Everybody wants to look younger. As Baby Boomers continue to retire and wrinkle, the anti-aging industry continues to grow (up over $100 billion in just five years). But before you buy that expensive skin cream promoted by your favorite doctor, celebrity, or doctor/celebrity you should ask yourself: is it really any better than creams I can get at the local drugstore for a fraction of the price? Let’s take a look…

First: What are You Paying For?

Some companies try to dazzle you with a celebrity endorsement, a fancy looking bottle, and/or exotic ingredients. But in many ways, all this appears to do is allow them to charge you more money. For example, Crepe Erase is a product touted by actress/model Jane Seymour who is certainly paid very well for her endorsement, and they also spend millions on advertising. 

Yet we investigated the ingredients, and found nothing particularly special: it lists shea butter, cocoa butter, olive oil, coconut oil, beeswax, dill extract, and apple extract, found in many other products. And, although their literature claims 100% of users saw results, this is based on “user perception” (meaning a self-assessment) and not any true unbiased evidence.

Diamonds and Gold: a Marketer’s Best Friend

Some other creams sport exotic ingredients that they claim enhance benefits. For example, L’Reve24k boasts it contains gold flakes and Lumera Eye Serum claims it uses finely powdered diamonds. While these sound fancy, in reality there is no added benefit other than boosting the price. Powdered diamonds do indeed help exfoliate the skin of dead cells, but an article in NY Magazine about diamond powder used in expensive skin creams concluded it was no better at its job than over-the-counter creams that use cheaper ingredients. 

Gold is a precious metal that is a popular skincare ingredient with little proof of effectiveness aside from raising the price tag. According to the New York Times, dermatologists agree that low levels of gold are fine against the skin (and may give it a little shine) but nanoparticles that are said to be in some gold-enhanced creams can be toxic. In fact, gold was chosen as Allergen of the Year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society in 2001.

Consumer Reports Wrinkle-Cream Investigations

Consumer Reports, an independent nonprofit watchdog has tested many different anti-aging products over the years to see if they really do help make people look younger. In one 2012 investigation, 79 participants (67 women) between 40-65 tested 9 different serums, price range from $20-85 for 6 weeks. They found a wide range of effectiveness even with people using the same product, with some experiencing a little bit of wrinkle reduction and some none. Their conclusion was some of the serums provided a reduction in wrinkles that was “at best slight, and fell far short” of the promises in the commercial. 

Consumer Reports did a similar study of face creams (including Garnier, L'Oréal Paris, and Lancôme Paris) with the same number of people and were also “underwhelmed” by the results. After 12 weeks of use, the top-performing cream (which they did not name) was judged to have lessened the wrinkles of 9 out of 16 people, as opposed to others that helped just 3-6. Most of the subjects said they’d rather purchase the Neutrogena moisturizer that was used as a control.

Half-Face Experiments

Some intrepid investigators have stepped up and put their own faces literally on the line. UK’s Daily Mail columnist Claire Cisotti used £1 Nivea Cream on one side of her face and on the other £105 Crème de Mere on the other for 30 days. 

The results, you can judge for yourself below.

Claire Cisotti's face
Image Credit: Daily Mail

According to Claire’s dermatologist, the Nivea side retained better hydration while reducing redness and fine lines better than Crème De La Mer. Can you tell the difference?

Winner: Nivea

One blogger went a little further by stepping outside traditional moisturizing products by slathering half of her face with Crisco and the other with Crème De La Mer. According to her blog account, she woke up the next morning and concluded Crisco did as good a job or better than the La Mer side for just a fraction of the price. 

Another pair of young women tried going the exclusively Crisco route and both found it a bit greasy but useful for dark circles under the eyes. Crisco may seem weird at first but it is made of vegetable oils, which are good for the skin and is fragrant-free; as a beauty product it has a 4.4 rating on makeupalley.com. 

Winner: Crisco

What to Look for in Beauty Products

Now that you can see that many of the fancier creams perform no better than products a fraction of their price, here is a rough guideline of things you should look for:

Cleanser: Choose a cleansing product for your skin type that isn’t too drying or full of harsh chemicals. Website Skinacea warns to avoid ones that contain sodium laureth sulfate.

Exfoliate: Getting rid of the top layer of dry, dead skin cells is another important step in overall beauty. Not only does this expose a layer of newer skin underneath, the scrubbing action helps speed up the regeneration process. You can use a natural exfoliate like apricot seeds or sugar or a gentle exfoliating brush. (Skip the diamonds.)

Treatment: If you are going to try an anti-aging product, one of the most recommended is retinol, a derivative of vitamin A. There is the stronger prescription version called Retin-A that has some evidence it reduces wrinkles, but not much. Less expensive/potent versions can be found in many over-the-counter creams. Another popular treatment is vitamin C cream, which also has shown anti-aging benefits in studies and doesn’t cost very much per jar. 

Moisturizer: A moisturizer is one of the final steps that seems to be one of the most effective things you can do to look a little younger. Go for the Crisco, or if that feels a little too greasy, try Nivea, Ponds or Neutrogena.

Sunscreen: Cell damage from the sun is one of the main culprits behind age spots and wrinkles. It is recommended you use a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 and protects from both UVA and UVB, and reapply frequently. 

Final Conclusions:

It’s not the price on the label that determines the quality of skin care products, and in many cases the reverse seems to be true. 

Generally speaking, most dermatologists say anti-aging skin creams don’t work but are generally harmless: if it makes you feel good, use it. Just don’t go overboard on a product that has a celebrity in the ad or exotic ingredients and expect miracles. The most common advice we found was: stick to lower priced products that you can buy in the drugstore.

Winner: Over-the-Counter!

Let us know your experience with anti-aging products and whether fancier is better below!