Anti aging creams review

Are cosmeceuticals the way to youthful skin?
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  • Updated:15 Jun 2007

01 .Anti aging creams

Please note: this information was current as of June 2007 but is still a useful guide today.

In brief

  • 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

Cosmetic containers

  • LANCÔME Paris Rénergie
  • OLAY Regenerist
  • ROC Retin-Ox+
Average performance
  • 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.

CHOICE verdict

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.


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02.Types of aging and treatments


Generally speaking, there are three forms of skin aging which each need to be treated differently:Woman applying face cream

  • First there’s gravity, which results in drooping and folds around the eyes, jaw and neck. It’s associated with the loss of skin elasticity and depleted subcutaneous fat. Surgical facelifts and fillers such as collagen or hyaluronic acid (brand names RESTYLANE and JUVEDERM) are used to reverse the effects.
  • Expression lines from smiling, squinting and frowning permanently etch themselves into your face over time. Botox injections can help prevent them by reducing your ability to make facial expressions, while collagen is used fill in some of the cracks.
  • Finally, there’s photoaging, caused by UV damage, which affects the texture of the skin over time, making it rougher and causing fine lines, as well as pigmentation changes such as age spots and freckles. Prescription-only treatments include tretinoin (RETIN-A or RETRIEVE), with resurfacing by acid or laser available at the doctor’s surgery.

Over-the-counter products with ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), antioxidants (including vitamins A, B3, B5, C and E, green tea, soy isoflavones, grapeseed extract, Coenzyme Q10 and idebenone) and peptides may be of some help for photoaging, though it depends on their concentration, the preparation and your expectations. For example, vitamin C cream works well in concentrations of 10% or more, but it’s difficult to stabilise it in creams and it can lose its effectiveness. For a closer look at the more recent products, see New products.

Claims getting bolder

In the recent past, most anti-aging creams claimed to treat only photoaging: to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, to give skin a smoother appearance and reduce the appearance of freckles and blemishes. And to a greater or lesser extent, they did that. But claims for some creams, in particular the cosmeceuticals, are venturing further into the facial cracks and crevices, claiming to act upon expression lines, and even gravity lines like jowls.

  • Dermatologists have expressed scepticism about whether they can work, pointing out that many of the claimed benefits are based on research on other parts of the body (such as the benefits of an antioxidant-rich diet on the cardiovascular system), and that cosmeceutical products are often tested only on cell cultures in test tubes.
  • Common faults in clinical trials — that is, tests on real people — can include using small numbers, not trying to conceal the product name, not using reliable techniques for measuring effects and/or being funded by the cosmetics companies themselves.

Neurotransmitter-inhibiting peptides: Botox in a jar? woman and jar of face cream

It’s quite common these days for anti-aging creams to self-compare with Botox injections, even claiming to work in a similar way to Botox — cashing in on the fact that we know Botox works. STRIVECTIN-SD is almost synonymous with its early advertising catch-phrase “Better than Botox?”, while SKIN DOCTORS Relaxaderm is marketed as “the alternative” to injections.

The question is, can you really get Botox in a jar?

  • Injections of Botox act locally by blocking the release of neurotransmitters that make your muscles do what they’re told to do by your nervous system, effectively paralysing them. So, if you have injections between your eyebrows and your brain tells your eyebrows to ‘frown’, you can’t actually frown.
  • Cream products making Botox-like claims contain certain peptides, which are protein substances made from small chains of amino acids. An example is acetyl-hexapeptide-3 (trade-named Argireline), which has been shown in a laboratory to inhibit the release of neurotransmitters. Products include SKIN DOCTORS Relaxaderm, ELIZABETH ARDEN Ceramide Plump Perfect Moisture Cream , PRINCIPAL SECRET Reclaim and DR LEWINN’S Line Smoothing Complex. (STRIVECTIN, just to confuse things, contains a peptide with a different action — see Collagen-stimulating peptides, below).
  • In concentrations of 5–10%, studies on Argireline have concluded it improves the appearance of wrinkles. Certainly the moisturising compounds in the products could give the impression of reduced lines and wrinkles by plumping up the skin with water. But to act like Botox, the peptides would have to penetrate the skin to the muscle level, and experts are sceptical about this.
  • Botox is targeted only at muscles involving expression lines; the creams are used all over the face. If they worked as claimed, muscles all over your face (and fingers, from applying the cream) would stop working. Which they don’t.

