Effective moisturizers do not have to be either expensive or exotic

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY

November 09, 1993|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

Have you tried shopping for a moisturizer lately? The shelves are stuffed with an incredible array of products, each one claiming to outdo the next.

You can "discover the oriental secret to younger-looking skin" with Sudden Change Oriental Pearl Moisture Rich Potion for $3.59 per ounce. No wonder it's so pricey: This cream contains "crushed precious oriental pearls."

If fancy French-sounding creams are your style, look for Nivea Visage. (Visage means "face" in French.) The Liposome Creme with Vitamin E -- at $7.64 an ounce -- "visibly improves skin's tone and texture for a smoother, more supple appearance." It is also labeled "Creme Jeunesse aux Liposomes." Translation: youth cream with liposomes. Of course, it sounds far more enticing in French, which may be why people are willing to pay so much.

Perhaps high-tech terms are your thing. In that case you might be impressed by the "collagen elastin rehydrating facial firming gel." According to the label, it "revives and moisturizes tired complexions." The package of a different moisturizer promises it "neutralizes free radicals formed from skin's exposure to chemical pollution and the sun."

If you've heard of free radicals, you probably know they're not good for you. But can a skin cream protect you?

Despite the extraordinary claims, there are no miracle moisturizers. You can't erase wrinkles, wake up tired skin or eliminate bags under your eyes with a cream, lotion, potion or gel. However, if you choose a face cream with sunscreen, you may stave off premature aging.

Most moisturizers can help the skin hold its moisture better. But so can other, more humble moisturizers that have been on the market for decades at a fraction of the cost.

Dermatologists have long recommended petroleum jelly as a highly effective moisturizer. It is certainly cheap, but some people find it unpleasantly slimy. Over the last several years we have become aware of the wonders of what we call barnyard beauty aids. Farm women have written in praising the benefits of Bag Balm and Udder Cream. These products cost about 50 to 70 cents an ounce.

Now they are gaining popularity with knitters, quilters and needlepointers. One wrote: "A friend of mine who also quilts gave me a sample of Udder Cream and I love it! Since I am diabetic, my skin gets really dry and Udder Cream helps. I like the texture and the fact that it's non-greasy. I'm getting rid of all my other creams and using just this."

We have heard in the past from both knitters and quilters who love another veterinary product: "I just bought some Bag Balm yesterday at my quilters' shop. Quilters prick their fingers while quilting, and this ointment is not only antiseptic but also very healing and soothing. Bag Balm is the thing to have in your sewing kit!" Bag Balm and Udder Cream are generally available at feed stores and farm co-ops.

Whatever product you choose, the best time to use it is right after washing. Pat the skin dry and apply the moisturizer to seal water in. It also helps to avoid harsh soaps or detergents, which can strip the skin of its own moisture-retaining oils.

We have written about dry skin, soaps and moisturizers in our Guide to Skin Care, which discusses drugstore brands and also tells how to order Bag Balm or Udder Cream directly from the manufacturer. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 with a long (No. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. S-19, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Q: Please tell me about the drug Ritalin. Is it a tranquilizer or does it do something else? One of my little grandsons has to take it when he goes to school, as so many children do. Does it cause dependence?

A: Ritalin (methylphenidate) is actually classified as a stimulant since it resembles amphetamine. Adults find such drugs produce alertness or even jitteriness. But in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, such drugs can have a calming effect and allow them to concentrate on schoolwork.

Loss of appetite, stomachache or trouble sleeping are possible side effects. Although Ritalin is considered a controlled substance, meaning that it has been abused, it's unlikely that a child under medical supervision would become dependent.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.

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