My Friend Asked About Magical Anti-Aging Skin Care Products

About a month ago, a friend approached me to ask if I had heard about a particular range of skin care ‘anti-aging’ products.

These products were being sold by an acquaintance of us both and were marketed as superior products containing ‘botanicals’.

My friend had been given samples of the products, and while she was suspicious of the long, chemical sounding name of some if the ingredients (I have drilled her well!) she admitted that the creams she trialed seemed to have softened out some fine lines around her eyes and smoothed her skin generally.

My friend was interested to know if I could investigate the ingredients to try to ascertain what the magic formula could be and if there were any problems with using the products on a long term basis.

It didn’t take me very long to compile a 3 page report on the main ingredients in these products, as many of the same substances are generally used in most of the products on the market.

While we are on the subject of ‘marketing’… it has been reported in the Guardian newspaper “cosmetic companies request Laboratories to design a test that will allow them to make particular claims and with no regulatory bodies controlling the scientific studies conducted within the lab.”

Cosmetic companies regularly trade mark their ‘secret’ ingredients to avoid peer review or criticism. This also means the consumer is unable to find information on what they are using! The ‘botanicals’ are often synthetically derived from natural substances using chemicals. This process can remove the ‘life force’ and beneficial properties from the once natural substance as well as leaving toxic residues.

Two of the most common ingredients in a moisturiser or eye cream are mineral oil and glycerin:

Mineral oil will coat the skin like a plastic wrap, while it may make the skin feel soft and smooth it doesn’t allow the skin to breath or release toxins.

Glycerin is a cheap humectant (draws moisture from the atmosphere) in humidity above 65%. In humidity below that, in a dry environment for example, whether natural or air-conditioned, the glycerin will actually draw moisture from inside the skin and hold it on the surface, making the skin feel smoother, but drying the skin from the inside, out, causing dehydration.

As these 2 ingredients were on the label, it can be assumed that is how my friend’s fine lines were softened and her skin smoothed.

Peptides are another popular ingredient of anti-aging products. In simple terms they are five amino acids linked in a chain. The overall term for linked amino acid chains is peptides. If there are two amino acids they are called dipeptides, if it is three – tripeptide etc. Peptides have numerous useful functions within the body but most studies on the skin benefits of peptides have been conducted in cell cultures not on human beings.

A study conducted by Proctor & Gamble on human test subjects does little to support any anti-aging claims. According to the ASA the majority of test subjects in the paper published by P&G in the peer reviewed International Journal of Cosmetic Science (2005), reported no effect.

Peptides cannot usually penetrate the skin and maintain stability due to their hydrophilic (water-loving) nature. In addition, when they are able to penetrate the skin enzymes can break them down, dramatically inhibiting their effects.

AHAs…It has been suggested that AHAs may cause the skin to age more rapidly and elevate the risk of skin cancer, due to their ability to remove the outer layer of skin which can elevate sensitivity to sunlight, thereby increasing photo-aging. In one study the AHA glycolic acid elevated the sensitivity of human skin to sunburn by as much as 50 per cent in some individuals(1)

Research carried out on guinea pigs found that the AHA glycolic acid caused skin damage, with higher doses altering the structure of the skin and destroying some parts of the epidermal layer, as well as increasing UVB-induced skin damage, to a far greater degree than either glycolic acid or UVB in isolation.

Paraben preservatives: Any ingredient containing ethyl, methyl, butyl, propyl are Paraben preservatives and have been found in the tumor tissue of women with breast cancer. These chemicals are very controversial, with industry claims that they are safe, even though there is mounting evidence that they may be absorbed into organs. So great has been consumer suspicion and back lash, many manufactures are claiming ‘Paraben free’ products.

Many manufactures will use ‘penetration enhancers’ to help their active ingredients to go deeper into the skin. The problem here could be that toxins can also penetrate deep into the skin and into the blood stream (think HRT & nicotine patches)

One of these substances is Disodium EDTA. This chemical irritates skin, eyes and respiratory tract. Animal studies show: seizers, gastrointestinal problems, liver, kidney and endocrine system effects and reproduction abnormalities. It is also a weak mutagen in microbial systems. In a number of studies on mammalian cells in vitro, inhibits DNA synthesis.

Nanoparticles are increasingly being added to cosmetic products despite a lack of information about their safety. For example, nano-sized titanium dioxide and zinc oxide particles are used in sunscreens to protect against UV radiation without leaving a white tinge on the skin.

Toothpastes contain biocomposites to promote tooth repair. Nanocapsules are used to transport active ingredients deeper into the skin (which is of concern because if the nanoparticles are absorbed into the bloodstream they may be transported around the body and cause damage to DNA).

Fullerenes (football shaped molecules consisting of carbon atoms) are used for this purpose, but have been found to cause DNA damage and cell death in human tissues and brain damage in fish exposed to modest concentrations. Carbon nanotubes have been found to cause the same type of damage as asbestos.

There are antioxidants and vitamins added to cosmetics but there quantities may be too small to be of consequence. Retinyl Palminate vitamin A derivative is shown to improve tiny wrinkles – unfortunately, it decomposes under UVA into chemicals shown to cause mutations in mouse lymphoma cells. Is photo toxic- will cause skin ageing, educed DNA damage. This chemical is restricted in Canada.

Another popular vitamin is – Vitamin C topically applied Vit.C improves sun damage and enhances production of collagen and elastin – commercially available products contain low concentrations that are not easily absorbed into the skin and are unstable when exposed to oxygen – oxidization may actually promote production of free radicals.

I could not finish this article without the inclusion of a sunscreen ingredient as this is one of the biggest marketing ploys by manufactures. The sun causes more skin damage than almost any thing else, except for cigarette smoking

But there are some chemicals that should be avoided, such as Oxybenzone – this chemical claims the most common causes of photo contact allergy. Immediate and delayed hypersensitivity, it has been detected in human urine and milk. Potentially damages DNA under UV light. It is a skin sensitizer and a penetration enhancer. Used in many sunscreens!

(1)’NICNAS: Priority Existing Chemical Assessment Report,’ Australian Government, Department of Health and Aging, National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), Marrickville, NSW, 2000 (12): 128;

(2)Park, K.S. et al, Effect of Glycolic Acid on UVB-Induced Skin Damage and Inflammation in Guinea Pigs, Skin Pharmacology and Applied Skin Physiology, July-August, 2002: 15 (4): 236-245.

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