Is it all just smoothosomes and nonsense extracts? Or can something in a jar de-wrinkle me?
October 6, 2011 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Are there any skin care products that have actually been proven to be effective in the "battle against aging skin"?

As a single 35 year old woman, i want to look as good and as youthful as i can for as long as i can. As a skeptic, i'm under the impression that pretty much all the creams and potions and stuff are pretty much bullshit. However, i'd love to be proven wrong, so that i can slather my face with some crap from Sephora and then go to a bar and trick people into thinking i'm 29. (Or, when i'm 40, tricking people into thinking i'm 35.)

(And yes, i have a good job and healthy self esteem and lots of 'criticisms for the the patriarchy!' and i'm totally aware of the anti-feminist etc-ness of this question, but please try to answer it anyway without telling me be confortable with who aging and stuff.)

So: is there anything that i can buy (from a store, a spa, a pharmacist) that will actually soften the little lines around my eyes, and prevent deeper ones from forming? That will keep my skin smooth and stop the pores from getting bigger? And that has been backed up with some sort of reliable study that hasn't actually been paid for by the marketing department of the manufacturer?

Assume that price is no object, that i'm not interested in medical procedures, and that i'm not interested in bullshit :)
posted by Kololo to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
posted by t0astie at 1:18 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Boots Protect and Perfect Serum- a British brand, available in the US, I believe at Target.

says it works.

Or you could try Aldi Lacura Serum. Yes, that Aldi.
posted by essexjan at 1:19 PM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

*daily mail warning* Boots No. 7 Protect and Perfect Serum.
posted by missmagenta at 1:20 PM on October 6, 2011

If you're going to take Retin-A (which is basically just Vitamin A)be careful. It's not like Vitamin C that you just pee out if you take too much.
posted by griphus at 1:20 PM on October 6, 2011

I don't know about proven, but some anecdata. I have on again off again seborrhoeic dermatitis. These days it only needs treatment a few days a month at most. But while I'm treating it (methylprednisolone aceponate ointment 0.1% in the morning; salicylic acid 1% and sulfur 2% ointment in the evening) the skin on my face tends to look all young and beautiful. It generally lasts a few days, then I go back to looking a bit lined and weathered, but that's cool.
posted by Ahab at 1:22 PM on October 6, 2011

Retin-A burned my skin. I tried OCM and I broke out incredibly. I'm now trying something from DERMAdoctor and eating only rice products. Awesome! I don't really care, though, you know.
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:30 PM on October 6, 2011

Best answer: Seconding Retin-A. I use generic Cetaphil cleanser and moisturizing cream (with a few drops of rose oil added for fragrance) every morning, plus sunscreen. All of this is pretty inexpensive and leaves my skin moisturized, soothed, and glowing. I do the Retin-A before bed every night after washing my face with the Cetaphil, then apply the cream again about 20 minutes later. That's it. Also, sorry if this is too Captain Obvious, but drinking a lot of water helps.

I weaned myself off trying lots of fancy facial products this year--too expensive, and nothing really seemed to make a difference. What I do now comes from the routine my dermatologist prescribed me, and I have to tell you, my skin has not looked this good since I was a teenager--clear, smooth, and radiant. I wear about half the amount of makeup that I used to. As an added bonus, I am glad that previous sun damage I had incurred may be slowly reduced over time, which is always good from a skin-health perspective. Obviously, you should talk to your own doctor (this is not medical advice, blah blah)--especially since, if you do decide to try Retin-A and have insurance, a prescription from your doctor may reduce the cost considerably for you.
posted by anonnymoose at 1:33 PM on October 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

Sorry, when I said I apply the cream again 20 minutes later, I meant Cetaphil moisturizing cream. NOT Retin-A. Just wanted to clarify that. ;)
posted by anonnymoose at 1:35 PM on October 6, 2011

Boots Protect and Perfect Serum- a British brand, available in the US, I believe at Target.

