An ingredient that is commonly found in a lot of Korean skincare products (especially in serums and creams) is adenosine. You may have spotted it in ingredient lists before and wondered what this ingredient is. Today I’m shining the spotlight on adenosine, and I’ll explain how this somewhat lesser known skincare ingredient can help you fight wrinkles.
Don’t have enough time to read this entire article, but you’d like to benefit from adenosine and just want some product recommendations?
What Is Adenosine?
You may have heard of adenosine before. It’s actually naturally present in our bodies (and all other life forms) as part of the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is responsible for transferring energy for many of the cellular and muscular functions in our body.
The adenosine found in skincare products is derived from yeast and it has been shown to have anti-aging, skin soothing and skin restoration properties. In particular, adenosine is an effective ingredient for decreasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. In it’s ingredient form, it is a white crystalline solid which is soluble in water.
When used in skincare products, adenosine is only present in minute amounts (the concentration used is typically 0.01-0.1%) – although there are currently no regulations in place. You’ll therefore find it towards the bottom of ingredient lists. This is based off chemical risk assessments, which currently advise that the usage limit of adenosine in skincare products should be below 0.1% (see one such assessment here).
Anti-Wrinkle Benefits of Adenosine
The use of adenosine in skincare products only began in the last 10 years as its anti-aging benefits became evident. Adenosine’s anti-aging effects on the skin were incidentally discovered by two University of Massachusetts Medical School researchers while conducting studies on how aging affects heart function.
These researchers launched the first skincare product containing adenosine (a high-end anti-wrinkle cream), called Easamine in 2009 (which is no longer available). Shortly after this in 2010, L’Oreal launched its own line of anti-aging skincare products featuring adenosine, even though the researchers had patented their discovery. In short, this has become an ongoing legal battle in the United States, which is yet to be settled.
In the meantime, many Korean skincare brands have caught on to the anti-wrinkle benefits of adenosine, and you can now find this ingredient in many Korean serums, facial creams and eye creams. I’m obviously not a lawyer and don’t know much about patent law at all, but I believe that Korean brands are able to use adenosine in their products as the patent applies to products produced within the United States only.
How Does Adenosine Reduce Wrinkles?
I could only find four scientific publications related to the anti-wrinkle benefits of adenosine (I’ve cited them at the end of this article). Two of these studies were actually conducted and published by L’Oreal and the other two by scientists from Yonsei University in Seoul.
Three of these studies concluded that when applied topically, adenosine is an effective ingredient for improving the appearance of wrinkles, in both the eye and mouth areas. The studies found that adenosine is great at smoothing out wrinkles, improving elasticity and increasing dermal density if applied as either a cream, dissolvable film or dissolvable microneedle patch. None of the studies reported any skin irritation or adverse reactions.
The remaining study, which was conducted at Yonsei University (and compared the efficacy of topical collagen and adenosine) found that adenosine had no significant affect on the appearance of wrinkles. However, the authors concluded that this may be due to the small number of subjects used or the short treatment period.
But how does adenosine actually work to reduce the appearance of wrinkles?
In simple terms (because the biochemistry is much too complex to explain here), the adenosine molecule can bind to a receptor called A2A which is present in dermal fibroblasts (the cells responsible for collagen, elastin and glycosaminoglycan biosynthesis).
This binding of adenosine to the A2A receptor in dermal fibroblasts stimulates the production of collagen (types I and III) and also down-regulates collagen degradation via various biochemical pathways. These molecular pathways are a little too complex to include here, but just know that adenosine directly affects the production of type I and type III collagen in the skin by binding to A2A receptors in fibroblast cells (you can read more about these pathways in this study here if you like).
As you know, collagen is constantly been broken down in our skin (and certain extrinsic factors such as UV radiation speed up this process). Also, as we age our bodies produce less collagen to replace the collagen that has been broken down, which results in wrinkling of the skin. FACT: After the age of 20, you produce about 1 percent less collagen in the skin each year!
Since adenosine has been shown to stimulate the production of collagen, applying it topically can help to prevent (and somewhat even reverse) wrinkles.
What Other Benefits Does Adenosine Have For Your Skin?
Skin-Restoration Properties of Adenosine
The ability of adenosine to stimulate the production of collagen also means that it’s beneficial in promoting dermal wound healing and tissue repair. In particular, studies conducted on mice have found that targeting the adenosine receptors in the skin results in faster closing up of wounds (see one such study here).
Potentially, this means that adenosine may be an effective ingredient for treating acne – although no studies have been conducted in this area.
However, I don’t think we’ll be seeing adenosine marketed as an anti-acne ingredient any time soon as there are so many other effective ingredients already available. Also, as adenosine regulates the function of many cellular processes throughout the human body, it could potentially have harmful physiologic and pharmacologic side effects if used in higher concentrations.
There are still many other restorative ingredients you can include in your skincare routine, my favorite of which is snail mucin (read my article on its healing and anti-aging properties here). And if you do want to try snail mucin on your skin (it’s really not gross at all), then there is nothing better than the COSRX Advanced Snail 92 All In One Cream!
