Youth In A Jar

Consumers should consider a few wrinkles about cosmeceuticals -- those expensive face creams with medical-sounding names that promise to turn back time

January 21, 2007|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Reporter

Every night before bed millions of women put creams and lotions on their faces in the hope of whisking away the years. For the first time since Cleopatra, there's some scientific evidence that these jars and tubes actually deliver. But is the difference enough to justify the price tag -- sometimes as much as $600 for a high-end anti-aging cream?

A lot of women think so. Cosmeceuticals -- skin products with medical-sounding ingredients like retinol, alpha hydroxy acids and peptides -- now make up 10 percent of upscale skin care sales (about $200 million), according to the NPD Group, a research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y. That's up from 4 percent in 2002.

It's the most recent convergence of health and beauty. A fit body is beautiful. You look better if you eat right and live a healthy lifestyle. "Medically" treated skin must be better.

"Skin care has taken on more of a treatment aspect," says Karen Grant, the NPD Group's senior beauty industry analyst, "In the consumer's mind, it adds more clout."

These products are often developed by a physician or are dermatologist-backed, as well as having drug-like ingredients and medical-sounding names. The packaging looks serious.

The doctors are sometimes specialists who have treated movie stars, which plays into our current fascination with celebrities. (Dr. Norman Leaf, for example, behind Leaf & Rusher skin care.) Or they may be celebrities in their own right, like dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, a best-selling author whose cosmeceutical line has the daunting name of N.V. Perricone M.D.

"In the past five years, the category has totally exploded," says Amy Keller, Allure magazine's beauty director. "Every company is getting into it." That includes drug manufacturers such as Allergan and Valiant Pharmaceuticals as well as beauty companies. Cosmeceuticals have become mainstream, with mass-market companies such as Avon, L'Oreal and Neutrogena jumping into the fray.

Nancy Ring, a 42-year-old attorney who lives in Owings Mills, could afford a pricier brand, but she likes Olay Total Effects Anti-Aging Moisturizer, which can be found at supermarkets and drugstores and costs around $18. "I've used several different [cosmeceuticals]," she says, "and the less stuff in them and less smell, the better it is on my skin."

`Fairy dust'

"Nothing takes the place of the knife," is the mantra you'll hear from dermatologists and cosmetic manufacturers alike. But today's women have learned something from the development of comparatively noninvasive procedures like Botox, microdermabrasion and Restylane injections.

They can get some of the benefits of a facelift without the risks and cost of surgery. It's a logical next step to hope that creams recommended by a physician will do the trick as well.

Monica Reinagel, who lives in Lake Evesham, knows better than to expect miracles; but she uses a cosmeceutical skin care line. She's in her 40s and says she's "holding back the wolves."

Reinagel is a nutritionist and author of The Inflammation Free Diet Plan. She was a consultant for a brand called Trienelle, developed by an allergist, which she likes and still orders although she's no longer connected to the company.

"There are many ingredients that will change the skin, but they're very expensive. We did the research," she says. "In the industry they're called fairy dust" because manufacturers often put in just enough to be able to list them among the ingredients. "The women in the street all have their basic loyalties. They keep using the product they got from the woman behind the counter at Nordstrom or the one their sister-in-law recommended."

"There's a huge placebo effect," Reinagel believes. "It's the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the benefit you get is from [the cream's] basic moisturizer."

Comparison test

Manufacturers, of course, would disagree.

"These so-called cosmeceutical products use ingredients that just don't measure up to promoting real change in the health and beauty of one's skin," says Rand Rusher, a registered nurse and co-founder of Leaf & Rusher skin care.

"We believe treatments should focus more on the inner layers of the skin as well as the top surface. This is truly where a difference takes place. Our `needling' approach brought the first truly widespread commercial availability of a system to push powerful ingredients to these sub-surface skin layers," Rusher says.

"Add to this formulas with highly active and concentrated ingredients combined with botanicals targeted for specific uses, you have our treatment philosophy."

In this month's issue, Consumer Reports tested both mass-market and costlier anti-wrinkle creams. The women used moisturizer on one side of their faces and a cosmeceutical product on the other, without knowing which was which. The magazine came to the conclusion that there was no relationship between price and effectiveness, and none of the creams tested noticeably erased wrinkles as compared to an ordinary moisturizer. This was after 12 weeks of use.

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