Essentially the same actives can be had for cheaper in Skinactive's Let's Make Collagen Serum. Or you can buy any of their Matixyl products to your favorite cream or one of their base creams (Matrixyl is a pentapeptide).

I've been using it combined with their DMAE serum, and my skin is looking smoother and smaller-pored, and blemishes heal much faster. Again, you can buy their DMAE and add it to your own stuff.

You can poke around in the tabs under products for non-woo information about the ingredients. Their prices are on the low end, and I particularly like being able to buy single ingredients to add to my own lotions. Here's a comparison chart of Brands and their actives that you can buy if you want to "reproduce" those effects.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:04 PM on October 6, 2011 [15 favorites]

In my anecdotal, observational experience, skin quality in middle-aged women (not that you are - but you will be some day!) is really dependent on a few factors:

1. Genetics. Not much you can do here. Hug your mom, if you've got the good stuff.

2. Weight. Having too little body fat (whether through general thinness or extreme muscle tone) tends to enhance the appearance of wrinkles and crepe-y skin. You know the old line about being able to keep one thing as you get older: your ass or your face.

3. Early life sun habits. If you've been a sun worshipper, stop immediately, and also visit a dermatologist to see what can be done about reversing some of the damage. I know you said you don't want any procedures, but some laser treatments (like Fraxel) can do significant damage control on sun-soaked skin. It's not remotely plastic surgery, and no one will fault you for it.

4. Moisturizing religiously. Inside and out. Drink lots of water, slather on cream. Also don't dehydrate: don't drink too much alcohol, don't smoke.

I'm 29 with super-sensitive combination/acne-prone skin, and I decided about a year ago to get obsessive about prevention (with all the same feminism/patriarchy caveats you mention in your original post). I've been informally polling women with beautiful skin - and a handful of dermatologists who I know socially - and based on their answers, here's my regimen: at night, I take off my makeup using Neutrogena makeup remover wipes. I follow that with First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads, which have a little bit of glycolic and lactic acid, just enough to make a difference without irritating my very sensitive skin. On top of that goes Olay's Regenerist Wrinkle Revolution Complex moisturizer, which in about 2 months 100% eliminated the fine lines I started noticing around my eyes and mouth. In the mornings, I splash cold water on my face, and then moisturize with Cetaphil.

I've also started avoiding the sun. I walk on the shady side of the street, I wear makeup with SPF 30, and I try to stay covered up when I'm outside (maxi dresses and gauzy blouses were my best friends this summer). I hope I can stick with this for 10 years - I'll report back!
posted by firstbest at 2:07 PM on October 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Great answers so far! I thought i'd also offer some insight into my current skin care routine, so if anyone has any "stop using that!" advice, that would be great.

I have 'combination skin' - dry on my cheeks, and 'normal' (whatever that means) everywhere else. My skin is, i guess, pretty good for a 35 year old, but i've got fine lines radiating out from my eyes, the pores on my forehead and nose are much more visible than they used to be, and generally things look 'duller'.

I wash my face with SpectroJel, and i use an exfoliating glove in the shower. Occasionally i use this Neutrogena Acne Cream Wash, because i tend to break out a bit before my period. I use Neutrogena Healthy Skin with SPF 15 every day. That's pretty much it!
posted by Kololo at 2:32 PM on October 6, 2011

Nature's aid. I love this stuff. Rub it on your face in the morning, look in the mirror, and you'll feel like a new person.
posted by No Robots at 3:01 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Science says it works. + some fluffy press releases and one article that says "Approximately one in five people using the cream will get something extra for their money over plain moisturisers. It is an interesting step forward in research, although the long-term benefits are unknown" -- hrm

(Retin-A is not taken internally)

I don't know what it might do for wrinkles but I like to douse myself with acid periodically, using various hi-test AHAs and salicylic acids and stuff from this site. You will certainly be temporarily "brighter" from it.

I used Retin-A for twenty years and once had a dermatologist squeal YOU'RE SO LUCKY! at me over that (!) -- Nth the recommendation.

