Neurotransmitter-inhibiting peptides: Botox in a jar?
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.
- 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 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.
- 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.