BYU research has shown that a molecule made when soy is digested stimulates production of collagen and elastin, two key components of healthy skin. Now, the university has licensed the technology to Nu Skin Enterprises to use in a serum that's part of its anti-aging product line.
A research team led by Edwin Lephart, a professor of physiology and developmental biology, discovered around 2004 that the molecule made by metabolizing soy isoflavons, called equol, has potential impact on not only skin, but baldness, prostate health, weight gain and brain health.
Lephart called the journey from a lab bench to a retail product "very exciting."
To study the potential skin benefits, the researchers cultured human skin cells in the lab, then tested the equol to see how it interacted with collagen, which gives skin structure, and elastin, which provides the elasticity for skin to regain normal shape after stretching or contracting. They found that equol stimulates both collagen and elastin, while also inhibiting enzymes that would break the two down.
Under the licensing agreement with Provo-based Nu Skin, equol is one of the active ingredients in the ageLOC Future Serum. That product, along with a cleanser and two moisturizers — one for day and one for night — make up the ageLOC Transformation daily skin-care line, according to Nu Skin spokeswoman Jordan Karpowitz. More than $28 million worth of ageLOC Transformation products were sold in 2009's fourth quarter.
Lephart said that equol may have implications for promoting wound healing as well, based on the molecule's characteristics.
BYU is negotiating with other companies to license the rights to use equol to treat conditions besides skin health, said BYU spokesman Michael Smart.
Patents are pending for the equol-related technology. The equol research was done in collaboration with Colorado State University and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, two institutions that receive a share of the royalties generated by the BYU license, Smart said.