The hunt for firm skin is fervent, and it's one of the most sought-out side effects when looking for a good skincare product. Many ingredients claim to increase cell turnover rate and improve skin's elasticity, but as of late, we've been noticing a certain name popping up more and more when it comes to our skin's firmness: CoQ10. But CoQ10 is nothing new. It's been a hero ingredient in Japanese beauty for years. So what exactly is it?
We asked cosmetic chemist Vanessa Thomas, founder of Florida-based Freelance Formulations; Kayo Body Care cofounder Christine Bullock; Union Square Laser Dermatology dermatologist Shereene Idriss, MD; HiQ Cosmetics owner Patrick Pickens; board-certified dermatologist Lisa Pruett, MD, of U.S. Dermatology Partners; and plastic surgeon Michelle Yagoda, MD, to break it down for us. Here's what they had to say about CoQ10.
Type of ingredient: Antioxidant
Main benefits: Evens skin tone, reduces sun damage, improves skin hydration.
Who should use it: Generally, CoQ10 is safe for most everyone to use. However, those with vitiligo should consult their dermatologist before use.
How often you can use it: CoQ10 can be used during your morning and night skincare routines. Apply it before you apply any heavy moisturizers.
Works well with: Aloe vera, vitamin C, vitamin B3, hyaluronic acid
Don’t use with: No known interactions.
What is CoQ10?
According to Thomas, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10 for short) is a naturally produced bodily enzyme and one of the most fundamental antioxidants. "CoQ10 or Coenzyme Q-10 is a kind of fat-soluble quinone compound," she says. "Coenzyme Q10 is found in every cell of the human body. A coenzyme is a substance that enhances or is necessary for the action of enzymes, generally smaller than the enzymes. CoQ10 is vital in energy production in cells."
When we're younger, she explains, we're able to produce as much CoQ10 as we need for energy. As we got older, aging and stress slow down the CoQ10 creation process, and our supplies diminish. "Coenzyme Q10 in humans begins at low levels when we are young, peaks in our late teens, and begins to decline after 20 years of age," notes Thomas.
As Pruett explains, there's "legitimate science" backing up the claims of CoQ10's antioxidant properties: "Antioxidants are basically shields you can apply to your skin to combat all the things that contribute to aging skin such as UV radiation, Infrared radiation, and ozone pollution. Remember that the majority of the aging of our skin is from environmental sources so if we can block those from occurring, our skin will age less."
The ingredient has been around in the U.S. for a while, actually, but is having its moment now because consumers are getting smarter about skincare. "Many ingredients initially gain popularity in Japan prior to achieving the same status in the U.S. because Japanese consumers demand more research and development from manufacturers and lawmakers, they are more educated about products' effects, and consumers are more confident about efficacy at the time of purchase," says Yagoda.
"Asian markets tend to be on the cutting edge of skincare, with star ingredients being more readily accessible, earlier on, as the Asian consumer is better versed when it comes to skincare and the ingredients that go into their routines," says Idriss. "As a matter of fact, Asian beauty brands invest heavily in research and development alone, allowing them to come up with innovations faster than their U.S. counterparts."
According to Pruett, CoQ10 works similarly to another powerhouse ingredient: Vitamin C. "The most common antioxidant applied topically for its anti-aging effects in the US is Vitamin C based, but CoQ10 has also shown to use the same pathway to neutralize free radicals," says Pruett. "It is naturally occurring in all cells in the human body, including the skin and topmost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum. One study showed that topical application of this ingredient diminished crows feet and another showed that oral ingestion did not actually reach the stratum corneum of the skin."
Benefits of CoQ10 for Skin
While naturally occurring CoQ10 can be digested for energy, it can do a number of things in skincare products too. In terms of skincare, it's usually in toners, moisturizers, and under-eye creams, helping to even skin tone and reduce the appearance of fine lines.
- Energizes cell activity: "This energy is needed to repair damage and make sure the skin cells are healthy," says Bullock. "Active skin cells get rid of toxins easily and can make better use of nutrients. When your skin ages, all these processes slow down, causing dull and sallow, wrinkled skin." CoQ10 can keep your cells active and energized, helping your cells rid themselves of toxins.
- Reduce sun damage: "The skin is damaged by exposure to the sun's UV rays, which provides a source of free radicals, which can be damaging to the cells' DNA," says Pickens. "The potent antioxidant function of CoQ10 helps it to protect the skin at the molecular level from the damaging effects of the sun and from damage by free radicals." As Thomas explains, it works by "decreasing the collagen degradation of skin and interdicting the damage caused by photo-aging."
- Even out skin tone: CoQ10 works to block tyrosinase, which helps with the production of melanin, which means that CoQ10 can help fade and prevent dark spots.
- Stimulate collagen and elastin production: "CoQ10 supports the body's ability to produce collagen and elastin," says Bullock.
