Fountain of Youth – Ottawa Citizen - February 19, 2011
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Fountain of Youth – Ottawa Citizen - February 19, 2011


By Patrick Langston


Trying to keep crow’s feet and wrinkles at bay? According to the experts, anti-aging creams and lotions don’t do much to slow the effects.

You’re not getting older, you’re getting better. Well, maybe. But your skin’s also getting more wrinkly, thinner and dried out, and dermatologists say that even a truckload of over-the-counter anti-aging creams and lotions won’t do much to halt the Mother Theresa look.

“There’s some cursory evidence that (the ingredients of anti-aging creams) used in a test tube and animal model may have an effect,” says Dr. Jason Rivers, a Vancouver dermatologist and professor in the University of British Columbia’s department of medicine. “You can show molecular changes or production of collagen (a key component of skin, collagen changes with age, causing the skin to wrinkle). But whether that translates into an actual clinical result is another issue altogether.”

Products with retinol or vitamin C may stimulate collagen or improve skin appearance, says Rivers. But the effect is “mild and takes a long time.”

In fact, a 2007 Consumer Reports study found that even the top-rated anti-aging potions applied for 12 weeks reduced the average depth of wrinkles by less than 10 per cent. That amount is barely visible to the naked eye, according to the magazine.

And just to deepen those furrows of consternation between your eyebrows, the study also concluded that there was no difference in effectiveness between high-priced and basic drugstore brands.

La Prairie Cellular, the most costly product tested ($335 U.S. for an ounce of day cream at the time of the study) was among the least effective. The top performers included Olay Regenerist cream, then $19 U.S.

All of which makes you wonder just what those advertising claims of an “anti-aging tightening program” and ingredients that “awaken … sleeping stem cells” to generate new skin cells actually mean?

Such claims do have to stay within the boundaries set by Health Canada for cosmetic advertising and labelling. A product, for example, can claim to reduce “the appearance of aging” but not to “reduce aging.” Because these products are classed as cosmetics, not drugs, their efficacy does not have to be proven for them to be sold in Canada.

And don’t put much stock in those advertising references to clinical studies that show the effectiveness of an anti-aging potion.

“Companies put a lot more money into advertising than presenting (clinical) data,” says Rivers, referring to the fact that the studies are generally done by the companies themselves and not published.

Xeridian Clinical Skincare, whose products promise to “rapidly tighten sagging skin” and “gradually lighten irregular pigmentation,” does publish the results of its own internal clinical studies (

They include a 49-per-cent improvement in “deep wrinkle depth” and a 39-per-cent improvement in “fine line depth” after 10 weeks of using the company’s Renew Eye Serum ($59 U.S.).

“We are actually in the process of finding an independent laboratory to do third-party clinical studies of our products,” says lead formulator Brian Mobley in an e-mail. “We like to think that even though the current studies on the website were conducted internally, they at least offer some analysis of how well our products worked in the skin of human volunteers.”

In fact, most anti-aging products do have some effect, even if it’s just adding moisture to the skin to make it look softer and healthier. But an inexpensive moisturizer will do that.

Other products improve the surface appearance of skin by tautening it with a small amount of silicone.

“I don’t have an issue with anti-aging creams as long as the claims are reasonable,” says Toronto dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett. Claiming to make you look 10 years younger would be unreasonable; saying it can reduce the appearance of wrinkles is reasonable, she says.

“People often forget that the most important thing for fighting wrinkling is sunscreen. Probably over 80 per cent of the wrinkles we have are due to the sun,” Kellett says.

Smoking and tanning salons also cause wrinkling. Men are increasingly looking to slow the depredations of aging, says Kellett. “They say, ‘I feel good, I work out, but I look tired.’ ”

Male or female, if you do opt for anti-aging creams, she recommends choosing ones that contain at least one-per-cent retinol to stimulate the growth of a new layer of collagen and 35-per-cent vitamin C to slow free radical damage to collagen.

And remember that everyone’s skin is different, so a product that seems to work on your friend, may be less effective for you. Retinol can also irritate some skin.

In the end, though, Father Time always wins.

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