Anti-ageing creams: the facts
It seems that wrinkles are high on our list of cosmetic concerns. According to one survey, one in three women over 30 in the UK uses an anti-ageing product.
Do you look in the mirror each morning and frown at your wrinkles? If so you're not alone. Every year we spent millions of pounds on anti-ageing products and cosmetic procedures such as Botox and face lifts are becoming increasingly popular.
But who can blame us? With airbrushed models at every turn, it's not hard to see why our laughter lines are, ironically, causing us untold misery.
Whereas a wrinkle or two on a man 'adds character', on a woman they represent a slippery slope to old age. So is there anything we can do to stop them appearing in the first place?
'While genetic factors play some part in the overall ageing process, lifestyle has a much greater impact,' said dermatologist Dr Nicholas Lowe at a recent conference of the Royal Society of Medicine. 'About 30 per cent of facial ageing is genetic, but a lot of the rest is repetitive sunlight, smoke and other hazardous things we expose ourselves to.'
So what about the creams? Are we wasting our money or can they really do anything to repair the damage?
Well, the ingredients found within many anti-ageing products do have proven effects on the skin. Vitamin A can help diminish the depth of wrinkles, thanks to its light inflammatory action which 'puffs up' the skin to make wrinkles look less deep. Vitamin C has a brightening effect as it can help to boost circulation and collagen production.
Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs or 'fruit acids') improve the skin's appearance by speeding up the shedding of old, dead cells from the skin surface. Retinoids are chemicals that make the skin produce new cells more quickly, making it thicker and more compact. After a month or two of use, the skin becomes smoother and fine wrinkles are reduced, but after six months it will be as good as it's going to get.
If you discontinue use, the skin reverts to its previous condition. Has no effect on noticeable deep lines or thread veins. In theory then, creams containing these substances should work to some degree.
Which? magazine decided to put anti-ageing creams to the test. It selected 12 ordinary moisturisers and 12 anti-ageing creams. Groups of four women tested each product for four weeks. None of the 96 women knew which product they were using and at the end of the trial they were asked to guess whether they'd been using a moisturiser or an anti-ageing cream. Read the results on the next page.
Three-quarters chose moisturiser. Most had not noticed any difference in the look or feel of their skin and of the 48 women who had been using an anti-ageing cream, only 10 reported any improvement.
Which? concluded that 'some of the claims made for the ingredients of anti-ageing creams can be substantiated but, with the low concentrations used in the creams, they are unlikely to do more than moisturise your skin.'
'There is no miracle ingredient that will take years off your appearance,' says Gisele Mir, a cosmetic scientist and founder of the holistic skincare range Mir. 'The only miracle is that the cosmetics industry has managed to persuade us otherwise for so long. In my opinion you can harm your skin by using anti-ageing products. I believe many of these products accelerate ageing rather than prevent it.
'Retinoids irritate the skin, so there may be dry and flaky skin, and sometimes itching, soreness, redness and a tight feeling. Some specialists think retinoids work simply because they irritate the skin, aggravating normal skin repair that will smooth wrinkles.
'AHAs cause irritation, which may make the skin swell slightly, padding out fine lines. AHAs also induce a peel, giving a smoother surface but making the skin susceptible to UV damage.'
'We have absolutely no idea what the long-term effect of using these substances will be,' says Mir. 'The incidence of skin sensitivity has significantly increased in recent years and I believe the cosmetics industry is partly responsible. Some anti-ageing products contain vitamins, but in my opinion these have little or no value. Ensuring your diet contains the right balance of minerals and vitamins will benefit your body as a whole.'
Whoever you decide to believe, one thing is for sure. A balanced diet, staying out of the sun and avoiding smoky places is just as important as splashing out on expensive lotions and potions.