This cream is a staple in my simple skincare routine. Even if I’m having a really busy morning or evening, I will at least always quickly apply this cream to my face as it keeps my skin hydrated all day (or night) and it really helps heal any inflamed pimples or cuts I have on my face (from sharp little toddler finger nails). It contains 92% snail mucin (as the name suggests) and it actually also contains adenosine! I buy mine from either Yesstyle or Jolse (depending on where I’m purchasing other things from).
Soothing Properties of Adenosine
Adenosine has also been found to have the capacity to decrease inflammation of the skin by inhibiting the inflammatory actions of immune cells such as neutrophils and macrophages. Adenosine binding to the A2A receptors on immune cells results in the inhibition of the generation of reactive oxygen species, phagocytosis and cytokine release.
This suggests that adenosine may be an effective ingredient for soothing inflammation often experienced by people who have sensitive skin or acne. However, studies haven’t been conducted in this area, meaning that we don’t know how effective the topical application of adenosine is in treating skin conditions, and also what concentration is needed (and is safe). Therefore I don’t think adenosine will be marketed as a skin-soothing ingredient any time soon.
If your skin is red or inflamed and needs a soothing ingredient, then I highly recommend looking for products containing either green tea, licorice root or Centella asiatica (read my article on Centella here).
Is Adenosine Safe To Use On Your Skin?
Adenosine and it’s actions within the human body have been studied since the 1920’s, however it’s anti-wrinkle effects were only discovered and patented in the early 2000’s – with not many studies focusing on this area of research. We therefore know a lot about the various roles that adenosine plays in our bodies, but we don’t know a lot about its affect on the skin (although a few studies have been published showing its effectiveness at treating wrinkles).
These studies did not find any adverse reactions or skin irritation in subjects that applied the adenosine creams or films to their skin, making it suitable for people with sensitive skin. Risk assessments have determined adenosine to be an extremely safe skincare ingredient with no known toxicity in general use. There are currently no regulations in place for the use of adenosine in skincare products in any country and EWG (the Environmental Working Group) has rated adenosine as a 1 (on a scale of 1 to 10) on their Skin Deep Cosmetic Database (with 1 being the lowest risk to health and 10 being the highest).
Korean Skincare Products With Adenosine
Your skin might already be benefiting from adenosine without you even knowing! If you’re already using Korean skincare products, I guarantee that at least some of them contain adenosine – especially when it comes to facial creams (such as moisturizers, overnight masks and some sunscreens), serums and eye creams.
Searching for adenosine on the CosDNA website, returned hundreds of products containing adenosine in their ingredients list. Narrowing this down to some popular Korean skincare brands, I found that the following products contain adenosine:
Benton Products With Adenosine
- Fermentation Eye Cream
- Fermentation Essence
- Snail Bee High Content Steam Cream
- Snail Bee High Content Essence
- Snail Bee High Content Lotion
- Snail Bee High Content Mask Pack
- Snail Bee High Content Skin
- Snail Bee Ultimate Hydrogel Eye Patch
- Snail Bee Ultimate Serum
COSRX Products With Adenosine
- Advanced Snail 92 All In One Cream
- Honey Ceramide Full Moisture Cream
- Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence
- Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask
Innisfree Products With Adenosine
- Aqua Water Drop Sunscreen
- Green Tea Foam Cleanser
- Intensive Anti Pollution Sunscreen
- Intensive Triple Care Sunscreen
- Jeju Orchid Enriched Cream
- Jeju Orchid Enriched Essence
- Jeju Orchid Eye Cream
- Jeju Orchid Fluid
- Jeju Orchid Gel Cream
- Jeju Orchid Intense Cream
- Jeju Orchid Skin
- Jeju Orchid Sleeping Mask
- Perfect 9 Repair Cream
- Perfect 9 Repair Eye Cream
- Soybean Energy Cream
- Soybean Energy Essence
- Soybean Energy Oil
I’m From Products With Adenosine
- Ginseng Eye Cream
- Ginseng Serum
- Honey Cream
- Rice Toner
iUNIK Products With Adenosine
- Beta-Glucan Daily Moisture Cream
- Black Snail Restore Serum
- Centella Calming Gel Cream
- Noni Light Oil Serum
- Propolis Vitamin Sleeping Mask
- Propolis Vitamin Synergy Serum
- Rose Galactomyces Essential Toner
- Rose Galactomyces Silky Tone Up Cream
- Rose Galactomyces Synergy Serum
- Tea Tree Relief Serum
Klairs Products With Adenosine
- Freshly Juiced Vitamin E Mask
- Midnight Blue Youth Activating Drop
- Soft Airy UV Essence (SPF 50+, PA++++)
Laneige Products With Adenosine
- Eye Sleeping Mask
- Firming Sleeping Mask
- Perfect Renew Cream
- Perfect Renew Essence
- Time Freeze Essence
- Time Freeze Eye Serum
- Time Freeze Intensive Cream
MISSHA Products With Adenosine
- Bee Pollen Renew Ampouler
- Bee Pollen Renew Cream
- Bee Pollen Renew Treatment
- Misa Cho Bo Yang Eye Cream
- MISA Chogongjin Cream
