The effects of electromagnetic waves remain a widely debated issue. This does not mean that the debate dates from yesterday.
Today, we have the IoT – as we say to refer to the “Internet of Things” – or “Connected Objects” for almost all uses, as can be seen with the development of antiwave patches, and their safety has become a topical issue. There is also this search for naturalness that wants plants to have extraordinary virtues such as to oppose “bad waves”. And then there is too this controversy over the effects of electromagnetic waves, which has been going on for quite some time and which, like all controversies, opposes opinions including specialists and ends with a societal debate. Although it was raised quite a while ago, we still do not have a much accurate idea of the issues at stake. Mobile phones constantly in our hands, connected objects everywhere in our homes… Waves have invaded our everyday lives, raising countless questions, as can be seen with electrohypersensitive people. Both radiofrequency electromagnetic fields and the waves emitted by mobile phones are classified by the World Health Organization as possible carcinogens, and a few studies listed by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) highlight a potentially increased risk of brain tumour for intensive users. And yet, ANSES have declared they still cannot establish any causal link. This scientific controversy has not prevented the emergence of an antiwave protection market.
What about the skin?
I’m not taking much risk if I say the situation is just as complicated for the skin. But it did not prevent the cosmetics industry from taking interest in this issue – quite a while ago. For example, innovative brand Clarins had anticipated these questions with a broad spectrum approach.
As a reminder, in 2002, the Clarins Research Laboratories decided to work on the effects of waves on the skin tissue under the initiative of Lionel de Benetti. He recalls these days: “We had to develop a system that could irradiate isolated cells and skin explants in a quantified manner. Developed in collaboration with CNRS, the device consisted of an oven fitted with an antenna in the center which emitted waves at 900 MHz (the most common frequency of mobile phones at that time). The samples studied were exposed for six hours, and then the expression of genes was analyzed by cDNA array and RT PCR. We actually found out there was a significant influence on the expression of the genes involved in cell differentiation and inflammation. Then, we renewed the experiment by testing different actives to select those that softened the phenomena observed. The E3P product was eventually placed on the market in January 2007. It was an aqueous lotion with a single property: antiwave protection.”
Lionel de Benetti
During the press launch in October 2006, the company declared: “Clarins has demonstrated in a six-year study conducted in collaboration with a university research institute that the exposure to electronic objects, like mobile phones and microwave ovens, can accelerate skin aging. ‘Artificial electromagnetic waves, for example, emitted byphones and TV sets, represent an additional factor in the ageing process,’ said Lionel de Benetti, R&D Director of Clarins Laboratories. ‘More and more people worry about their effects on our environment.’ De Benetti’s team studied the effects on the skin of 900 MHz waves, the waves the most widely used in the world for communications, according to Clarins. Our laboratories found out that, when exposed to these waves, the skin’s production of free radicals increased, its protection barriers were altered, and cell renewal slowed down by 26%. The subsequent visible effects included less smooth skin surface and dehydrated and more sensitive skin – factors that contribute to skin ageing. ‘These waves can go through walls’, de Benetti said. ‘If we think of the skin as a brick wall, these waves can actually weaken it.’ He added that six hours of exposure to electromagnetic waves per day could accelerate skin ageing.”
Clarins turned to natural ingredients to counter the effects of this new technology. The product formula included:
- A “magnetic defense” complex comprising Rhodiola rosea, or Orpin rose, a plant that can survive the extreme Siberian cold, and an extract from Thermus thermophilus, a marine microorganism which develops 2,000 metres under the surface of the Pacific Ocean. This complex protected the skin from pollutants, as well as skin cells, according to Clarins.
- An anti-pollution complex comprising white tea for its antioxidant benefits, a watercress extract, which develops near highways, despite car emissions, and a Glycofilm to protect the skin surface.
Lotion E3P Clarins
This launch triggered a lot of reactions and emotions. Lionel adds that “a few months after it was marketed, I had to give Italian and British authorities – among others – a few explanations. They actually asked us to soften the ‘anguish’ our presentation created about the exposure to electromagnetic waves…” As a matter of fact, we had made a poster at Barcelona’s IFSCC and published an article in the JID in September 2007. Although we stopped manufacturing the product, we used the actives we had identified as interesting in all our face products… without communicating too much about it. Lionel de Benetti also recalls that “given how unsuccessful the product was, it was withdrawn from the market in 2009, I think. Retrospectively, I believe that one of the reasons why it was a commercial failure was that it was too expensive (48 €); but above all, its claim was not really well-understood at that time: no sensoriality, no additional properties… We chose a simple formula to quickly launch it, because we thought another brand might be ahead of us – in our trade, everyone works on the same issues at the same time…”
Things are not over yet, though. In a more recent publication (expression-cosmetique-50-selection-2), Rachida Nachat-Kappes wonders what goes on in the cells and whether we can transpose the effects observed in the nerve tissue to the skin. The literature she mentions clearly shows radiofrequencies trigger oxidative damage, similarly to other radiation types. Would antioxidants do the job? Another cell target is put forward, TRPV1 receptor, which is also expressed in the skin and involved in apoptosis. Plus, it is overexpressed in certain skin pathologies. But no firm conclusion can be drawn, especially since few of the rare studies available focus on long-term effects. The link with inflam’aging is evoked, and a substance similar to capsaicin is suggested.
This episode perfectly exemplifies a very common situation in our trades: it is never a good thing to be right too early. Momentum is a gift that is hard to deal with. Today, we still do not know whether this approach has a real meaning, but it would be unrealistic to think it is recent.
Thanks and congratulations to Lionel and his teams. Thanks to Rachida as well.
Jean-Claude LE JOLIFF
NB: If you have a few similar episodes to tell us about, please do not hesitate.