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Are Copper Skincare Products Right For You?

Are Copper Skincare Products Right For You?

Posted by Brendan Leonard and Susan Katz on Jun 7th 2022

Today at the Skin Actives Scientific blog, we’re jumping into the wayback machine. That’s right, we’re inviting you back to high school chemistry class. Wait! Don’t close the browser, we’ll make this painless, we promise.

Despite the fact that Skin Actives Scientific is a skincare company based on science, that doesn’t mean everyone who works here loved their science classes. So let’s boil this problem down to something that is easy to understand.

Let’s talk about copper.

That’s right, the metal, or more specifically, the element.

Copper is a lot of things, it’s a metal, it’s a color, but most importantly, it’s an element. As you may remember, an element is a foundational type of matter,a building block of the material, quantifiable universe. Our biochemist Founder, Dr. Hannah Sivak introduces copper in the following way:

Copper is, for humans (and for plants, and for many animals and microorganisms) a trace element, a micronutrient. We need it but in minute quantities.”

The emphasis here should be on “minute quantities”. Dr. Sivak continues:There is plenty of copper all around us, including in tap water and all foods. In short: we don’t need extra copper to cover that minute amount we need to keep our body and skin working as it should.”

So this begs the question, should you be looking for copper in your skincare? If so, how much? And what should a copper product look like?

What Does Copper Do For Skin?

Because of the type of element that copper is (and this gets down into the harder part of chemistry where you are looking at electrons and “donations” and stuff like that), it really turns out that you don’t need much at all. In fact it’s very likely that you are passively receiving all the copper you need for optimum skin health from your environment.

Specifically for skincare though, copper is used for melanin synthesis. This means that if you are looking at balancing out uneven tone on your skin, copper might be for you. But otherwise you are probably getting plenty. So what happens when you are already getting enough of something and then you get more? Well the answer is easy: then you have too much. 

And like anything, too much of a good thing can be bad for you.

When Copper Becomes Bad For Your Skin

Too much copper is not just bad for your skin, but it can be toxic as well. Dr. Sivak points out that copper toxicity will develop with more than 5.0 mg of copper per kg body weight.” Now, it’s important to remember that 5 mg per kilogram is an incredible amount of copper. This ratio will become important in just a moment so hang on to it in your mind’s eye for a minute.

The problem is that copper becomes harmful to your skin at levels far below the amount necessary to be considered toxic.

What is harmful about copper? 

Dr. Sivak explains:
“You don’t need copper to be at toxic levels throughout your body to get problems in your skin. These days, many skin care products are including too much copper. The problem here is that excess copper in skin care products aggravates an existing problem: the presence of copper in polluted air and the presence of ROS* (reactive oxygen species) already cause skin aging (this is why you see so many antioxidants in Skin Actives anti aging products). At high concentrations copper is known to produce oxidative damage to biological systems, including peroxidation of lipids and macromolecules that are vital to our skin health.”

In essence, you don’t need the amount of copper some other skin care brands are trying to sell you. The amount of copper found in those products won’t regenerate your skin, they’ll actually contribute to the extrinsic aging that you are already experiencing.

What About Blue Creams?

Okay, so now we are getting down to it. This is where skincare companies shape public perception and actually work against the customers their products are meant to serve.

So here is the thing: some copper salts are actually tinted a bit blue. This is Cu(II) as opposed to copper(I) which we perceive as more of a reddish color that we associate with the luster of the metal. 

Because of this bluish tint, some skincare companies that market copper products have taken to dying their products blue. What can we say, the turquoise creams that these companies are marketing are very appealing to look at. It’s exciting to see something so different! But make no mistake, these creams are not blue because of their copper content. 

The faint bluish color that comes with Skin Actives Copper Peptides will wash out when added to a cream. This process is called diffusion. In order for a cream to have enough copper in it that it would take on a bluish tone, it would have to be extremely high. Dangerously high.

But let’s examine some of the other claims that these companies are making, such as “1% copper peptides”.

If a product contained 1% copper peptides, that would mean that you would be getting 160mg of copper for every 100 grams of the product that you used.

If we look at the levels necessary for toxicity, a 130 lb person would be roughly 58 kg and 290mg of copper would be considered toxic. While 160mg might seem a long way from the 160mg reported to be in a product, it’s still too close for comfort at Skin Actives Scientific. You can read more about the effects of copper toxicity here.

So should you be reaching for that blue cream?

The short answer is: no.

In the very best case scenario, the company that you bought the cream from is selling you a novelty, dyed blue, that won’t actually help your skin. Worst case scenario, you have been lied to and sold a product that could be dangerous to your health.

Why Does Skin Actives Sell DIY Copper?

If you look at the Skin Actives Glossary, you’ll only find one product that we manufacture that contains copper. It’s our DIY Copper Peptide.

If we don’t believe in copper, why do we sell it?

That’s easy. First of all, we do acknowledge that it is an ingredient that has uses for skin evening. We think that the drawbacks outweigh the advantages, so we don’t use it in our own products but that doesn’t mean that you can’t. 

So, second, we make it available for our DIY customers to use and experiment with in safe concentrations for even skin tone.

We hope that you found the information in today’s blog useful and helpful. At Skin Actives Scientific, we believe that the more educated and informed you are, the better choices that you can make about your skin care and health needs. Gimmicks are just that…gimmicks. A blue cream might look nice, but that’s just an unnecessary dye, not an active ingredient. We want to help keep you both happy and healthy.

Check back in weekly for more informative and educational blogs from Skin Actives Scientific. And if you liked learning what Dr. Sivak had to say, she maintains a personal blog where she discusses hard science and the real-deal facts about what goes on behind the scenes in the skincare industry. You can read it here.

Thanks again for reading, we’ll see you next time!