I reviewed the famous Boots No 7 Serum back in 2007 when it was in the news last time. It is getting widespread media coverage again now that positive results of a proper a trial published in the British Journal of Dermatology – a highly respectable scientific journal. You can read the full publication here. (Thanks to my Twitterchum BordadoIngles for the link).
The paper is extremely well written with a very good introduction that summarises the current state of knowledge of anti-ageing ingredients used in skin creams. pointing out that the only really well substantiated one is retinol. Reading the paper was also the first time I have read that the name of the product has been changed to No 7 Protect and Perfect Intense Beauty Serum. It looks like the marketing wonks have been busy as well.
The clinical trial was carried out to the highest standard and I think it would be difficult to find fault with it. The people they tried it out on were aged between 45 and 80, with 11 men and 49 women. This is probably a pretty good representation of the demographics of the people who are likely to be using the product. I don’t know how many guys over 45 are men who moisturise, but I guess the ones that do would want to use this product. The products were given out in identical packaging whether or not they had the active ingredient in, so they didn’t know whether they were getting the real stuff or not.
The beauty of having a good design of a trial like this is that it allows you to use statistics to assess very reliably how well the product is working. It was also a long trial – all the people on it continued using the products for six months and a smaller group carried on using them for a year. This really gave the cream a chance to work and also to make sure that it wasn’t simply a short term benefit that was not sustained in the long run. The assessment of the results was also done very rigorously. Photographs were taken. Skin samples removed and examined under the microscope. They also looked at the biochemistry going on in the skin during the trial.
Even more interestingly they have done some work to see how the cream works. In addition to the trial, they also took ten people and studied them closely for 12 days. These had parts of their arms treated with the cream, the base and with a product containing retinol -which is already known to have an effect. What they found was that both the retinol product and the active cream led to an increase in the level of a protein called fibrillin-1. This plays a role in increasing the elasticity of the skin. So it looks like the active in the Boots cream really does behave in a way that is similar to retinol.
All in all, scientifically this is a very impressive piece of work. I really enjoyed reading it in the way that you might appreciate the craftmanship of a well made table. There is only one gripe I have. The paper treats the active in the cream as a blend of different materials. I understand why Boots want to do it this way. By keeping their particular blend secret, nobody can come along and simply copy their product and use this paper as supporting data. The reality is that only one ingredient in the blend is important. I am sure it is the Palmatoyl pentapeptide-3 that is having the effect. Nothing in this paper contradicts that, but the study has been done in such a way that it doesn’t actually prove it.
So what does this trial suggest you can expect to get out of using this cream? I think that the average wrinkle sufferer will probably be disappointed to read that the reduction in facial wrinkles took six months to be noticeable. And even then the cream did not benefit everyone and the reduction in wrinkles even then was not spectacular. The base cream without the active was not as effective, but still showed some benefits. Simple moisturising does seem to work. I think that the search for the perfect moisturiser continues.