- MISA Chogongjin Eye Cream
- MISA Geum Sul Giyoun Eye Cream
- MISA Geum Sul Rejuvenating Cream
- MISA Yehyun Jinbon Eye Cream
- Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Ampoule
- Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream
- Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Essential Moisturizer
- Time Revolution Immortal Youth Cream
- Time Revolution Night Repair Probio Ampoule
- Time Revolution Night Repair Probio Ampoule Cream
- Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence Intensive Moist
- Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence Mist
- Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence Rx
Mizon Products With Adenosine
- All In One Snail Repair Cream
- Black Snail All In One Cream
- Collagen Power Firming Enriched Cream
- Collagen Power Firming Eye Cream
- Hyaluronic Acid 100
- Peptide Ampoule Cream
- Snail Recovery Gel Cream
- Snail Repair Eye Cream
- Snail Repair Intensive Ampoule
- Snail Repair Intensive Essence
- Snail Repair Intensive Gold Eye Gel Patch
- Snail Repair Intensive Toner
- Snail Wrinkle Care Sleeping Pack
PURITO Products With Adenosine
- Centella Green Level Buffet Serum
- Centella Green Level Eye Cream
- Centella Green Level Recovery Cream
- Centella Green Level Safe Sun
- Centella Green Level Unscented Sun
- Comfy Water Sun Block
- Deep Sea Pure Water Cream
- Fermented Complex 94 Boosting Essence
- Galacto Niacin 97 Power Essence
- Pure Hyaluronic Acid 90 Serum
- Pure Vitamin C Serum
- Sea Buckthorn Vital 70 Cream
- Snail Repair Advanced Serum
Some By Mi Products With Adenosine
- AHA, BHA, PHA 14 Days Super Miracle Spot All Kill Cream
- AHA, BHA, PHA 30 Days Miracle Cream
- AHA, BHA, PHA 30 Days Miracle Toner
- Galactomyces Pure Vitamin C Glow Serum
- H7 Hydro Max Cream
- Rose Intensive Tone-Up Cream
- Snail Truecica Miracle Repair Serum
- Truecica Mineral 100 Calming Suncream
- UV Shield Daily Mild Suncream
- V10 Vitamin Tone-Up Cream
- Yuja Niacin Brightening Sleeping Mask
What Other Ingredients Are Good For Reducing Wrinkles?
There are many other ingredients that I think would be much more effective than adenosine if you’re specifically looking to reduce wrinkles. In particular, the antioxidants vitamin A (retinol and other retinoids), vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid in particular) and niacinamide (vitamin B3) are probably the most effective anti-aging ingredients available, with tonnes of scientific evidence to show this.
I follow a simple skincare routine and was able to incorporate many of these ingredients. Also, since writing this article, I’ve gone back and checked the ingredient lists of all the products I’m currently using and 4 of them actually contain adenosine! So I was already benefiting from adenosine anyway, which you might be too if you’re already using some Korean skincare products.
Adenosine is a widely used ingredient in Korean skincare products, in particular creams and serums. Although adenosine is somewhat one of the new kids on the block (when it comes to skincare ingredients), research shows that it’s effective at decreasing the appearance of wrinkles (hence why you mostly find it in treatment products).
How adenosine works to prevent skin aging is not yet fully understood, although it is believed that it increases the production of collagen if applied to the skin.
There are currently no regulations on the use of adenosine in skincare products as no skin irritation or adverse reactions have been associated with its use. It’s considered a very safe skincare ingredient.
However, you’ll find that adenosine is only a minor ingredient in skincare products – being present in only minute amounts (the concentration is typically under 0.1%). This is most likely because adenosine regulates many other functions in the human body (including the heart) and larger concentrations could cause harmful physiologic and pharmacologic side effects.
- Abella 2006: Evaluation of anti-wrinkle efficacy of adenosine-containing products using the FOITS technique. Int J Cosmet Sci, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp. 447-51
- Cronstein 2004: Adenosine Receptors and Wound Healing. The Scientific World Journal, Volume 4, pp. 1-8
- Kang et al., 2018: Adenosine‐loaded dissolving microneedle patches to improve skin wrinkles, dermal density, elasticity and hydration. Int J Cosmet Sci, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp. 199-206
- Legendre et al., 2007: Formulation, characterization, and efficacy of an adenosine-containing dissolvable film for a localized anti-wrinkle effect. J Cosmet Sci, Volume 58, Issue 2, pp. 147-55
- Montesinos et al., Adenosine promotes wound healing and mediates angiogenesis in response to tissue injury via occupancy of A(2A) receptors. Am J Pathol, Volume 160, Issue 6: doi:10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61151-0
- Nakav et al., 2008: Anti-Inflammatory Preconditioning by Agonists of Adenosine A1 Receptor. PLoS ONE 3(5): e2107, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0002107
- Ryu et al., 2013: The Efficacy and Safety of Succinylated Atelocollagen and Adenosine for the Treatment of Periorbital Wrinkles. JCDSA, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp. 234-241