excerpt from an article in American Spa Magazine by Nicole Altavilla.
The first soybeans were brought to the U.S. in 1765, and after World War I, soy became a valuable commodity in the U.S., used mainly to help regenerate soil in drought-stricken areas during the 1930s. Initially, soybeans were considered essential as food and for medicinal purposes, but in recent years, they’ve become a valuable element of a healthy lifestyle, as well. In addition to their nutritional benefits, soybeans are also good for the skin, as they provide moisturization and antioxidants to the skin. “While soy has long been a staple of our diets, we now have significant evidence of its benefits to the skin via topical application,” says Neal Kitchen, Ph.D., vice president of strategy and development at HydroPeptide. “Macronutrients—protein, fat, and carbohydrates—that make soy a rich dietary ingredient are also beneficial to the renewal and build up of healthy skin.”
Skincare products often rely on various forms of soy, which helps explain why there is such a range of benefits, such as helping to reduce free radical damage and inflammation, hydrating the skin by stimulating the production of hyaluronic acid, stimulating production of collagen and increasing skin thickness, and helping to brighten skin caused by hyperpigmentation, according to Beth Bialko, global curriculum developer and master instructor at Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute. Soybean oil, which is rich in fatty acids and vitamin E, works as an emollient and also moisturizes and soothes, says Katlin Stewart, marketing coordinator at CBI Laboratories, and lecithin, which is a by-product obtained while extracting soybean oil from soybeans, helps to repair and heal skin. “Lecithin helps to emulsify lotions giving them a silkier texture, and it also protects skin,” says Nadia Fathallah, category manager at American International Industries. “Because the molecular size of soybean oil is smaller than that of other emollients, it is able to penetrate the epidermis to stimulate collagen and elastin production.”
Other types of soy found in skincare include soy protein, which contains essential amino acids that help increase collagen, and hydrolyzed soy flour, which is used for skin conditioning. However, Kitchen believes that the greater skin benefit from soy comes from its micronutrients, including isoflavones, peptides, and many vitamins and minerals. “Soy isoflavones provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support, help maintain even skin tone and skin integrity, and shield melanocytes from UV-induced melanomas,” says Rhonda Allison, founder and CEO of Rhonda Allison Clinical Enterprises.
According to Bialko, because of the isoflavones found in soy, which help diminish wrinkles, tighten skin, and minimize pigmentation, soy-based products are ideal for anti-aging facial treatments that are geared toward stimulating elastin and collagen synthesis, and reducing fine lines, wrinkles, and UV-induced photodamage. “Soy isoflavones have also been used in treatment of hyperpigmentation disorders, as they prevent melanin from adhering to skin cells, therefore helping with blotchiness and discoloration,” she says. Kitchen adds that soy peptides have been shown to stimulate moisture retention, increase elasticity, and generate a lifting effect to the skin. Additionally, evidence shows soy peptides boost collagen synthesis, increase production of glycosaminoglycans, and help reduce inflammation.
Soy has the ability to moisturize dry skin while minimizing oil in other areas. It is also a gentle, well-tolerated, and calming ingredient, which is why it is often found in peels, masks, exfoliators, and moisturizers. “It has an anti-inflammatory effect, and the essential fatty acids create a protective barrier for skin that is reactive,” says Fathallah. “Treatments targeting sensitive, dry, or dehydrated skin will benefit from the use of soy-based products.”
Though soy offers many benefits, there are some that believe it should be avoided. While most concerns or negative effects associated with soy are consumption-based, it is recommended that any client with a soy allergy avoid products and treatments that contain it. According to Kitchen, soy isoflavones are typically not found in soybean oil or lecithin extracts but can be part of soy protein extracts. Although isoflavones have shown several important benefits to the skin, they are also potent phytoestrogens, which have been a cause of concern for some. “Phytoestrogens have been a highly debated topic in skincare, because they can mimic human estrogen and therefore can affect hormonal levels,” he says. “For many, the impact of phytoestrogens can be very beneficial to one’s skin, however, for those wanting to avoid phytoestrogens at all costs in their skincare treatments, soy protein should be added to their avoid list.”
Yet, the International Journal of Toxicology indicates that there is no research showing soy extract or soy oil has estrogenic effects when applied to skin, as it can when taken orally, says Shannon McLinden, founder and CEO of FarmHouse Fresh, which utilizes glycine soja (soybean) oil in its products. “We use glycine soja oil in many of our products,” says McLinden. “It is derived from wild soybeans, is non-fragrant, and is a great emollient with a high natural moisturizing factor and strong antioxidant properties to help fight free-radical damage.” However, soy is often listed as an ingredient to avoid by doctors advising their pregnant patients, as it may accelerate dark splotches on facial skin that often develop during pregnancy.
While Ada Polla, CEO of Alchimie Forever, does not deny that soy is beneficial for the skin because it is rich in phytoestrogens, molecules that naturally stimulate the skin’s collagen production to improve the firmness and plumpness of the skin, she does have an issue with the sourcing of the ingredient. Soy is generally a genetically modified organism (GMO) product, and it is challenging to find a soy supplier that provides the ingredient without GMO, she says. “The Food and Drug Administration has concluded there is no evidence that bioengineered food or plant ingredients are less safe than those produced through conventional methods,” says Polla. “All research and studies show no side effects to using genetically modified beauty products for the moment. However, we have to ask a few questions, such as how long does it take for the body to show damage from using genetically modified ingredients and does it impact our skin cells long-term.”
Because of this sourcing issue and the possible allergic reactions associated with soy, Alchimie Forever does not use the ingredient in any of its cosmetic products. (This is a concern for me too, so I use non-GMO soy in my Wicked massage candles.) Instead, the company uses red clover extract. “Like soy, this ingredient is rich in phytoestrogens, which stimulates collagen production and helps with fine lines and wrinkles,” says Polla. “However, the allergy profile is much lower.”
It’s important to do research in order to choose the best GMO-free soy-based products. “As with any ingredient, be sure only the highest quality soy is used,” says Allison. “Also, look at the other ingredients the soy or soy derivative is paired with. Because soy assists with the absorption of other vital nutrients, the results will depend significantly on the other ingredients within the formula.” For example, Bialko suggests looking for products that also contain licorice, peptides, and white tea, as these age-fighting ingredients work synergistically with soy.