A Harvard Medical School Breakthrough, In A Cream

In the not-so-distant past, there were two main options when it came to skin care: Things that were backed by scientific studies to prove they work and those that were natural, but unproven. Of course, you also had all the muck in the middle: formulas with a mishmash of ingredients that may work, but weren't able to back up their claims with cold, hard science. Thankfully, a lot has changed with the former two options and more and more brands are taking a scientific approach to studying and harnessing natural ingredients. Leave it to the French to be on the forefront of that movement.

Last year, French skin-care brand Caudalíe launched an anti-aging line called Resveratrol Lift, rooted in science finessed in Harvard's labs by esteemed life-extension scientist Dr. David Sinclair. Nicknamed the "Longevity Guru" for his research in reversing aging and dubbed by Time as one of 100 Most Influential People in the world, you likely know his famous quote: “The first person to live to 150 has already been born."
This past week, Caudalíe has unveiled the newest piece to the puzzle: A soft cream that feels as luxurious as ones much higher in price that harnesses the power of the science it's named for. Bonus: It also acts like a primer, blurring imperfections and leaving behind a matte finish perfect for layering under makeup. We know, we know —let's get back to what makes it so great. But first, a little background.
Mathilde and Bertrand Thomas' family vineyard in Bordeaux, France.
It Started Where All Good Things Do: With Wine
To understand this story, you first need a little background on Caudalíe. You probably know the brand from its addictive facial spray, skin-smoothing body scrubs, and maybe even its chain of deeply relaxing spas — but there's science behind the line that may surprise you. It all started during a wine tour in 1993 of Mathilde Thomas' family vineyard in Bordeaux, France, and a chance encounter with Professor Joseph Vercauteren, who was visiting from Montpellier's University of Pharmacy in France.

“He said our wine was very good, but we were throwing away the most interesting parts: the grape seeds," Thomas says. Vercauteren was already studying the benefits of grapes on health — and the resveratrol that can be harvested from them. Say it with me: Res-ver-ah-trol. That little ingredient found in red wine is the most important part of this story.

Fast-forward a few years: Mathilde and her husband, Bertrand, are working with the professor, as well as a team of their own, to research and create skin-care based around vineyard grapes. After all, they had the grapes. Within a few years, they had patents for their work with the anti-aging, dark spot-reducing resveratrol. Namely, finding the best resveratrol (it was hiding in the stalk and the vines) and linking that molecule with fatty acids to make it stable enough to actually do good for your skin. Think of resveratrol as your drunk friend: fun, but maybe they also need a slice of pizza at the end of the night. So a skin-care line based on science and natural ingredients was born.

We need to teach the skin to act young again.

Dr. David Sincalir
Enter: The Harvard Brain Trust
Caudalíe had already pushed forward the research on the power of grapes. Then, in the early 2000s, it heard about another great mind working on the cause on another continent.

"Professor Vercauteren and I had been working together for years when he told me about this professor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. David Sinclair, who was on the other side of the planet studying resveratrol, as well,” she says. So she called up the good doctor and asked if they could compare notes. As expected, Dr. Sinclair is approached frequently to work with cosmetic companies, but it wasn't until now that the ethos truly aligned, he says.

Compared with all the hoopla surrounding many anti-aging products and methods, Dr. Sinclair’s approach is quite simple: How do we get product we know is good for the body deep enough into the skin so it can mimic what fillers do — only without the needle? (For the record, he says injections freak him out.) Now, we doubt anyone questioned whether or not he could get product into the inner layers of the skin, but what would it do when it got there?
We've learned vineyard stalks house the best natural resveratrol.
They wanted to create a moisturizer with two missions: strengthen the collagen fibers in the skin ("The network that keeps the skin up and prevents it from sagging," Dr. Sinclair says.) and improve hyaluronic acid levels. ("Which is what keeps the water in the skin,” he explains.) Read: firm, plump, and hydrate. “That was the challenge,” he continues, “to slow this [aging process] down and try to reverse [it].”

Simple, right? Well, kind of — but luckily, the principals he and his team at Harvard operate under give them the freedom to make breakthroughs at a molecular level through vigorous genetic testing. “That’s what we have been doing at Harvard to try to reverse aging in the entire body, to treat diseases like cancer and heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease,” he says. “[It’s the] the same technology, the things that we discovered control the aging process [in the body] are also in the skin; we’ve used that knowledge in this product. Our motto is that we need to teach the skin to act young again.”

