We all get old. As we get older get wrinkles. None of us want to look old, so we are open to suggestions for how to get rid of them. But we are all intelligent enough to realise that there is a limit to how much we can cheat the clock. So as someone who works on this kind of thing, what have I found that really works?
There are huge numbers of anti-wrinkle products on the market. The question this post answers is should you be tempted?
There isn’t really any mystery to producing and testing an anti-wrinkle cream. There are hundreds of thousands of papers in the scientific literature that explain in great detail how the skin works and what can be done to affect it. Hundreds of actives have been examined. If an active works it can be shown to work by measuring its effect on the wrinkles. But the anti-wrinkle claim is such a strong one that lots of companies are tempted to over-egg the custard.
There are some materials that work. If materials can be shown to work, the big cosmetic companies certainly have the money to be able to afford to test them. However, when you go to the chemist you won’t see much in the way of trial reports. Why is this? Well in my experience the sales professionals don’t think that the customers are looking for science. There is a feeling that consumers make purchases based on image and packaging. A proper scientific paper is hard to read and even harder to summarise for a general consumer. And even worse, although some things do have a beneficial effect the actual amount of improvement you are able to get is relatively modest. Yes you can find products that make you look better than you would look if you didn’t use them. But we are talking about slight reductions in wrinkles and some increases in elasticity. We aren’t talking about making 40 year old skin look as if it is 20 years old.
The best treatment for skin ageing is probably simply regular moisturising. The skin is moisturised from the tissue below. If water escapes from the surface of the skin quicker than it can be replenished then the skin will become drier. A tried and tested solution to this used for centuries is to place a layer of an oil of some kind over the top. The technical term for this is an occlusive layer. Find a product that is occlusive enough for your particular skin type and use it regularly. Apart from the very cheapest, nearly all moisturisers are going to be effective. If you have particularly dry skin there are a couple of ingredients that are generally very good. Mineral oil is very effective: it doesn’t penetrate the skin very much so it stays on the surface holding the moisture in longer than some more exotic and natural sounding oils.
Another remarkably effective material is lanolin. I know that some people have negative feelings about it and are under the impression that there is some issue with it. There is a story I could tell behind this, but for the moment I recommend that you look for products that contain lanolin. Very very few people are sensitive to lanolin. If you are one of them then that is a bit of bad luck, because you are missing out on one of the few magic ingredients of skin care.
Lanolin is produced by sheep and is their version of sebum. I would be fascinated to see a comparison between the composition of human sebum and lanolin. If anyone knows of one I would be enormously grateful to have the reference. Its principal function is to protect the sheep from the environment, and as sheep spend a lot of time in the open when it is raining it is just as well that it is very effective at this purpose. I have my own composition that I personally use on a bit of dry skin. It is basically almost neat lanolin with just a splash of refined coconut oil to make it the right consistency to apply. It would never work as a commercial product as it has no smell and feels a bit odd, but it works really well.
Another approach that seems to give good results is the use of water soluble polymers. These are things like cellulose derived from wood. They seem to work by simply forming a layer on the skin and contracting as they dry out. Which polymer works best is good question – but I will address that some other time.
Derivatives of Vitamin A are very potent. The best known is retinol.
Retinol has been shown to work in several studies. Most recently a paper published in the Archives of Dermatology makes this quite clear. This was a double blind study. Neither the people administering the cream nor the patients nor the clinical assessors knew which cream contained the active. Thirty six triallists were recruited with eighteen in each group. Not everyone completed the trial. Five withdrew because they found the product to be irritating. This is one of the drawbacks of retinol: it can be irritating.
From the high tech point of view, recently a class of peptides have been identified that have an effect comparable to that of retinol. These are very particular peptides: not all peptides will work. The two that I have seen data for are palmatoyl pentapeptide-3 and Acetyl Hexapeptide 3 (it is also known by another name but I don’t have it to hand at the moment.
The active ingredient in the Boots product that caused a huge stir in the UK early in 2007 (see Boots No 7 Protect and Repair Serum) is palmatoyl pentapeptide-3. This is used in other products as well, and I can’t see any particular reason why the Boots product should work any better or any worse than any of the other products containing it. I have written a review of the Boots Serum if you want to know more.
But if I have to draw a conclusion I would say that my judgement would be that the biggest single thing that helps is simply regularly moisturising with a cream that suits your skin. If you can find one with something extra that works for you that is a bonus.
Reza K, Heh Shin R K, Schumacker WE, Soyun Cho, Hanft VN, Hamilton TA, King AL, Neal JD, Varani J, Fisher GJ, Voorhees JJ, Sewon K, Improvement of Naturally Aged Skin with Vitamin A (Retinol) – Arch Dermatol Vol 143 May 2007