Youth in a Bottle
Who needs a facelift? Today’s anti-aging innovations are painless and effective. No scalpel required.
By Amy Verner
If only our skin could age Benjamin Button-style – that is, in reverse. This thought occurred to me midway through an Intraceuticals Oxygen Infusion Treatment, one of the many new technology-based skincare treatments now available. (Another thought: Is this really Madonna’s facial fountain of youth, as has been reported by several entertainment news sources?)
As I lay on a treatment bed at Toronto dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett’s Toronto clinic, a medical esthetician directed a tool best compared to an airbrush all over my face, allowing the oxygen to deliver a topical form of Hyaluronic Acid (known more in its injectable form, Restylane) that could be easily absorbed by my skin. After the procedure, my face looked significantly more hydrated and refreshed (call it the Sleeping Beauty effect). Dr. Kellett then put me on a regimen of two pharmaceutical-grade, hand-formulated serums: vitamin A (retinol for night) and vitamin C (ascorbic acid for day).
Thus began my journey into the world of cosmeceuticals, which, to be sure, is an overwhelming world complete with its own language of plumping and de-lumping. Dr. Kellett’s Clear Clinical boosters are a rare example of a practicing dermatologist creating products (Dr. Nicholas Perricone and Dr. Patricia Wexler are probably the most famous). The majority of physicians rely on private label companies that make a generic product but will simply customize the packaging. Most common is to find this next generation of anti-ageing skincare products at your nearest high-end drugstore or specialty retailer.
But don’t go in asking a sales associate for cosmeceuticals; they are rarely defined this way. In the most general sense, this portmanteau of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals refers to any product that combines advanced ingredients with technology, all without a doctor’s prescription, a needle or a knife.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a cosmeceutical typically contains one of the following three active ingredients: anti-oxidants that target free radicals (molecules that damage skin cells); proteins known as peptides that help produce collagen; and growth factors that stimulate cell turnover and work to distribute collagen and elastin (described as naturally occurring proteins, they attach to the surface of cells where the receptors are located).
“They are changing the top layer of the skin and they are reducing the appearance of wrinkles,” explains Dr. Kellett, who echoes all dermatologists when she says that “nothing is better than a cosmetic procedure,” whether surgical or injectable. Although cosmeceuticals are not recognized or approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. or overseen by Health Canada, they can still provide visible results above and beyond conventional products (this is also reflected in their prices, which are most always higher, ranging anywhere between $60 and $250). They also present a picture of what today’s biggest beauty brands foresee as tomorrow’s bestsellers.
Consider some of the standouts. From Chanel Précision skincare is the Sublimage Masque, which regenerates and plumps up the skin thanks to a patent-pending process of polyfractioning (a fancy way of dividing) the active ingredient Planifolia PFA, derived from the Vanilla planifolia fruit. Clinical evaluations suggest a more nourished appearance to the skin, especially when combined with the Essential Regenerating Cream.
Launched last fall, Guerlain’s Success Future regenerating toner and serum for the neck and décolleté rely on pure amber extract to target tensotrophins, the molecules that control skin ageing and can lead to loss of firmness. Within the root of the orchid plant lies a biological property that can boost cell functions so that they behave like young cells. To complement the successful Orchidée Impériale collection, which works to counteract aging while providing improved radiance, the new Orchidée Impériale White serum decreases dark spots and brightens complexion.
“Obviously, every new ingredient that is going to give an edge to a company [will] now be brought to the market,” says Toronto cosmetic surgeon Trevor Born, when asked about the surfeit of skin solutions. “None of the products on the market are going to make skin go back to age 15, because you have a genetic component as far as ageing goes that you can’t control. And on top of that, you have effects of sun and, of course, your lifestyle.”
But Lancome is out to prove that mature skin can behave like younger skin by decoding the proteins that are related to youthfulness. Following 10 years of researching gene responses, Génefique arrives in stores this spring. Early tests suggest that active ingredients called Bio-Lysat and Phytosphingosine make the complexion more even after only seven days.
Along the same lines (no pun intended), Amatokin, a lesser-known, albeit controversial company, claims to reduce the appearance of deep and superficial wrinkles by drawing on the body’s own stem cells. There are no stem cells inside the cream; rather, a “meta-peptide” has beauty junkies intrigued and science experts raising a red flag, at least for the time being. The reason: while the product does not seem to have harmful effects, many are questioning whether this stem cell-like formulation really works.
Anyone looking for cosmeceuticals for below the face – swimwear season is around the corner – can turn to tried-and-true Clarins, which this season is launching the High Definition Body Lift, a newer version of the Total Body Lift that has sold three million units since 2005. Incidentally, Clarins has been a purveyor of cosmeceuticals for more than 50 years by developing products that contain fresh plant extracts at their optimum concentrations. In the past, however, the products were never branded as such because ‘cosmeceuticals’ is a recent coinage (not to mention a catchy one).
Also total-body-related is Biotherm’s Body Resculpt Svelt and Lift products. This one-two punch of bioactive silicium (exclusive to the bran) has been formulated to stimulate firmness and increase skin density. Celluli Laser is a 10-day treatment program that sounds too good to be true, yet clinical tests suggest it effectively decreases water retention and smoothes out that pesky “cottage cheese” lumpiness while women sleep.
Just how much skepticism should we be applying to all these lotions and potions before applying them to our skin?
New York dermatologist Neil Sadik’s involvement is evidence that many of the big beauty brands are recruiting medical doctors to back product claims. As the global medical consultant for Dior Beauty, he helps with the formulation and testing of its anti-ageing Capture Totale series, Capture R60/80 (so named because within one hour, 60 percent of people who tested the product noticed a reduction in wrinkles and after one month, 80 percent responded that their skin looked visibly younger) and Capture Sculpt 10 firming treatments. The secret to Capture R60/80, he says, is proven growth factors that keep cells alive for a longer period of time. “They keep regenerating rather than dying out.”
That luxury brands are looking to develop innovative skincare products comes as no surprise to Dr. Sadik. “Dermatologists have been working with estheticians and somewhat in conjunction with the spa industry to find a common plane,” he says. “Dior brought me on board to bring the science of skincare to the next level.
“Fashion is really head to toe,” says Nat Penno, Holt Renfrew’s vice-president and general merchandising manager for beauty. “It’s all about wardrobing, whether it’s the shoes you buy or the skincare you put on your face. There is that crossover now, it’s happening everywhere.”
She remains light-tipped about a forthcoming concept that will enhance the in-store beauty experience but reveals that customers will be able to find out more come fall 2009.
In the meantime, dermatologists are often a good resource for recommending products because they are familiar with the ingredients and know whether combinations may be safe and effective.
“Obviously people would rather put a topical cream on their face than get an injection which is painful,” concedes dermatologist Dr. Lisa Arian from New York. She says that measured expectations are the best way to approach the cosmeceutical category. “A lot of claims can be stronger than what the products deliver.”
Still, cosmeceuticals are undeniable confidence boosters, at least in the short term. A few days after my Intraceuticals treatment, having incorporated Dr. Kellett’s Clear Clinical serums into my beauty routine, I got carded at the liquor store while trying to buy a bottle of champagne. Having no identification on me, I left empty-handed but with a smile on my presumably youthful face.