Wrinkle creams: Don’t believe all the hype

Woman applying cream to her face
Lots of pretty ads on television and in magazines promise to reduce wrinkles and prevent or reverse damage caused by the sun. But do these over-the-counter products really work?

It’s important to realize the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies over-the-counter creams and lotions as cosmetics, which are defined as having no medical value. They undergo less rigorous testing than topically applied medications. The FDA’s main concern is safety, not effectiveness. So despite all the hype surrounding most of these products, there’s no guarantee that any will diminish the appearance of fine lines.

However, use of some products may result in slight to modest improvement. It all depends on what active ingredient or ingredients are present and how religiously you stick to the specified skin care regime. Here’s some common ingredients to look for:

Retinol: This vitamin A compound was the first antioxidant to be widely used in non-prescription wrinkle creams. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize free radicals – the unstable oxygen molecules that break down skin cells and cause wrinkles

Vitamin C: Another powerful antioxidant, vitamin C may help protect skin from sun damage.

Hydroxy acids: Alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids and poly hydroxy acids are exfoliants – substances that remove the upper layer of old, dead skin and stimulate growth of smooth, new skin.

Coenzyme Q10: An ingredient which may reduce fine lines around the eyes and serve to protect skin from sun damage.

Tea extracts: Green, black and oolong tea contain compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Green tea extract is the one most likely to be listed on a label.

Grape seed extract: Contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and also promotes wound healing.

Niacinamide: A potent antioxidant, it’s related to vitamin B-3 and helps reduce water loss which may improve skin elasticity.

Bottom line is read the label. And don’t be fooled into thinking an expensive product is any more effective than a less costly one. No data exists either suggesting a combination of two or three of the above ingredients is any more effective than just one. Your best defense against wrinkles will always be regular use of sunscreen and moisturizer. And remember not to smoke!

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