Google "dermaroller" or "skin needling" for...interesting reading. No idea what the long-term effects are, but even a short needle length does make for a phenomenal temporary skin-smoothing. Most of the sites that will come up when you go Googling will look pretty low-rent, which is off-putting. They were recommended to me by a reliable source, you can buy them cheaply now, and the effect is astounding for at least a day or two. You just sit there and roll it around while you're reading Metafilter or whatever, no pain, and you end up very slightly puffy, enough to be pore-shrunk and de-wrinkled, at least if you are my age [36].

You mention no to 'medical procedures' -- I grok this and would not go Botoxing myself -- but I did get myself lasered up to get rid of some acne scarring, and had another sort of light thingy for acne, and was nearly in tears afterwards. The few hundred you might drop is very much worth it given: results! vs the relatively meaningless results from creams.
posted by kmennie at 3:10 PM on October 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

I recommend getting (or borrowing) the book "The Original Beauty Bible" by Paula Begoun (or check out the "learn" section of her website, She is a bit of a controversial figure in the world of skincare, but she does a great job of debunking myths about what works and what doesn't. She does sell her own products, but also has many positive reviews about other brands at
posted by LaurenIpsum at 3:11 PM on October 6, 2011

I'd recommend avoiding the scrubby exfoliating glove, because scrubbing irritates the skin and increases oil production - instead try an AHA or BHA exfoliant. Do continue to exfoliate - getting rid of the dead skin allows the moisturizer to get to your skin. Basically, drink lots of water, stay out of the sun, use sunscreen, and cleanse and moisturize twice a day.
posted by matildaben at 4:10 PM on October 6, 2011

Response by poster: To those of you who have recommended Retin-A: I've mostly heard about it in the context of acne, and the people i know who took it for that reason talked about results, but also talked about extreme dryness and irritation. Can someone explain a bit more about it as an anti-aging thing, rather than an acne thing?
posted by Kololo at 8:27 PM on October 6, 2011

Not an academic journal article, but here's a feature that ran in the New York Times re: use for anti-aging.
posted by anonnymoose at 8:44 PM on October 6, 2011

Kololo, Retin-A (vitamin A) helps increase collagen production which decreases with age.
posted by squeak at 8:44 PM on October 6, 2011

Curses! Sorry, I am experiencing a tablet fail (errrrmmm, it may be human error). Here's the link:
posted by anonnymoose at 8:46 PM on October 6, 2011

I am unable to put Retin-A anywhere near my face, because it peels for weeks from the dryness. (34/female/combo skin, just as a data point)
posted by getawaysticks at 8:07 AM on October 7, 2011

This is the best explanation of how retinoids (e.g. Retin-A, differin, tazorac) work that I've found, although you might have to register for makeup alley to access it (but it's a great site).

Basically, it's totally normal to have peeling/irritation/crazy breakouts from retinoids at first, so you're supposed to start *slowly* (like every two nights); and they do a shitload of good for the skin in the long run, but only if you wear sunscreen (or the anti-aging effects will backfire).
posted by granted at 11:40 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

New Scientist just had an article on a new dietary supplement that had some research done on it, I think there was another study cited on some other product that was published in a peer-reviewed journal. IIR, the newer product did have it's study paid for by the manufacturer (whether R&D or marketing paid for it was not specified).

I don't have the citation for the peer-reviewed article handy just now, don't know if I have any access to the journal cited to see if they say how the study was funded or time to attempt to get that access, but I can get the magazine later and put up the cite if that's useful.
posted by yohko at 1:10 PM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: Somebody who wanted to remain anonymous (rather than risk the teasing of friends) sent me the following advice via memail, and i thought it might be useful to people who look to this thread in the future:

I've seen a bunch of dermatologists and they all agree. No cream does anything with the exception of sunscreen. It is the only thing you can put on your face to reliably prevent the signs of aging. I know you said no "medical procedures" but in case that is just a prohibition on surgery - I'll tell you what absolutely has worked for me (38, combo skin, same nascent wrinkling).

