Part of our family lore includes the story of my 90-year-old grandmother, who bought a skin cream promising to erase her wrinkles and rejuvenate her skin, making her look decades younger. She followed directions on the lotion's package for about a week, examined her face closely in the mirror every day. She discerned no visible change. "Lies," she mumbled. "Lies and false promises." She put that potion back in the box and took it to the drug store, where she asked for, and received her money back.
If American women did the same thing today, we'd have about $8 billion (some say $16 billion) more money in our pocket-books than we had yesterday. That's how much we spend each year on "anti-aging" skin care products. Some work a little, some work a little more, and studies show us that the OTC (over-the-counter) cheaper concoctions are mostly just as effective as specialty products touted by movie stars and an occasional doctor.
Dr. Michael O'Donoghue, a dermatologist with the Franciscan Health Alliance, was kind enough to share several scientific research papers from Dermatologic Therapy and describe the anti-aging skin business as he sees it.
"I have women come in to see me literally carrying ten different brands of anti-aging creams. They want to know which is the best one. What's in them that works?"
So you’re not the only one wondering about this, he explained. "The whole business is designed to confuse you. There are no FDA requirements for ingredients that back up ‘miracle’ claims. Look at those before-and-after pictures," he said. "The lighting is different; the 'afters' wear make-up. They can claim anything they want—and mostly there's generally nothing to back up those claims."
"Here's the deal," he said. "Your skin naturally dries out as you age. Think about an inflatable raft. When it's out of air, it wrinkles up. When you blow it up, it smoothes out. Many of the products now are designed to either hydrate the skin, or keep the moisture in. And moisture inflates the skin like that raft."
All the research papers I've read (and all reports from my 60-something friends) agree with Dr. O'Donoghue on several points. OTC products can be just as good as more expensive ones. "I'd stay with major brands, like Olay, Neutrogena or Revlon," said Dr. O'Donoghue. "Those companies have spent a lot of money testing their products and their claims." Sometimes a certain product makes your skin look and feel better—the cells aren't replaced—they're deeply moisturized and they fluff out a bit (like that life raft)—but they don't actually change the cellular structure of the skin.
So everybody including Consumer Reports, researchers and scientists agree with the basics:
a) Expensive skin creams are not necessarily better. "Don't buy a whole line of a product," said Dr. O'Donoghue. "Try one and see if you like it, before you sink hundreds of dollars into buying the whole line. Everybody's skin is different."
b) The sun continues to damage our skin. We need a sunscreen to protect from the UVA and UVB rays of the sun. Wear sun glasses; cover up. Don't ever, ever, ever, "lay out" in the sun like we did during the 1960s and 1970s.
c) Unless your skin is oily, you need moisturizer. Many of the new products are designed to either keep moisture in your skin cells after you wash your face, or encourage moisture-attracting proteins that grow naturally in younger skin.
d) A retinoid (vitamin A extract) has proved to diminish wrinkles and help repair damaged skin. Many products contain a retinal product, not a retin-OL product. The ones ending in OL are about 100 times more potent than the 'retin-ALS'—and you can only get the OLs by prescription. If your skin is in bad shape, you should see a physician.
For most of us 60-somethings the major damage has already been done. Our wrinkles are mostly caused by old age, sun and smoking. And like my 80-something friend, Lois, says: "Good hair, good teeth, good skin—you're either born with them or you aren't." Still…we can't just give up.