Collagen-stimulating peptides

  • OLAY Regenerist and STRIVECTIN-SD contain palmitoyl-pentapeptide-3 (also known as Pal-KTTKS or Matrixyl). This pentapeptide has been found to stimulate the production of collagen and other proteins that are found in the extracellular matrix (the stuff surrounding and supporting cells) in the skin’s dermal layer (the living part of the skin beneath the surface). If all goes according to plan, therefore, there should be a clinically significant improvement in skin.
  • Early ads for STRIVECTIN-SD asked whether it’s “better than Botox”. As it’s recently hit the shelves in Australia, many Australian women may be wondering too. And since they’re asking, someone carried out comparative testing of STRIVECTIN and Botox, to see which was better. And guess what: it wasn’t STRIVECTIN. In fact it didn’t do any better than the placebo control (a plain moisturiser with no active ingredients).
  • Unfortunately the only other clinical trials we could find were conducted by the manufacturer of the peptide complex. But see How well do they really work?, for real-life testing of OLAY Regenerist and STRIVECTIN-SD.

Copper-transporting peptides

  • Copper is an essential element for collagen and elastin formation, and a co-factor for creating a potent antioxidant in the skin. Peptides can be used to stabilise copper and theoretically take it to where it’s needed in the skin, to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
  • NEUTROGENA Visibly Firm contains copper peptides but wasn’t very successful in a real-life test (see How well do they really work?).


The launch of ELIZABETH ARDEN Prevage earlier this year caused a minor media frenzy. It contains idebenone, a synthetic derivative of CoEnzyme Q10 (ubiquinone), said to be the most potent antioxidant available in the skincare industry today.

  • Clinical trials of Prevage (used in conjunction with sunscreen) found some promising results in terms of reversing signs of photoaging, although they acknowledged that at least some of the effect could be attributed to the moisturiser base.
  • If that’s not exciting enough, the trials tested the product in its finished form — that is, the product you buy is exactly the same as what was tested, unlike many other studies where the active ingredient is tested in some form or other but then used in different bases and at different concentrations when it hits the market.
  • At $200+ for 50 mL, it’s certainly not cheap, and if you’re game to try it at that price it’d be worth doing your own comparison test to check whether a moisturiser and/or a sunscreen was just as effective on your particular skin. But we’d like to see more and better research on this before people spend their money.

Tretinoin (retinoic acid)

  • Not so much a new best friend as a long-time friend, these vitamin A products are recommended by dermatologists. They work by stimulating collagen production, increasing blood flow and helping your skin shed old, dead skin cells (which makes it look smoother and fresher).
  • The prescription-only tretinoin products (RETIN-A or RETRIEVE) offer the best performance of all treatments you put directly onto your skin (‘topical’ treatments) at a much more reasonable price (around $40 or even less for a tube that will last four to six months). So if you’re considering some sort of anti-aging treatment, talk to your doctor about whether it would be suitable.
  • Over-the-counter products containing retinol (another form of vitamin A) are less irritating to skin, though don’t work as well. As always, concentration and formulation are the key to how effective a given product is. Compare the results, for instance, of ROC’s Retin-Ox+ and Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle treatments in How well do they really work?. Neither works as well as tretinoin.

Alphahydroxy acids

  • Another old friend, AHAs are naturally occurring acids derived from sugars found in sugarcane (glycolic acid), milk (lactic acid) and fruit (such as citric acid). AHAs seem to do everything they claim to do: they stimulate collagen and hyaluronic acid production, slough away dead skin cells and clear pores.
  • However, you need products with concentrations of 10% or more. Check the label for concentrations: most cosmetic products don’t tell you how much is in them, which probably means not very much.