Phytosomes are a relatively new development to the cosmetic and skin care industry. They were originally developed to enhance the absorption of herbal products and medications that aren’t easily absorbed. To make a phytosome, the ingredient to be delivered is bound to phospholipids. Phospholipids are lipids that make up the cell membrane of cells. They consist of a hydrophilic head, or water-seeking portion, and a hydrophobic portion or tail that repels water. When placed in solution, the hydrophilic heads of phospholipids point towards the water, while the hydrophobic tails turn away because this is the way they’re the most stable. Scientists can use this to create phytosomes.
To make a phytosome, phospholipids are combined with the ingredient to be delivered through a process that’s patented. The phospholipids used to make phytosomes are usually phosphatidylcholin derived from soy or phosphatidyethanolamine. The phospholipids bond with the active ingredient. When water is added, they form micelles where the hydrophobic tails of the phospholipids point inwards towards each other and form a circle that encloses the ingredient to be delivered. So a phytosome is made up of the active ingredient surrounded by a layer of phospholipids.
There are advantages to using a phytosome system to deliver ingredients. When a layer of phospholipids surround a hydrophilic ingredient, it can be more easily absorbed by the intestines and reach its site of action more quickly. Cells in the intestinal tract are made up of a cell membrane that contains phospholipids. Some ingredients are too large to make it across this membrane barrier while others can’t easily cross because they’re too hydrophilic. When the active ingredient is attached to phospholipids, similar to the phospholipids in natural cell membranes, they can more easily cross this lipid barrier. This allows them to be better absorbed so the body can more easily use them.
Phytosomes are similar to liposomes, another system used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries to deliver ingredients or medications through the skin. With liposomes, phospholipids encase the ingredient to be delivered, but they don’t form a bond with it. With phytosomes, the ingredient actually forms a bond with the phospholipids. An example of a way phytosomes are being used medicinally is to deliver herbal extracts that normally aren’t well absorbed across the intestinal barrier. When these hydrophilic ingredients are bound and encased by phospholipids that can easily cross the intestines, the ingredient is absorbed right along with it. This increases with which an herbal ingredient can be absorbed and how much can be absorbed. When phytosomes are used to deliver an herbal preparation, a smaller dose can be used with equal effects since more of the herb reaches its site of action. Some herbal products being delivered using phytosome technology are green tea extract, grape seed and milk thistle since they usually aren’t well absorbed in their natural state. Phytosomes can also be used in a medical setting to enhance the delivery of drugs and medications.
Like liposomes, phytosomes are being used by the cosmetic industry to deliver ingredients across the skin’s natural barrier. Some natural plant flavonoids like silymarin and quercetin are beneficial to skin health, but they aren’t well absorbed when applied topically in their unmodified state. When they’re incorporated into a phytosome, their absorption is greatly enhanced. This gives them greater benefits since they’re more bioavailable. The phospholipids used to make phytosomes have skin benefits too since they’re similar to the lipids that make up the skin’s natural barrier against water loss and help to replenish them. Phospholipids prevent moisture loss and keep skin hydrated.
Phytosomes are a relatively new technology, but they’re already being used to enhance the delivery of herbs and nutritional supplements and in cosmetic and skin care products like moisturizing creams, sunscreens and anti-aging treatments to increase the absorption of certain key ingredients that are important for skin health. Chances are you’ll see even more products using phytosome technology in the future.