Knowing how anti-ageing creams and serums work may help to demystify ‘miracle’ lotions and potions. Most face and anti-wrinkle creams are packed with artificial silicones, normally derived from petrochemicals. These silicones do make your skin feel fabulously smooth because they physically fill in pores and tiny wrinkles; cosmetic Polyfiller, if you like! But the effects are temporary, and disappear as soon as you wash your face.
Other creams may contain harsher chemicals such as mild acids that work by irritating the top layer of the skin (epidermis) to ‘plump’ out and fill small lines. Most Lip plumpers work in a similar way, by ‘irritating’ the top layer of the skin on the lips. Typically the ‘active’ would be one of the essentials oils of Black Pepper, Cinnamon and Wintergreen.
If you’ve ever wondered where that ‘celebrity glow’ comes from, it’s likely to be thanks to synthetic light reflectors and white pigments that give the illusion of radiant skin and a ‘lighter’ skin tone. These products have fleeting camouflage effects and they can’t change the structure of the skin. In fact, the anti-ageing effects disappear as soon as you stop using the product. Many manufacturers continue to claim that cutting edge, scientific formulations are more than ‘mere cosmetics’, despite strict regulations by Advertising Standards Agencies and Medicines Regulatory Authorities to ensure skincare manufacturers do not make false ‘medical’ claims. Instead, cosmetic packaging and advertising makes use of clever marketing statements such as; ‘May help reduce wrinkles’; ‘Helps diminish under eye circles’; and ‘Makes skin visibly smoother’.
More ‘natural’ skin plumping agents such as Hyaluronic acid (found naturally in our bodies) acts temporarily by moisturising and ‘plumping’ the top layer of the skin but this action is short lived and effects will only last as long as the jar of cream! It is however effective if injected as a filler under the skin.
Cosmeceutical ingredients contained in so called ‘Dr’ brands also work well – but in the laboratory. Cosmeceuticals are cosmetic ingredients that claim to have drug-like benefits. They claim to be naturally derived or processed and nutritionally enriched. Cosmeceutical products may contain ‘active’ ingredients such as vitamins, phytochemicals, enzymes, antioxidants, and essential oils. However, these ingredients may not necessarily be effective on real skin, and in cosmetics very low levels are often used (to keep costs low), or the cosmeceutical may not have the active ingredient in an effective formulation or at effective concentrations. Other cosmeceuticals may be derived from animals, such as snake venom (synthetic versions are also available); snail slime, bee sting, breast milk and placenta extracts, which you may well not want on your face! My favourite is the very expensive anti-ageing cream which was described by the lovely sales assistant as ‘changes the DNA in your skin to reveal more youthful complexion’!!!
So, the truth is that very few so called anti-ageing cosmetic ingredients actually work. But, it’s not all bad news! There are some ‘natural’ ingredients that I believe to be relatively safe and do have some anti-ageing scientific evidence.
Which ingredients are anti-ageing?
Since the 1930s, it has been known that Vitamin A derivatives, also known as retinoids, could treat skin disorders. Their anti-ageing effects were confirmed scientifically in 1982 at the University of Pennsylvania, US, where a topical application of retinoic acid (derivative of Vitamin A) for acne also improved the wrinkles of patients. Other research showed that this was achieved due to the stimulation of collagen (a protein which provides structure and elasticity to skin). There are strict regulatory controls on the use of these ingredients and they are only available on prescription due to their potential toxicity and effect on the liver. Some chemically similar compounds such as pro-retinol or retinaldehyde are used in synthetic cosmetics, or naturally occurring Vitamin A compounds such as trans-retinoic acid, found in Rosehip seed oil are also used in cosmetics as anti-ageing ingredients. Vitamin C is another ‘natural ingredient which is a co-factor for collagen production, and also found naturally in some oils, including Rosehip Seed Oil.
Another class of ‘natural’ ingredients which help promote youthful skin are a group of chemicals called Alpha Hydroxy Acids, or Beta Hydroxy Acids, which are derived from fruits and and basically rely on their acidity to slough off dead skin cells to revel the ‘newer skin’ underneath. Such ingredients can be very harsh on delicate skin and also take time to reveal therapeutic results. Anti-oxidants, which work by scavenging free radicals (thought to prevent skin ageing) also seem to work. The examples include co-enzyme Q and and Vitamin E. I find the natural form of Vitamin E, also called Tocopherol is much more powerful than its synthetic version, Tocopheryl Acetate.
Recently Peptides have appeared in many anti-ageing beauty creams as the latest hot anti-ageing ingredient. Peptides are basically short chain amino acids, ‘copies’ of the chemical precursors for collagen proteins and other constituents in the skin. These are supposed to promote collagen or elastin production in the skin. There is a family of peptides used in anti-ageing creams with varying level of evidence for their effectiveness, but this is only in controlled laboratory studies. Evidence that they work on real skin is lacking.
Have you ever wondered why our grand mothers had such good skin?That’s probably because they used traditional plant based ingredients for beautifying their skin. Natural plant oils such as rosehip seed oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, safflower oil, black seed oil, mustard seed oil and olive oil are loaded with skin friendly nutrients, potent anti-oxidants and natural Vitamins. They probably didn’t use harsh soaps to strip natural facial oils either, nor used harsh exfoliators or strong toners to damage the delicate surface of the skin. Perhaps they also avoided using rich night creams, which tend to block pores and had a stress free good night’s sleep - much of ‘skin healing’ takes place during sleep at night. Since plant oils contain natural forms of skin beautifying Vitamins A, C and E, they are also safe to use during pregnancy unlike synthetic Vitamin A, which is a teratogenic (causes foetal abnormalities).
For savvy women, who want to see immediate results on their wrinkles…
We know that most anti-ageing creams and lotions have a camouflage effect, which is temporary. But the reality is, they work. Personally, I use foundations which have the ‘camouflage’ properties, but I always prime my skin first with an organic oil based mosituriser to nourish it with natural nutrients, and also to put a barrier between my skin and the synthetic foundation, so I get the best of both worlds. Drinking at least 1 litre of pure water everyday also helps improve skin hydration and plumps up dry skin by visibly reducing the appearance of wrinkles better than any cosmetic cream I have researched. Taking a daily dose of Vitamin A (use natural Vitamin A), C, E and Starflower supplements helps improve skin elasticity and protect against environmental damage caused by UV light and pollution (main reasons for ageing). If you don’t have time to juice fresh fruits and vegetables, why not try super juices such as Pomegranate, Gogi Berries and Mangosteen all extremely high in nutrients which have a beneficial effect on the skin. Lets not forget those vowels to firm saggy jowels. Say the vowels (a, e, i, o, u) out loud in exaggerated movements, without squinting your eyes. And lastly remember the moto, beautify from within and protect from outside.
Dr Mah Hussain Gambles © 2008