It’s an all too common sight: the cosmetics graveyard. Once shoved with frustration to the back of the shelf, a box full of small tubes, vials and bottles lies forgotten. Some are nearly brand new. Their beautifully scripted labels were once enticing, whispering promises of “softer skin” and “even skin tone.” Others are gutted, every drop of their contents carefully scraped out with a Q-Tip. The last drop disappears, hope with it. And for those of us who have squandered hefty portions of our paychecks on potions and lotions, the cosmetics graveyard is a nagging reminder of dollars lost.
Women desiring the softest, smoothest, most plump, pore-free and perfect skin may search for these products intently, concentrating both time and money on the affair. For those opposed to injectable treatments such as Botox, their next best option is to try a topical product. These can take many forms, such as balms, lotions, serums, tinctures, moisturizers, eye creams, day cream, and night creams (who knew our skin’s needs changed over the course of a day?). With Botox, the results are apparent within the week. But what about these face creams? Why is it so difficult to find a product that actually works and delivers what it promises? As a woman with a penchant for science and empirical evidence, I thought I would be able to hunt down the real answer if I studied the ingredients. And so I did.
As an example, Neutrogena is currently touting a line of anti-aging products titled Rapid Wrinkle Repair. Of course, results are best when you purchase the moisturizer, night cream, eye cream and serum. Their advertised ETA to smooth skin: one week. Here is the company’s description of the product: “Formulated with our highest concentration of Hyaluronic Acid to smooth skin instantly and Accelerated Retinol SA to visibly reduce wrinkles within 1 week.” In fact, they even have a “scientific” looking graph that illustrates the result of their undoubtedly skewed study.
The first magical ingredient Neutrogena names is hyaluronic acid, a molecule ubiquitous in mammals. It is connective tissue that provides support and scaffolding for our skin cells. As woman age, we produce less estrogen, a hormone involved in the synthesis of hyaluronic acid. With less hyaluronic acid being made, our faces lose the same foundation that gives babys’ skin all its plump glory. Crevasses in our skin form. We get wrinkles. At this point, you might be tempted to visit your favorite online shopping place and order some hyaluronic acid supplements or Neutrogena face cream. In fact, many skin products advertise their use of hyaluronic acid as their main selling point. Furthermore, you may already know that “fillers” such as Juvederm and Restylane are nothing but hyaluronic acid (HA). What’s the difference between these injectables, that provide instant results, versus the creams, which offer dismal effects? One is being physically inserted into the skin via a needle, whereas the other is smeared on top of it. Hyaluronic acid cannot penetrate your skin on its own.
Putting hyaluronic acid cream on your face or ingesting it as a supplement is a complete waste of time and money, because it is impossible for the molecule to find its way to the only place it will work, inside your skin.
So, why are countless beauty products advertising hyaluronic acid? Because it is the main ingredient in fillers like Juvederm, cosmetics brands purposefully namedrop HA in their packaging and advertising. They falsely lead customers into assuming that their product will act similarly to the filler. It is a dishonest practice — lying through omission. But without fancy sounding chemicals and pseudo-scientific advertising, OTC anti-aging treatments would not have the feverish demanded and consumption that keeps the racket going. The anxiety from disappointment is enough to carve the wrinkles in my skin even more deeply.
But, not all hope is lost. True, HA is just one of the many ingredients that non-prescription anti-aging products use to dupe customers. However, my digging through genuine, published scientific studies has uncovered some hidden gems. I have discovered some ingredients that actually did resolve wrinkles, discoloration, acne scars, pore size, and so on. Both the good and the bad will be explained further in my next article.