Science & Skin

Don’t Touch! How our Skin Senses Temperature and Pain – implications for sensitive skin

The concept of temperature and pain sensing is a vital mechanism present in our skin, crucial in protecting us from harm – however its (hyper)action is also the molecular basis of sensitive skin.

On Monday, October 4th 2021, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian "for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch." One of their ground-breaking discoveries honored with the prize was that of the TRPV1 receptor sensing. This receptor is responsible for transmitting the sensation of pain upon contact with heat, thereby classically determined as a heat-activated pain receptor. However, it can also be activated by several other external stimuli, including acidic conditions, various toxins, UV irradiation and chemical irritants. An example of such an irritant is capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers that leads to the burning sensation and irritation when in contact with our skin.

Such interactions with the TRPV1 receptor provide the molecular basis for the well-known and unfortunately frequent condition of sensitive skin. The membrane-bound pain receptor can be found on the outer membranes of keratinocytes in our skin, an important location as the skin represents the first barrier encountering environmental stressors. The activation of this receptor is essential in preventing us from harm, as we react to the painful stimulus and thereby withdraw, for example after touching a hot surface. However, overactivation of this protective mechanism can have negative effects. Particularly sensitive skin is characterized by a hyperreactive TRPV1 receptor, leading to a tight, itching and even burning sensation of the skin - even though no harmful stimuli are present. Such constant activation of TRPV1 can further lead to inflammation and ultimately also collagen degradation, that can result in premature skin aging.

TRPV1 in the skin

A possible remedy to treat sensitive skin would evidently lie in the prevention of TRPV1 hyperactivation. This could be done by applying inhibitors that target the TRPV1 receptor – and such a molecule was indeed discovered in the venom of the leathery sea anemone. The inhibiting protein at full-length is however unstable and unable to penetrate the skin due to its size. However, Mibelle Biochemistry developed an innovative pentapeptide that contains the TRPV1 inhibitor sequence of the sea anemone protein: SensAmone P5. To ensure improved skin uptake, this peptide was further incorporated into a soft sphere carrier system based on shea butter.

Inhibiting action of SensAmone P5

In vitro assays have shown that SensAmone P5:

  • Reduces the activation of the TRPV1 pain receptor
  • Inhibits TRPV1 more potently than the full-length sea anemone protein

Furthermore, clinical studies on women with sensitive skin have shown that applying a cream containing SensAmone P5:

  • Quickly (within 2h) reduces the skin reactivity
  • Significantly reduces the skin sensitivity (itching, burning, stinging sensation)

To summarize, SensAmone P5 proves to be an effective cosmetic ingredient in protecting sensitive skin from overreacting to environmental stimuli. It provides immediate comfort for sensitive skin and can be used in sensitive skin care cosmetics and comforting solutions.

Find out more about SensAmone P5 here.

Written by

Ph.D. Julia Baumann