the grow young project

Which anti-aging creams work

By on September 12, 2014

If there’s an area of looking younger that we can quite literally pour money into it’s pretty surely that of lotions, potions, creams and all things slathery. According to BCC Research the global anti-aging industry is currently worth just under US$250 bn and the largest proportion by far of that veritable Everest of anti-aging moolah is siphoned off into the domain of cosmetics. Now many of you (and I know a few fellers who are so inclined) out there might be thinking that this is one area to skip right over and frankly if you really don’t ever give a damn about skincare then certainly feel free. I sure do know that there are many faces that have never had more than some fresh clean water and soap on them in a lifetime. But the stats certainly show that a lot of us are very interested and that that interest is growing year on year at an astonishing rate with some predicting global sales in the region of US291bn by 2015.

And sure enough the boomers among us are a highly motivated sector aren’t we? Wanting to both feel young and look it. That said the target for the anti-aging cosmetics industry seems to be an ever-widening net, with even twenty year olds expressing concerns about wrinkling and showing their age. Hard to believe but true!

So what is it that actually works then? Well that answer will depend very much on who you ask. If it’s a beauty industry type then you might likely enough get a quick once over of all the hot shiny new products out there. If it’s a friend or acquaintance, then usually they’ll have some ‘faaaabulous new potion that cross my heart and hope to die has really, really honestly taken years off’ and naturally enough they truly can’t possibly ever get by without it. Then again, If it’s an unbiased researcher or dermatological expert, well frankly the answers are generally not so clear-cut.

In 2012 US based Consumer Reports tested 7 of the market-leading wrinkle creams against one control product on 79 test subjects, 12 of whom were men. None of them knew which of the products they were using at the time. After 6 weeks, 6 trained sensory panelists reviewed ‘before and after’ photographs taken at various stages throughout, but they too did not know which product or for that matter which time period they were in fact viewing. So how did they fare? Well in the sobering words of the report’s author,

‘Alas, we were underwhelmed.’

Oh dear! And further going on to state that,

‘After six weeks, all the products had reduced wrinkles a bit on just one-third or less of the people who used them. No product was even slightly better than the rest, including the control.’

After twelve weeks the result was pretty well more of the same. In an ironic twist, most of the test subjects themselves said they’d actually prefer to buy the control moisturiser which was in fact the cheapest of the bunch (Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture Sensitive Skin Ultra Gentle Facial Moisturizer), not forgetting that none of them had any idea as to make or brand – this was after all what is called a ‘blind’ testing. In truth, as both subjects and reviewers were kept in the dark it’s actually known as double blind – a kind of gold standard within research circles.

In fact Consumer Reports had performed an almost identical trial (though different products) in 2010 with unsurprisingly similar results. Announcing that,

‘Even among the best-performing products, wrinkle reduction around the eyes was generally pretty subtle.’

And rather damningly singling out La Prairie Cellular, by far the most expensive at the time at US$335, asrated among the least effective’

According to Harvard’s excellent Healthbeat,

‘Only a few substances have a demonstrated ability to reduce or prevent wrinkles, and even those effects are modest … No moisturizer can make wrinkles disappear or prevent new ones from forming, and none can stop the effects of gravity or exposure to sunlight. However, moisturizers can soothe dry skin and temporarily make wrinkles less noticeable.’

As cosmetics (including the faux sciencey sounding cosmeceuticals) astoundingly don’t have to prove efficacy, then it appears that little if any good quality peer-reviewed science supports their many magical claims. Unfortunately due to the lax requirements on cosmetic testing (as opposed to the far more stringent pre-market testing necessary for therapeutic and pharmaceutical products) for the most part they simply don’t have to. That said manufacturers often sail notoriously close to the wind and many have had their hands firmly slapped by regulatory bodies on both sides of the pond for making unsubstantiated claims. Many products talk up elements such as penta-peptides, antioxidants and even the telomerase we heard of in the last post, elements which may have shown some promise in a petri dish or even in mice, however demonstrating genuine anti-aging results in humans remains not so clear despite the spin.

At this point in time most experts appear to simply say: Go cheap, go clean (meaning ensure the products don’t include a whole bunch of nasty fillers and extra bits, many of which may even be highly toxic and even carcinogenic – more on this in the next post) and if you can afford it and you think it’s terrific value or you really believe in your friends advice then sure, you go buy that expensive stuff. But whichever you do end up investing in, perhaps let me leave you with the helpful words of assistant professor of dermatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Dr. Simon Yoo,

‘Go ahead, but it won’t do much more than a moisturizer that is a lot less expensive. It won’t be any better than Neutrogena or Cetaphil for less than a 10th of the price or a 100th of the price.’

Next post will be more on what science has shown works and why as well as more on what is meant by clean cosmetics and why they too might help you side-step a whole bunch of nasty diseases. See y’all then.


  1. Which cosmetics can harm us | the grow young project - […] my previous post on cosmetics we had a good look at what products might actually work and therefore be…

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