All I want for Christmas is… Youth. The Truth and Lies about Anti-ageing products.

On the third day of Christmas, my Guru gave to me… The truth about beauty products!

NeutrogenaWith Christmas just around the corner, everyone is making final preparations for the holiday season. The social calendar is full, what with office parties, friend’s get-togethers, families to visit and a lot of shopping to do – unless you go for the “I’m ordering everything off Amazon”solution – and everyone wants to look great. Party frocks have taken over the shops and grooming appointments are taken up faster than you’ve eaten your advent calendar chocolates!

One particular grooming matter on everyone’s mind when trying to look great are wrinkles. Apparently, at the grand old age of 26, I should be wearing anti-wrinkle cream every night. I don’t even own a single sample of such a product. But if I was to start worrying about such things or maybe thinking of a Christmas present/hint for my boyfriend (he’s nearly 30 so he definitely should have been wearing anti-wrinkle cream!) then where would I start? And is there actually anything on the market which works?

The problem with the cosmetics market today is that it is fuelled by people who don’t understand their skin, the biology behind ageing and will believe any claim a product makes in the scramble for younger looking skin. Throw a load of scientific jargon at the everyday man or woman and they will believe it because “if it sounds complicated, it must be true”! The truth is a lot of the claims made by cosmetics companies are not only untrue but completely scientifically wrong…

False Science Claims in Beauty Creams

Masarwa man - http://natavillage.orgTake ‘pentapeptides’ for instance. Used in marketing some anti-ageing creams, this component is supposed to be the key to youth and radiance. But pentapeptide doesn’t really mean anything specific: all it means is a string on five (penta) amino acids (peptide). This could mean a multitude of different peptides – there are 20 different amino acids: with a string of 5 of them that’s over 3 million different possibilities!They don’t say which pentapepetide it is – and one would think these greatly varying peptides will have completely different functions.

Another example is hyaluronic acid. Again tagged the miracle component of anti-ageing, it doesn’t exactly do what it says on the tin. This time, the science here isn’t as flawed – hyaluronic acid is a compound important to skin which helps regenerate skin cells and creates collagen making skin elastic. The problem here is that your skin isn’t just going to absorb anything you put on it and even if it did, it’s unlikely to absorb enough to really make a difference. Hyaluronic acid is a molecule that’s simply too big to pass through your skin. Although there is some budding research into smaller molecular versions of HA that might penetrate your skin, it is still in early stages and it’s extremely unlikely you fill find in your tube of face cream.

Rigged Beauty Treatment Tests

Echo and Narcissus: Richard Baxter, 1998Another common problem is the lack of proper scientific evidence for these products – most of the trials run for them are either non-conclusive or don’t include things like double-blinds which are essential to scientific rigour – and to prevent results being biased. One exception is the case of the 2009 N°7 Protect and Perfect study which seems to hold up to proper scientific standards and show the product helps skin cells produce more fibrilin, another source of elasticity. Make of it what you will, I’m still in the balance on this one.

The fact is that a lot of face creams don’t have a high enough concentration of these miracle products. Any cream which contains any protein will, at least for the day, make your skin feel tighter. Proteins are formed of long chains of molecules. In your cream, these proteins are all floppy and hydrated but when you apply them to the skin, they become rigid due to drying out. This will make you feel like your skin is tightening but as soon as you wash it off, that’s it.

Personally, I’d forgo the expensive pot of anti-ageing cream as a Christmas present: a kiss under the mistletoe always make me feel youthful!

Watson, R., Ogden, S., Cotterell, L., Bowden, J., Bastrilles, J., Long, S., & Griffiths, C. (2009). A cosmetic ‘anti-ageing’ product improves photoaged skin: a double-blind, randomized controlled trial British Journal of Dermatology, 161 (2), 419-426 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2009.09216.x


This article was written for the online version of Guru Magazine, for which I am currently Food Guru. It was written as part of a series of humorous, witty or intriguing posts in the run-up to Christmas. It’s the Guru 12 Days of Christmas! Missed any? Click here to see all the festive posts so far. 

Read the latest issue of Guru here, or check out the back issues here.


One thought on “All I want for Christmas is… Youth. The Truth and Lies about Anti-ageing products.

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    Posted by complexion md | May 9, 2014, 4:37 pm

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About me

Natacha is a research scientist and a lover of all things science! She love finding out interesting facts about all aspects of life, whether it’s how genetic engineering works or what the difference between crimped and straight hair is. There’s a bit of science behind every mystery and the Science Informant will help find the clues for everyone to enjoy and understand the amazing world of science!

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