Reviewed by Leslie

I’m turning 59 this year. My mother, who is 85, and I have an ongoing joke. I ask her if her deeply expensive wrinkle creams are really working. And she looks at me, wrinkles and all, and says, “God only knows what I’d look like if I didn’t use them!”

And so here I am, looking at my Before and After pictures, wondering what I’d look like if I used nothing at all. Which brings me to my point. I did not start using The Stages of Beauty Grace Intensive Wrinkle Serum ($52.99 for 15 ml) on a clean slate, so to speak. I replaced the glycolic-acid-based product I was using before with the Grace Intensive Wrinkle Serum, which contains hyaluronic acid. So imagine the degree of improvement I might be showing if I had started from nothing. This review therefore is more of a comparison than a true scientific protocol.

So let’s start with the difference between glycolic acid and hyaluronic acid. Glycolic acid is basically an exfoliant. According to Wikipedia, it “has an excellent ability to penetrate skin and reacts with the upper layer of the epidermis, weakening the binding properties of the lipids that hold the dead skin cells together. This allows the stratum corneum to be exfoliated, exposing live skin cells.” It further states that glycolic acid can be isolated from natural sources such as sugarcane, sugar beets, pineapple, cantaloupe, and unripe grapes, which is probably one of the reasons it’s often found in “all-natural” cosmetic products.

Hyaluronic Acid, on the other hand, as my dermatologist just explained to me, is a plumper, in the same way that collagen is used through injection. She was doubtful, however, about how it could be extracted to use topically. Wikipedia describes hyaluronic acid as “an anionic, nonsulfated glycosaminoglycan distributed widely throughout connective, epithelial, and neural tissues. Glycosaminoglycans, are important components of connective tissue and hyaluronan is an example of a glycosaminoglycan use in nature, in the synovial fluid lubricant in body joints.”

In other words, it’s a lubricator that exists naturally in our bodies. Wikipedia also claims that “it contributes significantly to cell proliferation and migration, and may also be involved in the progression of some malignant tumors.” This last little statement is a bit alarming, though there are many skin products that promote new cell growth, which I would like to believe are perfectly safe.  There’s certainly a difference between promoting healthy new skin growth and malignant cell growth, and what I suspect hyaluronic acid does in cosmetic products such as the Grace Intensive Wrinkle Serum is aid in new cell growth, and therefore the appearance of healthy new skin. But since this is a relatively new ingredient in cosmetic products, I would be cautious.

Looking at my face in a magnifying mirror, I notice that with the Grace Intensive Wrinkle Serum, my skin is actually exfoliated a tiny bit. But I don’t notice any significant difference in my skin overall between this product and my glycolic. I was hoping that it would plump up those tiny lines above my upper lip and maybe even reduce the deep lines on either side of my mouth. But no such luck.

The other ingredients in the Grace Intensive Wrinkle Serum are:

- Seaweed extract, which is claimed to soothe, tone and repair.

- Acetyl Tetrapeptide-2, which is said to repair, reinvigorate and regenerate. (According to Marta’s post on Acetyl tetrapeptide-2 and hair growth, it’s a protein involved in the thymus gland that plays a role in the immune system.)

- Phenoxyethanol, which is used as a preservative. It’s an organic chemical compound, a glycol ether, and a better alternative to the standard potentially harmful formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.

- Ethylhexylglycerin, a conditioning agent and a preservative. According to the blog Chemical of the Day: two studies have found it to be a skin irritant. Many companies use it as an alternative to parabens and claim that it’s from natural sources. It may start out as a vegetable oil, but it goes through several chemical processes to become what it is.  The writer’s opinion is that it’s not the worst ingredient in the world, but it’s also not truly natural. She claims safety data is highly lacking for it, as she found only four studies or reviews published in the National Library of Medicine on ethylhexylglycerin. [Editor’s note: The referenced blog post was published on July 31, 2009]

So how would I rate the overall experience of using the Grace Intensive Wrinkle Serum? It is quite pleasant to use. It’s a fragrance-free clear serum in an eye dropper bottle. I’ve used 4 drops twice a day for 4 weeks and I still have half a bottle left. It took me a few tries to drop the serum onto my finger without touching my skin, as you don’t want your natural skin oils to contaminate the product. In that regard, it could be better dispensed in a pump bottle. In any case, it spreads smoothly over the skin and leaves no residue. I use it in the morning after my toner and vitamin C serum and under my sunscreen moisturizer. At night I use it following my toner and under a nighttime moisturizer. In terms of effectiveness, as you can see in my Before and After pictures, above, it seems to have been no more and no less effective than the glycolic acid cream I was previously using – I see no significant difference. Having said that, I wonder what my skin would look like if I didn’t use it at all.

Ingredients: Chondrus Crispus (Seaweed) Extract, Purified Water (Aqua), Hyaluronic Acid, Acetyl Tetrapeptide-2, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin