If you’ve ever used public transit, watched TV, opened a magazine, been inside a mall, or pretty much just left your house, you’ve likely seen one of these ads.
They almost always feature a young woman advertising a cream, lotion, or “targeted under-eye ointment” that promises to make your skin look like hers. (Wrinkles are generally accepted as a marker of character or wisdom for men, which is why these products aren’t marketed to them.) Typically, said woman is staring at you – all sparkling eyes, flawless skin, and glossy lips – from some crystal-clear ocean or grassy, sun-drenched field. The product will “roll back the clock” or “give you youthful-looking skin,” she claims. She might look something like this:
But those expensive creams and lotions largely do nothing for your skin.
“If you’re looking for a face-lift in a bottle, you probably won’t find it in over-the-counter wrinkle creams. The benefits of these products are usually only modest at best,” write the staff at the Mayo Clinic, America’s best hospital according to the US News & World Report.
No matter how expensive the price tag or how exotic ingredients may seem, any skin care product that doesn’t need a doctor’s prescription is not required to undergo scientific research to prove its effectiveness.
Since they are not classified as drugs, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) law “does not require cosmetic products to have FDA approval before they go on the market.”
As such, it’s unlikely that the lotions, creams, sprays, and ointments you’re putting on your face have undergone any type of scientific research, much less a study that proves their effectiveness in reducing wrinkles or boosting skin health (unless you got them from a doctor).
That said, some products are better than others. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following ingredients may help reduce the appearance of certain aging hallmarks, though the University of Maryland points out the evidence is scant:
Grape seed extract – a natural anti-inflammatory, grape seed extract may help reduce swelling and promote wound healing Coenzyme Q10 – may help reduce the appearance of fine lines and skin roughness Niacinamide – an ingredient related to vitamin B3 which may help improve skin moisture and suppleness
So if most products won’t help your skin, what should you do?
Instead of spending a fortune on any of these creams, dermatologists say the best thing you can do for your skin is prevent damage before it starts. And the way to do that is by wearing sunscreen – every day.
“The most important thing is to take care of your skin before all these changes start to take place,” Suzan Obagi, an assistant professor in dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh and director of the Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center, told Scientific American. “Sun protection against both UVA and UVB rays is critical 365 days a year using an SPF of at least 35.”
- Unsplash / BCG Magazine
It’s also worth pointing out that wrinkles are not necessarily a sign of damage!
After age 20, our bodies produce about 1% less skin collagen, the main structural protein in our bodies and the thing that keeps skin supple. (Hence the appearance of wrinkles when there’s less of it.) Fine lines do not mean there is something wrong with your skin.
“Under a microscope a biopsy of a wrinkle exhibits no telltale signs that reveal it to be a wrinkle,” Obagi said.
Put another way, there’s nothing negative happening on a microscopic level that is making your skin look wrinkly. It’s merely a combination of several factors, including age, fatigue, and genetics.
So don’t worry so much about finding the right cream or ointment – just make sure to wear sunscreen every day instead.