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The truth about anti-ageing products
Dr Parul Kolhe
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January 16, 2007

Womankind's obsession with youth is legendary. Cleopatra used to take milk baths to keep her skin young and wrinkle-free. And modern science reveals that lactic acids in milk do actually contribute to removing fine wrinkles.  

In ancient times, women used a multitude of products in order to keep the ageing process at bay, without knowing the scientific basis. However, today it is not fair to accept any promise at face value -- you have a right to know what goes into your anti-ageing creams and lotions, and how they work. So, here's a scientific low-down on the various products promising youthful skin. 
Antiwrinkle creams

Most of these contain a compound called Retinoic Acid, derived from vitamin A, which is proven to reduce wrinkles. It works by increasing the turnover rate of skin cells -- old and dead cells are shed and new cells grow faster -- resulting in smoother skin. These creams may also contain vitamin E, which has skin-improving qualities.
Various natural extracts, like milk or fruits, which contain mild lactic glycolic acids, are added. These help to peel off the older layers of skin, revealing a smoother complexion.
Antiwrinkle creams, however, work on fine wrinkles, not deep ones.
Under eye gels

The main ingredients are hydrating substances. As the skin around the eyes is thinner, the area can become dry and dehydrated. Hydration makes skin cells plumper, and therefore, smoother, evening out mild wrinkles.

Again, vitamin A, C and E derivatives are important add-ons in these products. However, there is no proof that collagen, present in some gels, is of much use.

Also, one should avoid gels with higher concentration of Retinoic Acid (more than 0.025 per cent) as they can irritate the delicate undereye skin.

Intensive skin repair night creams

Alpha Hydroxy Acids, also known as Glycolic Acid, is the most important active ingredient in these creams. This ingredient works in two ways -- firstly, it helps as a peeling agent to remove the superficial dull layer of skin, and secondly, on prolonged usage, increases the quantity of collagen in deeper layers of skin.

Collagen is a protein produced by special cells in the skin itself, which keeps it tight and stretched, and a lack of it in old age is what causes wrinkling. Night creams also contain intensive moisturisers like stearyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol, as well as natural ingredients similar to those in antiwrinkle creams. Some products also combine whitening agents with anti-ageing agents in night creams.
Skin tightening serums

Serums are concentrated forms of active chemicals and have to be used sparingly -- just four to five drops are enough to cover the face. Serums should be applied at night. A 25 per cent 'Vitamin C' serum has been shown to have visible skin tightening effects.

The same magic chemicals -- Retinoids and Glycolic Acid -- present in antiwrinkle creams, are available as high strength serums too. Anti-ageing and wrinkle-lift effects are visible after four to six weeks of regular use.
Collagen creams

Collagen, as mentioned earlier, is a vital protein for maintaining skin tightness.

But though collagen creams are widely used by women who swear by its skin tightening effects, there is no scientific evidence that collagen can be absorbed by application onto skin. For better results, the cream needs to be injected with a syringe.

This is the single most useful anti-ageing product on the market today that can prevent skin damage. Sun exposure is the single most important external factor responsible for ageing.

Thus, sunlight induced ageing can be slowed by frequent and regular use of high SPF sunscreens which prevent ultraviolet rays from damaging skin cells.
Unusual natural products

Various exotic substances like caviar (the eggs of the rare sturgeon fish) or royal jelly (a product of worker bees which is fed to the Queen bee in a beehive) or ginseng (root of a rare plant), are incorporated into creams to help decrease wrinkles and pigmentation problems.

However, results vary and are not consistently obtained on experimental studies. Also, these substances come in tiny jars and are very expensive (some cost lakhs for a few grams!)
Anti-ageing/ body firming soaps

The less said, the better. The very concept is too ridiculous for scientific comment. Use these only if you're a real optimist!

All said and done, over-the-counter age defying products do work, but only to erase the mildest and earliest signs. They prevent and erase fine wrinkles and lines but cannot make you look 35 if you're 60. So, be realistic in your expectations.

-- Dr Parul S Kolhe is an M B B S, DDV and DNB in dermatology.

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