The funny thing about over the counter anti-aging cream to me is the whole “clinically tested” or “better results than our competitors and we cost less” types of arguments. Honestly, if it did work as they claimed- by penetrating past our outermost epidermis to strengthen from the inside-out, their creams would need to undergo a lengthy FDA approval process and then be prescribed by a doctor like Retin-A, Clindamycin or Benzamycin are. If there were clinical studies, where are those papers and what were their “research methodologies” if any were used? Without long-term trials, how do I know that their product really does help reduce the effects of the aging process?
Why are we spending so much money each year on this stuff? Forgive my moment of glibness here, but if vaseline, sunscreen, and staying out of the sun is common to my family, I think I’ll try that. If you think about it, the compounds in expensive creams that are most often touted are actually too big to really be “absorbed” beyond our outer-most epidermal layer so we’re probably just paying for a moisture-barrier meant to make our skin feel softer but not realistically cause all that much long-term change. Even for creams that purport to help treat post-acne scarring, what if our own skin is capable of healing slowly on its own and that the cream isn’t doing all that much? It’s very difficult to imagine how one would study the efficacy of the cream versus natural healing with pimples or scar tissue sites that are as similar as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for products that do work- like steroidal creams for psoriasis/eczema, washes that contain a mild acid (one of the most common active ingredients in anti-acne/dandruff products), or that smelly plant (citronella) that keeps away mosquitos.
Even with the idea of protecting ourselves from skin cancer, bugs, dry skin, etc, the whole process of seeking a youth-worshiping standard of beauty warps our priorities by turning maintenance into a battle to reverse what is already happening as much as we possibly can. I wish it weren’t the case and I wish I were less vain but honestly, I hate my pimples. Conveniently, retin-A which I started to use in late middle school is both an effective acne treatment (if you use it regularly and properly, which I didn’t at first) and anti-aging cream. Of course, it wasn’t marketed that way back then. It makes sense because retin-A is tretinoin which is retinolic acid aka Vitamin A with the CHOH group changed into COOH. Products that cause your outer layer of skin to turn over more frequently will feel softer and appear younger. The acids in anti-acne treatment dry out the site, kill the bacteria, and the infection goes away. The process of drying out skin encourages replacement of the dead skin with new skin in addition to the dead skin falling off. However, turnover is a double edged sword. Because of the drying, the outer layer is lost and that top layer is no longer protected. This is why tretinoin users should apply retinoic acid treatments at night and should feel more compelled to use sunscreen if they weren’t already regular users.
Overall though, I believe that it’s highly improbable that we’re truly changing the composition of our skin but are instead changing its perception by sloughing off the outermost layers while claiming that our skin is now, magically producing more collagen because of some fancy complex chemical. Even if we are making significant changes, are they really worthwhile if they come with side effects as did the mercury-based bleaching treatments of ye olden times? It’s hard to say if the trade offs between immediate versus long term effects will be and I feel that we as consumers should be more careful since we don’t always know the precise chemical mechanisms behind how and why some active ingredients work.