Ingredient lists aren't the easiest to read; I hear you. I'm someone who does it for a living—and certainly I still get stumped when I come across a new active ingredient (or even more confusing, one of its unique chemical forms). And coenzyme Q10 falls under that umbrella of confusing terms.
The antioxidant is becoming quite the buzzy supplement and topical ingredient thanks to its ability to care for the skin.* And despite its popularity (or, perhaps because of its popularity) many people have lots of questions about it. One such question has to do with the various forms of the coenzyme.
See, most ingredients have multiple forms. These various forms have different potencies, bioactivity, functions, and qualities. For example: Vitamin C is a very popular antioxidant in skin care topicals and supplements, but on the ingredient label or nutrition panel you may see something like ascorbic acid, L-ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate, retinyl ascorbate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate.
Such is the case for CoQ10: Its two unique varieties are ubiquinol and ubiquinone. Here, we are diving into the former.
What is ubiquinol?
Ubiquinol is a form of coenzyme Q10 that can be found in supplements and sometimes topicals. It is considered the "active" form, as it is the bioactive form of CoQ10 utilized in the body, bypassing any additional conversion steps.
Coenzyme q10 (CoQ10) is a fat-soluble compound that's found in all your cells. It's known as a "coenzyme" because it's needed for key enzymes to function: Your cells require CoQ10 to produce energy.* Specifically, it's used in the mitochondria, or the "powerhouse" of the cell. Here, electrons move along chemical pathways to make energy (ATP). CoQ10 transports electrons in these pathways, making it an essential player in the game. The energy produced by these pathways is then used for normal cellular functions throughout the entire day (ahem, including those involved in skin health). Additionally, CoQ10 is also a potent antioxidant—the only fat-soluble antioxidant naturally made by the human body, in fact.
What does ubiquinol do for the body & skin?
If you want to know what ubiquinol does for the body, you just need to look at what CoQ10 does. As mbg's director of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, explains, "CoQ10 is found ubiquitously—hence the name, ubiquinol, the active form of CoQ10—in every cell of your body." Ferira adds, "In your cells' mitochondria, ubiquinol is a vital part of cellular energy production from nutrition we consume daily. A real multitasker, ubiquinol is also a powerhouse antioxidant."*
If you want a full guide to CoQ10, we have several guides at your disposal: Here's everything you need to know about its full-body benefits and skin care benefits.* However, we included an abridged rundown for your reading pleasure—and for convenience. How nice of us.
- Neutralizes oxidative stress: It can combat oxidative stress, which does a number on the body.* Oxidative stress is what happens when the cells in your body are dealing with too many free radicals: Over a prolonged period of time, this accelerates the aging process.
- Cellular energy and mitochondrial support: CoQ10 is used to help create energy by all our cells, according to Casey Kelley, M.D., ABoIM, founder and medical director of Case Integrative Health, thanks to its central role in mitochondrial health.*
- Supports healthy skin: Due to its potent antioxidant properties, it can help support skin and reduce signs of aging.* Oxidative stress is a huge driver of premature aging—for example, photoaging (from sun exposure) is a real-time example of this. "The protective antioxidant effects of CoQ10 have been demonstrated in human keratinocytes and fibroblasts, major types of cells essential for skin health,"* says Ferira. "Furthermore, CoQ10 supplementation has been clinically shown to improve skin elasticity and smoothness while reducing wrinkles and fine lines."*
Coenzyme Q10 forms: Ubiquinol vs. ubiquinone.
The difference in the two types of CoQ10 comes down to molecular structure—specifically, ubiquinol contains a hydrogen bond, whereas ubiquinone has been oxidized (the hydrogen bond has been removed). Both are present in your body, and your body actually converts the two back and forth naturally. However, ubiquinol is the most prevalent form, accounting for 90% of the CoQ10 in the blood. Ubiquinone must be converted to ubiquinol in the body before it can perform its functions. However, because it is the oxidized form, it's also much more stable—which comes in handy in certain emulsions and formulations.
Both forms can be used in both supplements and topicals—however, there are reasons formulators may choose one or the other:
- Ubiquinol. Because this is more clinically bioavailable and effective at affecting CoQ10 status and oxidative stress biomarkers, it is often used in supplements in order to reach peak efficacy.*
- Ubiquinone. Because this is the more stable version, it is commonly used in skin care topicals. Because topicals contain multiple ingredients, and preservative systems for aqueous formulas, they need stabilized activities; otherwise, the ingredient's efficacy will be reduced when it comes in contact with other ingredients and water.
This popular and buzzy antioxidant is a superstar ingredient in both topical and supplement formulas. But it's important to look at which version you are using—and for what type of product—as it will ultimately affect the efficacy.
Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director at mindbodygreen. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She has worked at many top publications and brands including Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends and updates in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as travel, financial wellness, and parenting. She has reported on the intricacies of product formulations, the diversification of the beauty industry, and and in-depth look on how to treat acne from the inside, out (after a decade-long struggle with the skin condition herself). She lives in Brooklyn, New York.