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    Sound science helps separate the countless age-reversing skin care products on the market


    Cosmetic surgeons know well the fine line that exists between marketing spin and what has been scientifically proven to work. The same goes for cosmetic skin care: While there is no shortage of products promising to diminish signs of skin aging, only a few ingredients have actual science to back their claims, experts say.


    There are topical ingredients that have proven power to diminish skin aging.

    "It is a short list," says James Spencer, M.D., M.S., associate professor of clinical dermatology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and in private practice in St. Petersburg, Fla.

    Dermatologists agree the gold standard is the retinoid — first and foremost, prescription tretinoin. Over-the-counter retinoid derivatives include retinaldehyde and retinol.

    "There is a lot of science behind the use of prescription retinoids and specifically Voorhees...published a study (2008) showing that the only three things that can stimulate collagen production are laser resurfacing, hyaluronic acid filler injections and topical tretinoin," says Diane Berson, M.D. a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York.

    Retinoids are the tried and true molecules that not only help increase collagen production, but also enhance cell turnover, normalization of the stratum corneum, remove pigment in the skin, normalize epidermal cells and make pores smaller, according to Kathy Fields, M.D., dermatologist and assistant clinical professor at University of California, San Francisco's department of dermatology.

    "That is square one," Dr. Fields says.

    Other ingredients that have sound science to back them are glycolic acids, hydroquinone and vitamin C, according to Dr. Spencer.


    Peptides, growth factors, botanicals and even stem cells are making headlines in skin care.

    Wm. Philip Werschler, M.D., a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of medicine/dermatology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, says genomics is a promising and exciting (yet unproven) area in skin care.

    "This would be...inclusive of all aspects including stem cells (adult and embryonic); growth factors; engineered proteins (proteonomics); recombinant DNA products to fight/halt/reverse aging; the next wave of human growth hormone, or HGH; and a better understanding and control of immune system function, along with the relative and absolute declines in hormonal balances," Dr. Werschler says. While some of these mechanisms of action might pan out, others might not.

    The latest news in stem cell technology, according to Dr. Fields, is in retrieving the cells from plants.

    "[The theory is that] you get all the ingredients to create new life from a cell ... such as growing skin," she says.

    The future of peptide technology, according to Dr. Fields, is in engineering peptides to do what we want.

    "Peptide technology...works on so many levels. Peptides can be anticancer, antimicrobial, antibacterial, stimulate collagen, stimulate growth factor," she says.

    But dermatologists also question the viability of some active ingredients.

    "...growth factors on the market, which are huge molecules that are very unlikely to penetrate the skin, ...would make terrific moisturizers," Dr. Spencer says. "We have penta-peptides and hexa-peptides [but again] penetration is the issue. I do not mean to be too skeptical but...you put these molecules on the outside of the skin and they have to get in to work. That does not mean that they do not work, it is just that they have not been shown to work."


    Lisette Hilton
    Lisette Hilton is a writer in Boca Raton, Fla., who heads up her company, Words Come Alive.


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