As you check the labels on potions touting their age-reversing qualities you may regret you didn’t pay better attention during high school chemistry. Peptides, ascorbic acid and antioxidants are some of the terms you’ll come across. But when you’re spending $50 or more on a tiny jar and a promise you want more than a list of chemicals. You want some assurance that the ingredients will give you a more youthful appearance.
The pricey products in department stores and drug stores fall under a broad category called cosmeceuticals, a blend of cosmetics and medicinal ingredients. However, because the products are classified as cosmetics, not medicines, little study has been done on their efficacy.
That may be changing thanks to work being done at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“My research is looking at the true effectiveness of anti-wrinkle products,” says J. Regan Thomas, MD, head of Otolaryngology (the study of ear, nose and throat diseases), at UIC.
The ingredients he’s targeting in his ongoing experiments are forms of vitamin C, topical estrogen, soy cream, peptides and retoinic acid and alpha hydroxy acids.
“We’re looking at effects [in mice] on the microscopic level. The ingredient could be sealing off the skin, but does it have a real effect on the cells of the skin?” Dr. Thomas asks.
Meanwhile dermatologists in private practice offer their own recommendations based on results with their patients.
“Once you’re over 35 to 40 you want an anti-aging cream,” Dr. Tina Alster, MD, professor at Georgetown University and director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, Washington, D.C. She suggests products containing ascorbic acid, which is vitamin C.
“I love ascorbic acid. It has a lot of antioxidant properties. It reduces wrinkles and promotes collagen synthesis,” she says.
For Jonith Breadon, MD, Aesthetic Dermatology and Laser Surgery, Chicago, skin discoloration and wrinkles are the biggest patient complaints. She recommends a product containing hydroquinone to eliminate discoloration and one with hyaluronic acid to plump up skin. She also advises better skin care as the best line of defense.
“The first thing I tell patients is to get a good sunscreen,” Dr. Breadon says.
Here are some of the ingredients you’re likely to see in cosmeceuticals. On reading the label you should see ingredients listed in order of prominence, with some exceptions allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, you can’t tell how much of the touted ingredient is in the product until the label advertises it.
• Alpha hydroxy acids: A strong chemical compound that causes outer layers of skin to become irritated and peel off.
• Estrogen cream: A formulation containing the hormone that decreases in women as they become post-menopausal.
• Hyaluronic acid: A substance in the body (and manufactured) that promotes tissue repair.
• Hydroquinone: A substance that inhibits oxidation, which causes brown spots.
• Peptides: Short chains of amino acids that work with collagen in the skin.
• Retoinic acid: A substance derived from vitamin A, which is also an antioxidant.