You lean into towards the mirror, and there they are – fine lines, a few wrinkles, some dry skin. You figure it’s time to buy anti-aging cream.
But are those creams and supplements really effective?
The answer is complicated, says Dr. Karin Patterson, a doctor in integrative and family medicine at Valparaiso Health Center of St. Mary’s.
“Certain over-the-counter creams and anti-aging substances do work, but it’s not one size fits all. People have different levels of hormones, vitamins, exercise, stress, time spent in the sun – all play a role in healthy skin. So it’s usually a combination of things.”
That’s why one anti-aging cream or supplement is unlikely to be effective for everybody, Patterson says, adding that some over-the-counter anti-aging products don’t indicate how much of a vitamin or hormone is contained in them.
But vitamin supplements can be helpful, says Patterson, because “When nutrition is out of balance, it can affect the appearance of your skin.”
Amy Boswinkle at Baum’s Natural Foods in Munster says the store offers retinoic acid – a form of Vitamin A – in cream form. “Vitamin A helps in renewal of cells and improving circulation to the skin."
Baum’s also sells beta carotene, another form of Vitamin A. Beta carotene is an anti-aging substance that can treat dry skin, eczema, and psoriasis. And Vitamin E supplements help protect against ultraviolet rays.
Patterson stresses the importance of getting at the root cause of skin conditions. “That’s why testing is important. Patients are surprised when I order a stool test, but the gut is a good window to health. We look at the person’s nutrition; we may discover certain food intolerances, or that food is being absorbed differently.”
Processed and sugary foods are a big burden on the gut, says Patterson, and eventually the skin is likely to show it. “Cleaning up the gut and prescribing hormones can help with aging and its effects.”
Are there products in the anti-aging skin market that are basically worthless? “Probably,” says Patterson, “because there’s such a big range between what one individual may need compared to another individual needs, in the way of hormones and nutrition. And some creams may have something a person doesn’t need.”
What everyone needs for soft, fresh skin is hydration – water. “Hydration is really important,” says Patterson, “Eight glasses of water a day is a good rule of thumb, but there are other factors, too, like the amount of water in the vegetables and fruits someone eats.”
Collagen is important, too, says Boswinkle. As we age we lose some of that collagen that makes children’s skin soft and elastic. Baum’s sells collagen in tablet or powder form, and “taking Vitamin C with it helps in the uptake of the collagen,” says Boswinkle. She and Patterson agree that Omega 3 fatty acids help protect against dry skin and help smooth rough skin.
Still, “There’s not a whole lot of miracles in this kind of medicine,” says Patterson.
So do like Mom says: Eat your vegetables. Toss the cigarettes. Drink water. Reduce stress. Pop on a sun hat as you go out the door, and it’ll be a step towards younger-looking skin.