01.Anti aging creams
Please note: this information was current as of June 2007 but is still a useful guide today.
- So-called cosmeceuticals aren’t quite the miracle products they’re claimed to be.
- Prescription-only tretinoin and stronger AHAs are the best anti-aging treatments.
- Prevention is better than cure, and wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat is the best prevention for some causes of aging.
The current buzzword in the world of anti-aging is cosmeceuticals. Coined to describe products that are a cross between cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, the implication is they’re better than cosmetics because they have a pharmaceutical (medical) effect. And there are plenty of ‘sciency’ references in their marketing literature to apparently back it up. But just how excited should we get?
How well do they really work?
Last year our sister organisations in France and the US teamed up to test popular anti-aging creams and lotions. Eleven of them are available here in stores or online, so we’re able to report on the results. (Note that we can’t guarantee the formulations are identical to the products tested — some may have changed since the testing.)
Each cream was tested by between 17 and 23 women, aged 30–70. They were tested for 12 weeks, which the experts said was long enough for something to happen — if it was ever going to.
They found, in short, that all creams had some (positive) effect on some women (even the control moisturiser used), but no cream had an effect on all women. Any improvements were considered only ‘slight’, or as the French put it, à peine visible (barely visible). There was no relationship between the type of active ingredient and overall performance, nor did price relate to performance. They grouped the products into the following categories (in alphabetical order within groups):
Slightly more effective overall
- LANCÔME Paris Rénergie
- OLAY Regenerist
- ROC Retin-Ox+
- AVON Anew Alternative Intensive Age Treatment
- L’ORÉAL PARIS Revitalift
- L’ORÉAL PARIS Wrinkle Decrease with Boswelox
- NEUTROGENA Visibly Firm with Active Copper
- STRIVECTIN-SD Intensive Concentrate for Existing Stretch Marks
Slightly less effective
- LA PRAIRIE Cellular
- NIVEA Visage Q10 Plus
- ROC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle
The LANCÔME and OLAY products were considered the best options for those willing to pay to give something a go — with the qualifier that you shouldn’t expect any miracles. Some women found the ROC Retin-Ox+ too irritating on the skin, with redness and flaking reported. Its active ingredient is retinol, and in the stronger vitamin A products available with a prescription you can also get this reaction.
You’ll detect a reluctance on CHOICE’s part to endorse most products. That’s because we’re not convinced they’ll do you much good — especially considering the money involved. The findings of our counterparts overseas left us less than enthusiastic.
There are several reasons why you may not get as much anti-wrinkle bang for your buck as you’d like from a cosmeceutical cream:
- There are many different factors involved in the skin aging process, including free radical damage, fat loss, changing hormonal levels, slower cell regeneration and deterioration of skin cell components such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides and polysaccharides. Using a cream that claims to act on only one or a few of these factors won’t solve the whole problem.
- Everyone has different skin and different stressors acting on it to cause aging, so it’s likely that any given product will work differently on different people.
- Pointing to scientific studies that ‘prove’ a particular ingredient works in test tubes doesn’t mean the product as a whole will work when it’s applied to your skin. There may be other ingredients that interfere with the action of the active ingredient, or the product may lack certain ingredients that would optimise the action of the active ingredient, or the active ingredient itself may not be stable in the product. More fundamentally, the active ingredient may not penetrate the outer layer of the skin at all.
- Many use only low concentrations of active ingredients, which makes it unlikely to have any benefit.
The bottom line
There are three good bets for anti-aging treatments:
Tretinoin (also called retinoic acid), found in the prescription-only RETIN-A and RETRIEVE creams. Why? Find out under New products.
AHAs, but only in concentrations of 10% or more. Also see New products for reasons.
Sunscreen: the best antioxidant for skin, to slow down skin aging in the first place.
As for other products, a lot of them are very expensive and there’s currently not much evidence in their favour. But they might smell and feel nice, moisturise your skin and make it look fresher. You might find some are better than others for you, and only you can decide whether it’s worth the cost of experimenting with them.