First - IPL. It clears up any patches of uneven skin tone - redness and brown-ness - in one treatment. Stuff you didn't realize was there comes to the surface of your skin and falls off. This makes your skin look fantastic - for a long time. I do it about every two years. Anyone who tries to sell you a series is a crook. One treatment and maybe a followup few zaps to get anything that was missed.

Second - don't judge - Botox. Just around the eyes. Just for the bits you're talking about. I don't look surprised. I don't look frozen - I just look like me - with fewer wrinkles around my eyes. Someone told me recently I looked well rested - which could not be further from the truth. I do it every 5-6 months. It's expensive - but cheaper than fancy sephora creams when you add it up.

Finally - serious peels. Not *super* serious but medium serious. TCA peels. You will flake and shed skin for a few days - but when you're done - everything just looks a little brighter and healthier. Again - not something you have to do all the time. It is the maintenance I do between IPL treatments.

I've tried every cream from every outlet. Nothing worked like the above.

posted by Kololo at 12:49 PM on October 8, 2011 [13 favorites]

in addition to moisturizing every day, I try to pay attention to how I treat my face - the reason botox works is it keeps you from using the muscles that scrunch up your skin and creases it. I try to be aware of how I hold my face - I know that I have a tendancy to lower my eyebrows when I'm concentrating, so times when I'm working a lot of hours I'll start seeing lines between the brows. Being aware that I'm doing it helps me to remeber to relax those muscles, preventing the lines, and also relaxing a bit more in general. I also sleep with a small pillow on top of my regular pillow, so that the weight of my head is supported on the side of my head and not my face. I never wake up with pillow lines on my face, and considering you spend 1/3 of your time sleeping, having your face squished up against the pillow all that time can't be good for your skin.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:08 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was talking with a doctor/biologist the other day who told me that vitamin A for acne is always prescribed with a contraceptive because if you get pregnant while taking high doses of vitamin A, you end up with severely deformed children. (Then he explained the mechanism.)

Apparently, when they see how well it's working, a lot of kids give their skin medication to their friends — of course, they don't give the contraceptive. Then, the friends end up with great skin and soon get pregnant. It's very sad.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:23 AM on October 12, 2011

I use Retin A for anti aging with good results. It comes in different strengths. I use a .025% in the winter when my skin is drier and bump up to a .05% in the summer. It helps reverse sun damage and smooth and brighten the skin. Your skin may be flaky when you first begin using it but will adjust to the product in a few weeks. You can also apply a plain moisturizer (don't choose one with retinol or other acids) to help with any flakiness.

The same form of topical Retin A is also used to treat acne. You can get Retin A in a cream form or a gel form. I think the gel is more for acne treatment. In any case a tiny bit goes a long way.

Since I grew up and live in Florida I also battle with hyperpigmentation from years of sun exposure despite being a lifelong suncreen wearer. I think blotchy uneven skin also contributes to the appearance of aging. I periodically use a hydroquinone cream and the results are enhanced by the Retin A. Hydroquinone has it's risks but my dermatologist says its okay to use periodically.

Here is my antiaging arsenal:
Sunscreen - at least 30 spf every day. I use EltaMD UV Physical SPF 41 Oil-Free - Tinted. It's chemical free, not overly expensive, and its active ingredients are zinc and titanium dioxide instead of chemical suncreens which burn my eyes. It's tinted so it doesn't have the white appearance of most zinc based sunscreens. The tint gives a bit of coverage but not so much that my husband can't use it.

Hydroquinone - I use Obagi Clear twice a day before my sunscreen or Retin A. Shop around online, you shouldn't be paying spa or doctor's office prices. I buy this and my sunscreen from

.025 Retin A - Generic prescription. A pea sized dollop every night

Teeth whitening - I think brighter teeth give you a younger appearance. I use the Luster White at home kit a couple times a year.

Med Spa services - I'm not into Botox but have tried chemical peels and some lasering for pigmentation with good, but not permanent, results.
posted by mudrick at 5:32 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

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