides are incorporated into skincare products, the body uses them as it would use naturally produced ceramides to support your skin barrier and promote moisture retention.
Nature has had several billion years of evolution to get things right, and scientists and consumers are lucky to piggyback off what the natural world has learned and developed to cultivate the most effective skincare ingredients out there.
Some Hero Biomimetic Skincare Ingredients to Watch For
Biomimetic ingredients give an extra boost to your skin. Not only do they provide their own benefits, but they help bolster your skin’s ability to naturally heal and function at its very best. These are a few innovative biomimetic ingredients to look out for:
4D Hyaluronic Acid: While some forms of high molecular weight hyaluronic acid have molecules that are too big for your skin to effectively absorb, 4D hyaluronic acid combines four molecules of different sizes, which bind with water and deliver hydration into each layer of the skin. This more closely mimics the hyaluronic acid naturally produced by your skin and not only provides moisture, but also helps you naturally retain moisture by strengthening the skin barrier.
Benthi Plant Peptides: This ingredient is a type of protein that mimics the natural growth factors found in our skin. Your skin uses benthi plant peptides to promote lipid production, which helps improve your overall skin integrity and texture, similar to the effects of retinol.
Squalane: Squalane is a powerful emollient that is a lighter, less greasy version of the sebum that your skin naturally produces. With its excellent moisturizing properties, it helps your skin stay hydrated and improves its elasticity and skin barrier integrity.
Date palm seed extract: "The date palm kernel contains phytohormones," explains Thomas. According to a 2006 study, this has an estrogen-like effect on the skin, aiding in the production of collagen and "producing a significant anti-wrinkle effect,” says Thomas. In addition, date fruits also act as antioxidants and have a healthy supply of vitamin C, which “has a proven anti-aging activity because it induces the enzyme collagenase and enhances collagen production.
Rambutan peel extract: Rambutan peel extract comes from the leaves of Southeast Asian rambutan. It’s rich in antioxidants and polyphenolic compounds (naturally occurring organic compounds, like flavonoids). The extract biomimetically replicates the body’s natural process of protecting and restoring cells, which increases skin’s resilience, firmness, and moisture retention.
Ceramide NP: Naturally produced ceramides are the main component of the lipids found in the outermost layer of your skin. Ceramide NP is an ingredient that looks identical to the version your skin produces. Because of this, the body recognizes it and puts it to use boosting several biological processes including strengthening your skin barrier and supporting your skin’s natural protection against moisture loss.