Korean skincare

Micro-Spicule Skincare: Microneedling in a Bottle?

20 March 2024

 

 

Making a splash in the skincare scene in 2024 is spicule skincare. Also known as micro-spicules or bio-spicules; spicules are derived from the skeletons of tiny marine animals. The thought of you using the dead remains of sea creatures might creep you out, but spicules are gaining popularity in skincare, especially with spicule-containing products such as the VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence going viral on TikTok. Microspicules are also regarded as an alternative to microneedling treatments; and have been studied as a form of transdermal drug delivery.

 

Here’s a deep dive into the science of spicules; and everything you need to know about spicule skincare; a trend that looks set to grow in 2024 and beyond.

 

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 Morphological diversity of selected marine sponge spiculeImage credit: Łukowiak.

   

WHAT ARE SPICULES? 

Spicules are very tiny particles that are derived from marine sponges1,2. They form part of the exoskeletons in marine sponges, and contain calcium or silica1,2. Spicules can come in different shapes and sizes, but are typically pointed or spike like structures, hence the comparison to microneedling.

 

WHAT ARE SPICULES SKINCARE PRODUCTS?

Spicules are not an active ingredient by themselves; however, microspicules or biospicules are thought to improve the absorption of skincare products. Hence the benefits of using spicule skincare will depend on the active ingredients that the product contains. On ingredient lists, you might find spicules listed as “sponge” or “hydrolysed sponge”.

 

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How do microspicules increase skincare uptake. Image credit:  Liang et al

 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SPICULE SKINCARE?

Spicules in skincare are relatively new to the cosmetics scene, but microscopes are gaining attention as a new way of improving the uptake and efficacy of skincare and medications. Our skin barrier functions as a barrier against harmful toxins, infections and UV rays; but also is a physical barrier that impedes the uptake of skincare and drugs. Spicules applied to the skin have been found to create microchannels in the stratum corneum to improve the permeability of the skin3. Hence, spicule skincare has often been referred to as a DIY alternative to microneedling treatments.

 

Spicules also function as physical exfoliators due to their sharp edges. By rubbing spicules on the skin, the skin is mechanically exfoliated. The process of exfoliation facilitates skin renewal and rejuvenation to improve conditions such as dark spots and acne.

     

   

SPICULE SKINCARE PRODUCTS

Some examples bio-spicule containing products of 2024 are:

• VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence which also contains cica and propolis

• Pestlo Spicule Reborn Peeling Mask which also contains green tea and mugwort extract

• 9wishes Pine Perfect Ampule Serum which also contains extracts from pine leaves, licorice roots and green tea

 

Some of these ingredients have been explained in:

• Cica in Cica in Skincare: Centella Asiatica Explained

• Propolis and mugwort in An Expert’s Guide to Trending Korean Skincare Ingredients

• Green tea in Benefits of Topical Green Tea

 

ARE THERE STUDIES OR DATA ON MICRO-SPICULE SKINCARE PRODUCTS?

Spicules are relatively new to the field of dermatology; hence published studies and trials are few. Most of the studies on micro-spicules involve animal studies using spicules mostly from the Halicona species; and with different types of ingredients. These studies found that the microspicules from Halicona sponges improved the uptake of large molecules such as RNA and growth factors in animal skin through microchannels by puncturing the skin4-7.

 

Studies and trials of spicules in humans are very few; and I managed to locate one study in Korea that did so. This study assessed the outcomes of 20 participants with periocular wrinkles; and found that the wrinkles and dermal density increased in the participants who used growth factors with spicules; compared to users who applied growth factors alone8. This study did not mention how the lifestyle including skincare choices in the participants were controlled to allow for valid comparison. Transient redness and prickling sensations that resolved within a few minutes were some of the side effects experienced by subjects who used spicules8.

 

PROS AND CONS OF MICRO SPICULE SKINCARE

Although micro-spicules and bio-spicules are relatively new to the skincare scene with limited studies to assess its safety and efficacy; we can extrapolate some of the benefits and side effects of physical exfoliation for spicule skincare.

 

Exfoliation of the skin removes excess dead skin and stimulates cell turnover. This results in smoother and brighter looking skin along with improvements in hyperpigmentation and acne. Broadly speaking, exfoliation methods can be classified as physical exfoliation (using scrubs and mechanical tools that cause abrasions) and chemical exfoliation (using exfoliating acids e.g. AHAs, BHA).

 

Related blogposts:

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Physical exfoliation including spicule skincare physically disrupts the skin barrier by desquamation4-7. This is akin to micro tears in the skin. A disrupted skin barrier is also at risk of increased water loss, inflammation and infections9-11. I recommend following the instructions of skincare product to avoid overexfoliation which increases your risks of these side effects.

 

Micro-channels in the skin can increase the permeability of the skin for increased skin care uptake. While this might sound good; increased uptake of skincare ingredients may not always be preferred. Increased uptake of active ingredients like retinoids and acids are associated with retinoid dermatitis and irritation.

