University of Hertfordshire

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Design, synthesis and characterization of linear unnatural amino acids for skin moisturization

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • N R Arezki
  • A C Williams
  • A J A Cobb
  • Marc Brown
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-82
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Cosmetic Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


OBJECTIVES: This work aimed to design, synthesize and characterize replacement natural moisturizing factor (NMF) composed of modified hygroscopic linear amino acids to pre-empt or repair skin barrier dysfunction.

METHODS: Following synthesis and characterization, thermo-gravimetric analysis and quantum mechanics molecular modelling quantified and depicted water binding to the new compounds. Deliquescence relative humidity demonstrated the water-scavenging ability of the compounds, whereas snake skin moisturizing studies showed they increased water uptake into snake skin.

RESULTS: From thermal analysis, N-hydroxyglycine showed greatest water-holding capacity followed by N-hydroxyserine, l-homoserine and α-hydroxyglycine; coupled with quantum mechanics molecular modelling, between 8 and 12 molecules of water could associate with each molecule of either N-hydroxyglycine, N-hydroxyserine or l-homoserine. All of our modified amino acids were efficacious and induced similar or greater water uptake compared with the established moisturizing compounds hyaluronic acid, glycerine and urea in snake skin. Incorporated at 10% in Oilatum, N-hydroxyserine induced >200% greater moisture uptake into dry snake skin compared to treatment with water alone, with efficacy related to the molecule structure and ability to bind to 12 water molecules. Oilatum cream spiked with all our unnatural amino acid hydrotropes increased water uptake into snake skin compared with Oilatum alone. The compound series was designed to elucidate some structure - efficacy relationships. Amino acid chirality did not affect the water-holding capacity but did affect uptake into skin. Compounds with high melting points and bond energies tended to decrease water-holding capacity. With isosteric replacement, the more electronegative atoms gave greater water-holding capacities.

CONCLUSIONS: This work demonstrates the potential of unnatural amino acid hydrotropes as skin moisturizers and has developed some predictive 'rules' for further design and refinement of chemical structures.


© 2016 The Authors. International Journal of Cosmetic Science published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Society of Cosmetic Scientists and Societe Francaise de Cosmetologie. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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