- Replenishes skin cells: More energized skin cells mean healthier skin cells. Adding CoQ10 to your skincare may allow your cells to better utilize other nutrients, leading to healthier skin overall.
- Helps reduce damage of free radicals: Since CoQ10 aids in cell activity, it also means that your cells can be more efficient in flushing out toxins like free radicals and healing the damage they cause.
- Helps soothe skin: While toxins are being flushed out, your skin is silently thanking you. CoQ10 works to help your cells remove what's irritating cells and your skin.
- Reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines: This ingredient helps your body produce collagen and elastin, which can reduce the appearance of fine lines.
Side Effects of CoQ10
While topical application is generally suitable for all skin types, you might want to take caution if you have certain skin conditions. "If you have a history of vitiligo, approach topical CoQ10 products with caution," says Idriss. "CoQ10 has been shown to block an enzyme known as tyrosinase, which is necessary for creating pigment. By blocking it, it may lead to worsening of depigmentation in those who suffer from vitiligo."
When it comes to side effects from ingesting CoQ10, they're rather mild. Some people might experience upset stomach or heartburn, but to be safe, always consult a doctor before you add a CoQ10 supplement to your diet.
How to Use It
The good news is that it is pretty safe to mix with other ingredients. "We have found that CoQ10 works great with a lot of other ingredients and products," says Pickens. "We have countless clients that apply our CoQ10 facial serum after prescription retinoids (Retin-A, etc.). In addition, as aforementioned, we believe it is great to apply before and after sun exposure." You can find it in toners, moisturizers, and under-eye creams, and it's even a great ingredient for use in body creams and lotions.
Pruett explains that CoQ10 can be used with Vitamin C and, in fact, "in one study, use of both together in non-skin tissue worked better than each alone." She adds that the ingredient "can be applied to the skin daily and there are no major interactions with other topicals so it plays well as an addition to your current skincare routine."
Yagoda says to mix with similar ingredients for best results. "Because CoQ10 is fat-soluble, it mixes best with like ingredients," she says. "It may be broken down more quickly when combined with retinol or glycolic acid."
The Best Products With CoQ10
"It's fragrance-free, alcohol-free, non-comedogenic, and gentle enough for sensitive skin," says Idriss. Plus, it's packed with vitamin E and beta carotene for softer, smoother skin.
Made with CoQ10 and açaí, noni, mangosteen, and pomegranate extracts, this will not only make your skin feel super nourished but also make a noticeable difference in complexion.
"Our HiQ CoQ10 Anti-Aging Facial Serum is actually the most concentrated CoQ10 anti-aging facial serum on the market," says Pickens. Mixed with organic green tea extract, vitamins, and other antioxidants, it protects the skin from free radical damage while also healing skin from it.
"It's a good option for the neck, décolletage, and even body, as it's a little thinner and spreads easier," Idriss says about this Gold Bond lotion. While most people want to smooth and hydrate the skin on their face, it's always a good idea to treat the rest of your body, too.
This moisturizer is lightweight, but it's filled with tons of super ingredients. CoQ10 is the star ingredient, but it also boasts vitamins B3 and B5, aloe vera, and jojoba oil. Not only does it help fade hyper-pigmentation, but aloe and jojoba help to moisturize and smooth skin.
A cult-favorite, this Indie Lee toner contains no alcohol and soothing ingredients like aloe, chamomile, and cucumber. It also has hyaluronic acid to help keep skin moisturized. To incorporate this into your routine, simply wet a cotton pad with the toner, swipe it on, and then apply your serums or moisturizers as you normally would.
Byrdie editors love this lightweight facial oil from Herbivore, which has a base made of rosehip oil and sea buckthorn oil. It's on the pricey side, but a little bit of this oil goes a long way. Three to four drops make your skin look glowy AF, and it also moisturizes and evens out your skin tone.
Does CoQ10 help with wrinkles?
CoQ10 helps produce collagen and elastin, which helps plump wrinkles and targets fine lines.
How often can I use CoQ10?
Products with CoQ10 can be used during both your morning and night routine. Depending on the type of product (serum, moisturizer, etc.), it can be applied directly after washing your face, as a moisturizer, or the last step of your routine if it's an oil product.
Do CoQ10 oral supplements work?
Hseu YC, Ho YG, Mathew DC, Yen HR, Chen XZ, Yang HL. The in vitro and in vivo depigmenting activity of coenzyme Q10 through the down-regulation of α-MSH signaling pathways and induction of Nrf2/ARE-mediated antioxidant genes in UVA-irradiated skin keratinocytes. Biochem Pharmacol. 2019;164:299-310. doi:10.1016/j.bcp.2019.04.015
Zhang M, Dang L, Guo F, Wang X, Zhao W, Zhao R. Coenzyme Q(10) enhances dermal elastin expression, inhibits IL-1α production and melanin synthesis in vitro. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2012;34(3):273-279. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2494.2012.00713.x