 

Related blogposts:

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MY THOUGHTS ON THE VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence 

Based on requests on social media, here are my thoughts on VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence, which is currently trending on TikTok. I have not purchased the VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence, but here are my thoughts (not a review!) of this product. You know I love buying trending skincare to evaluate them; and I’ll share why VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence was not up my alley.

 

Ingredients in VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence:

• Hydrolysed sponge aka the micro-spicules

• Niacinamide: Has been covered in Niacinamide: A Versatile Skincare Ingredient

• Centella asiatica, Madecassoside, Madecassic Acid, Asiatic Acid: aka Cica; and its components. This active ingredient has been covered in Cica in Skincare: Centella Asiatica Explained

• Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil: extract from macadamia nut; contains essential lipids and softens skin.

 

Does the VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence work?

The VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence is another viral TikTok skincare product that has been hailed as microneedling in a bottle. The VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence’s promotional material has pretty bold claims- immediate reduction of “vertically enlarged pore (length)” and “pore count”. These claims come across as laudatory to me; as “pore count” which I presume to be the number of pores; cannot be reduced. It’s not physiologically possible. Pores are the opening of the pilosebaceous units of our skin; so it is not possible to reduce the number of these pores, which are genetically determined. It is possible however, to reduce the appearance of the size of pores through exfoliation or collagen building treatments such as fractional co2 lasers.

 

Related blogpost:

How to Get Rid of Large Pores: Myths and Truths

   

       

The brand also claims that the VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence improves rough skin and skin texture with a single use; with increased absorption of the essence. I’ve seen the reviews of VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence by various TikTok users; and a number of TikTok video creators also shared that their skin texture has become smoother and skincare absorption seems to be better with the VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence. The immediate improvement in the skin’s appearance can be explained by the physical exfoliation effect of the sponge spicules. By rubbing the VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence on the skin; the sponge spicules manually slough off dead and dull skin to unveil smoother and brighter skin quite quickly.

 

The VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence’s spicules consist of tiny needles which penetrate the skin to create microchannels to improve the skin’s permeability to skincare. Based on the ingredients in VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence, I would expect the benefits of the VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence to be moisturised, calmer skin. I would also expect that VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence would be prickly, or even painful when applied onto the skin.

 

With the VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence offering these benefits, why haven’t I purchased it? My concern with bio-spicule skincare and physical exfoliants in general; is the problem of overexfoliation and damage to the skin barrier. The effects (and side effects) of physical exfoliation are highly variable; with the amount of force exerted affecting the outcomes. As explained above, overexfoliation causes microtears in the skin; which damages the skin barrier and leaves the skin vulnerable to increased transepidermal water loss, inflammation and infections. Not to mention, poking the skin to create the microchannels also exposes the skin to infections. For these reasons, I’ve been apprehensive to try VT Reedle Shot 100 Essence.

 

I’ve shared before that chemical exfoliation is my preferred method of exfoliation personally and in the clinic. Chemical exfoliation with exfoliating acids can be a controlled and safe procedure; and I’ve shared about it in A Complete Guide to Acids in Skincare & Chemical Exfoliation. I’ve also shared my recommendations and duds in Review of Face Exfoliating Acids in Skincare.

 

References:

1. Structure and composition of calcareous sponge spicules: a review and comparison to structurally related biominerals. Sethmann and Wörheide. Micron. 2008;39(3):209-28.

2. Skin Delivery of Hydrophilic Biomacromolecules Using Marine Sponge Spicules. Zhang et al. Mol Pharm. 2017 Sep 5;14(9):3188-3200.

3. Skin Delivery of siRNA Using Sponge Spicules in Combination with Cationic Flexible Liposomes. Liang et al. Mol Ther Nucleic Acids. 2020 Jun 5:20:639-648.

4. Enhanced Skin Delivery of Therapeutic Peptides Using Spicule-Based Topical Delivery Systems. Zhang et al. Pharmaceutics. 2021 Dec; 13(12): 2119.

5. Skin Delivery of siRNA Using Sponge Spicules in Combination with Cationic Flexible Liposomes. Liang et al. Mol Ther Nucleic Acids. 2020 Jun 5; 20: 639–648.

6. Skin delivery of hyaluronic acid by the combined use of sponge spicules and flexible liposomes. Zhang et al. Biomater Sci. 2019 Mar 26;7(4):1299-1310.

7. A novel dermal delivery system using natural spicules for cosmetics and therapeutics. Kim et al. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2022 Oct;21(10):4754-4764.

8. The Effect of Micro-Spicule Containing Epidermal Growth Factor on Periocular Wrinkles. Ha et al. Ann Dermatol. 2017 Apr; 29(2): 187–193.

9. Biophysical changes after mechanical injury of the stratum corneum in normal skin. Huh et al. Contact Dermatitis. 2002 Jan;46(1):24-8.

10. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Rodan et al. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2016 Dec; 4(12 Suppl): e1152.

11. The Clinical Relevance of Maintaining the Functional Integrity of the Stratum Corneum in both Healthy and Disease-affected Skin. Rosso et al. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2011 Sep; 4(9): 22–42.

 

Propolis contains at least 300 active ingredients including phenolic acids, flavonoids, minerals, vitamins and enzymes18-22. Thanks to these components, propolis has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and wound healing benefits23. Propolis also has been found to protect against UV rays and are great pairings with sunscreens24. Some of the popular propolis containing K-beauty skincare include CNP Laboratory Propolis Energy Ampule, COSRX Full Fit Propolis Light Ampoule and Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum : Propolis + Niacinamide.

 

Related blogposts:

Sunscreen Reviews 2021

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References:

1. Meltzer M. South Korea Exports Its Glow. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/30/fashion/skin-care-products-from-south-korea-catch-on-in-united-states.html?

2. South Korea – Country Commercial Guide. https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/south-korea-cosmetics

3. Value of cosmetics exported from South Korea from 2014 to 2022. Statistica. https://www.statista.com/statistics/781147/south-korea-cosmetics-export-value/

4. Houttuynia cordata Thunb: An Ethnopharmacological Review. Wu et al. Front Pharmacol. 2021; 12: 714694.

5. Bioactive alkaloids from the aerial parts of Houttuynia cordata. Ma et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2017 Jan 4:195:166-172.

6. Chemopreventive effects of standardized ethanol extract from the aerial parts of Artemisia princeps Pampanini cv. Sajabal via NF-κB inactivation on colitis-associated colon tumorigenesis in mice. Chung et al. Food Chem Toxicol. 2015 Jan:75:14-23.

7. Antioxidant and anticancer activity of Artemisia princeps var. orientalis extract in HepG2 and Hep3B hepatocellular carcinoma cells. Choi et al. Chin J Cancer Res. 2013 Oct;25(5):536-43.

8. Antioxidant Artemisia princeps Extract Enhances the Expression of Filaggrin and Loricrin via the AHR/OVOL1 Pathway. Hirano et al. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Sep; 18(9): 1948.

9. A Systematic Review: Application of Rice Products for Hair Growth. Hashemi et al. J Drugs Dermatol.. 2022 Feb 1;21(2):177-185.

10. Panax ginseng pharmacology: a nitric oxide link. Gillis. Biochem Pharmacol. 1997 Jul 1;54(1):1-8.

11. Ginseng pharmacology: multiple constituents and multiple actions. Attele et al. Biochem Pharmacol. 1999 Dec 1;58(11):1685-93.

12. Proof of the mysterious efficacy of ginseng: basic and clinical trials: metabolic activation of ginsenoside: deglycosylation by intestinal bacteria and esterification with fatty acid. Hasegawa. J Pharmacol Sci. 2004 Jun;95(2):153-7.

13. Syringaresinol Reverses Age-Related Skin Atrophy by Suppressing FoxO3a-Mediated Matrix Metalloproteinase-2 Activation in Copper/Zinc Superoxide Dismutase-Deficient Mice. Kim et al. J Invest Dermatol. 2019 Mar;139(3):648-655.

14. Experimental study on anti-aging effect of Ginsenosides on skin of the aging model mice induced by D-galactose. Wang et al. Academic Journal of Guangdong College of Pharmacy, 01 Jan 2003, 9(1):25-27

15. Effects of Red Ginseng extract on ultraviolet B-irradiated skin change in C57BL mice. Kim et al. Phytother Res. 2008 Nov;22(11):1423-7.

16. Enzyme-modified Panax ginseng inhibits UVB-induced skin aging through the regulation of procollagen type I and MMP-1 expression. Hwang et al. Food Funct. 2014 Feb;5(2):265-74.

17. Effects of Korean ginseng berry on skin antipigmentation and antiaging via FoxO3a activation. Kim et al. J Ginseng Res. 2017 Jul; 41(3): 277–283.

18. Biological and pharmacological activities. Therapeutic uses of this bee-product. Castro. ARBS Ann. Rev. Biomed. Sci. 2001;3:49–83.

19. Antiviral activity and mode of action of propolis extracts and selected compounds. Schnitzler Phytother. Res. 2010;24:20–28.

20. Structure and antioxidant activity of polyphenols derived from propolis. Kurek-Górecka. Molecules. 2013;19:78–101.

21. Free radical scavenging activity of drops and spray containing propolis—An EPR examination. Molecules. 2017;22:128.

22. Important developments in Romanian propolis research. Mărghitaş. Evid. Based Compl. Altern. Med. 2013

23. Bee Products in Dermatology and Skin Care. Kurek-Górecka et al. Molecules. 2020 Feb; 25(3): 556.

24. Natural products as photoprotection. Nisakorn. J. Cosmet. Dermatol. 2015;14:47–63.

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