Wrinkle Creams: How to tell which ones really work

Beautie15 asks…What is your go-to anti-aging/wrinkle product? I do some work with StriVectin and I love to hear feedback from anyone who has tried it or are thinking about trying it to help reduce the appearance of lines on your face. I’ve been trying the new StriVectin-SD for about 5 weeks now and my face feels softer and looks healthier. They say it takes about 8 weeks to see full results, so I’ll let you know how it goes!

The Right Brain responds:

To be honest, Beautie, we haven’t heard great things about StiVectin (see this discussion thread in our Forum for details.) But, we are big fans of testing products for yourself rather than just accepting the marketing hype.

Case in point: Autumn Whitefield-Madrano (who runs a terrific blog called “The Beheld”) has done a “split-face” experiment using Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair. While this kind of study doesn’t take the place of a controlled clinical study, it does demonstrate the kind of critical thinking that the Beauty Brains champion. So, Autumn has graciously agreed to share her experimental results with our readers. Enjoy!

Wrinkle Cream Assessment (by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano)

At age 34, I’m only just now tiptoeing into the world of anti-aging creams. My inborn skepticism has always led me to believe that most creams are snake oil—but when I started seeing fine lines creep up on my face, even snake oil viscerally seemed like it just might be worth a shot. The best way to test its efficacy–not in some company’s lab, but on me? Applying anti-aging cream to half my face for a month.

The results

Well, the cream (Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair, for the curious) lived up to its eponymous claim: It did rapidly “repair” my wrinkles, to a degree. I could tell a difference in the length and depth of the fine lines that crinkle up beneath my eyes when I smile, and so could 59% of people who examined close-up photos of my face. (Only 15% of people guessed flat-out wrong; the rest couldn’t tell a difference.)

Visualizing with Visia

I went in for a Visia skin analysis, which confirmed what I’d detected: There were fewer wrinkles on the treated side of my face. But when the spa director at Sensitive Touch in New York looked more carefully at the other results of my Visia scan, she advised me to stop using the cream altogether. Visia showed that I had more spots and irritation on the treated side of my face. The difference between the halves of my face wasn’t dramatic—about as dramatic as the “wrinkle repair”—but it begged the question: At what point is the tradeoff of mild skin damage for mild wrinkle improvement no longer worth it?

The cream’s packaging clearly instructs users to discontinue use if signs of irritation or rash appear. But as anyone who’s used even a mild retinol knows, skin irritation isn’t some kooky, infrequent side effect, like, say, the weird dreams that accompany anti-smoking drug Chantix. We expect that irritation—when half my face started seriously flaking a week into the experiment, I took it as par for the course. But that was just the visible side effect: Had I not had a high-tech skin analysis done, I might not have realized that my skin was continually being irritated, even after it had adjusted as seen by the naked eye. (I’ll admit that the peculiarities of my experiment prevent me from getting too up in arms about it: A half-face of flaky, peeling skin is even weirder-looking than a full face of the same.) Plus, the cornucopia of sunscreen agents in this particular ensures better broad-spectrum protection…but one of those agents, homosalate, is known for drying and tightening the skin.

Pros and cons

The series of tradeoffs—broad spectrum protection for heightened chance of irritation; mild retinol benefits for mild retinol damage—might be worth it for some. Frankly, I’m not sure it’s worth it for me—but I’m not sure it’s not worth it, either. I think my reluctance indicates that scientific proof of a treatment’s efficacy isn’t really what I’m after when I spend that meditative moment applying cream every night. I’m more after the idea that I’m doing something brief but concrete to help myself age gracefully. The cream I used has a nice feel (love that dimethicone!), making me feel like every night I was indulging myself (well, half of myself) in a feminine ritual. I know that sunscreen, yoga, and getting my five-a-day are the true routes to aging gracefully—but despite its underwhelming visible effects, I just may keep this cream as a companion along the way.

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano writes about beauty from a sociological, personal, and philosophical perspective at The Beheld.

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