After a few years of playing around with all-natural resveratrol from Caudalíe and an endless supply of hyaluronic acid, researchers found something — something big. “We had a breakthrough just last year," he says with a smile. The patent came soon after, filed jointly between Caudalíe and Harvard.
A Brief Note On Hyaluronic Acid
So why all the talk about hyaluronic acid (or HA, for short) when the whole line is based on resveratrol? Well, it's important to know that as we age, our bodies stop making as much hyaluronic acid — the natural molecules that hold onto water and make our skin look youthful and wonderfully hydrated.

Tons of products on the market are packed with hyaluronic acid, but getting it into the skin and encouraging your dermal layers to hold onto it for long enough to make a difference is the challenge many skin-care brands try to tackle. But it's not just an issue with creams — hyaluronic acid is the main ingredient in most dermal fillers. Even when shot into the skin with a needle, the HA is still metabolized within a few months, which is why most lip injections only last between three and six months. Translation: HA doesn't like to stick around for long — it's not in its nature.
The Breakthrough: Say Bonjour To The HAS2 Gene
Remember when Dr. Sinclair said that he wanted to try to get the skin to act young again? The breakthrough that accomplished this came when he and his team started playing with RNA sequencing. The goal? To isolate genes that reacted to a unique blend of resveratrol and HA.

"There are more than 20,000 genes in a cell. We used the latest in genetic technology to see which of these [reacted the most]," he explains. "It allowed us to measure every gene." One gene in particular, which we all have, stood out. Its name is HAS2.

Think of HAS2 as the friend whose eyes perk up when wine is passed around — this was the gene that loved resveratrol and now researchers knew exactly how to turn it on. They just had to find the right blend to do the most good. [Ed. note: Anyone else feeling like they'd be fast friends with HAS2?]

At this point in the discussion, you may be falling asleep. But know that Sinclair's eyes are lighting up and he's getting really excited — because it gets even better, so stay with us. Playing with blends and mixtures of molecules powered by Professor Vercauteren's original science, Sinclair and his team found a mix of molecules that, quite literally, made the HAS2 gene tell the body to make more hyaluronic acid, something genes don't want to do under normal circumstance. It's almost like they got HAS2 drunk; in it's stupor, it started making tons of hyaluronic acid.
A few words on the nitty-gritty of how it goes down: "The resveratrol goes in and turns on the HAS2 gene," Dr. Sinclair explains. With the right mircomolecules of hyaluronic acid mixed in, they saw "more than a 200% increase in [the production of HA in] this gene."

You may be asking: How drunk was HAS2? Pretty drunk: "HAS2 now makes this protein, an enzyme, that sits on the surface of skin cells and captures the micro hyaluronic acid that carries the product." Here's where it gets really wild: During this process, the HAS2 gene actually starts squashing the hyaluronic acid, which in turn, traps it in the skin. Awesome? Yes — and no one saw it coming: "[The process] makes them long, and when they’re long, they get stuck down in the skin naturally, they spread out, and that holds the water in," he says. Talk about getting the blend just right.
The final challenge? To make it work outside of the lab. "Getting molecules into the skin is difficult. Most will just sit on top," Dr. Sinclair explains. "[But] it was formulated so we could get both of the key ingredients deep into the dermis." The results out of the lab translated: In 84 days, the test group found increased firmness and more lifted skin.
It's All In The Details
Naturally, they didn't just load the new ingredients into any old cream or serum. The French never overlook the importance of details, from the texture (Thomas describes the Soft Cream like cashmere — and she's not far off.) to packaging and scent.

"I wanted this scent to be all-natural and very addictive," she explains. Many would describe it a bit like herbal tea: "It's a blend of red thyme, lavender, basil, orange blossom, and sage," she says, "and it's also oil-free and 94% natural."

There's a caveat for this day cream, however: it doesn't have SPF, which was a thoughtful move, since SPF could muck up the efficacy of the formula. But it was formulated so it would penetrate fast, so you can layer your SPF moisturizer over it, Thomas says.

Speaking to Thomas, it's clear that the Soft Cream is her favorite, but she notes that the line's serum actually has the highest percentage of the resveratrol. The day cream, however, checks more than one box: priming for makeup and delivering soft, comfortable hydration in one easy step. They both ring in at under $100, as opposed to brands that compete with this kind of science whose creams can run double or triple that.

“It was a real breakthrough," Dr. Sinclair says, "but I’m sure there will be more.”

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