A couple of weeks ago, someone forwarded me an email that she received from her cousin in California. The cousin is a dermatologist and he was replying to a question she had put to him which went along the lines of "is this anti-wrinkle cream really worth $150"? His, it must be said, long-winded response could be  summarized in two words: nothing works. He added that if, when looking in the mirror, women perceive a change/improvement/lessening of wrinkles, they are basically delusional and should take it as a sign that they are headed for a home for the bewildered.

In which case, someone should start getting a room ready for me.

I started to take more than a passing interest in skin care in my late 30s, became a bit more serious about it in my early 40s and a lot more serious (or perhaps obsessed and delusional) about a year or so ago when I got going in earnest with Truth In Aging. I can honestly say that my skin has improved — just in the last year — and I can get independent witnesses to back up my assessment, if necessary. I do think some wrinkles have lessened and at the very least — anyway, I consider this to be huge — I've put the stops on some of them getting worse. My forehead lines, crows feet/eyelids/under eyes, and overall skin tone have improved. My neck and hands are look better (I've only recently honed in on them). Badly in need of delusional obsessiveness are my mouth and chin area — watch this space.

In addition to the treatments that I wrote about last week, I have found some potions and lotions that I believe work. To be precise, it's not so much the potions, as some of the ingredients that live up to the term active. So here are a few of things that I believe have made a difference that I can see with my own eyes. NB: retinol does work, but I have my own reasons for not recommending it that you can read about by clicking here.

Glycolic acids (AHAs and BHAs). Gentler than retinoids, these acids do provide some exfoliation. I would throw in malic and lactic acids into this group as well. In addition to being deeply penetrating, cleansing and exfoliating, topical application of glycolic acid, which comes from sugar cane,  has been shown to be an effective anti-ager: reversing sun damage (such as mottled pigmentation), stimulating collagen & elastin production, quickening cell turnover, increasing skin’s thickness, firmness & hydration, and smoothing rough and wrinkled skin. Here’s how it works: Once applied, glycolic acid 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 outer skin to “dissolve” revealing the underlying skin. Beware: the greater the ability to stimulate cell renewal the greater the potential for skin irritation. Potions with these ingredients tend to be for evening skin tone and contributing to a rosy glow. They aren't really for dealing with wrinkles, other than very fine lines. Some recommended brightening products are in a recent Five Best round up.

Peptides. Peptides are the bonds that link amino acids in a particular order. Different peptides have specific jobs. For example, one of the most common in cosmetics these days is a neuro peptide called Acetyl Hexapeptide-3, abbreviated to AH-3 (Argireline is the trademarked name that you'll sometimes see in ingredients lists). This is a neuropeptide that is supposed to limit the movement of facial muscles and, thereby reducing expression muscles. I'm not entirely convinced by it and judge that, at best, it gives a helping hand.

The breakthrough for me was when I discovered the peptides that go by the name of Matrixyl and Matrixyl 3000. These are supposed to regulate skin cell activity, boosting collagen production and skin repair. In the last year, they have become increasingly easy to find.

An even newer peptide is Syn-tacks. According to the manufacturer of Syn-tacks, it interacts with the most relevant protein structures of the dermal-epidermal junction and stimulates a broad spectrum of things responsible for youthful skin - laminin V, collagen types IV, VII and XVII and integrin - all at once. The data is super-impressive, but like the research behind Matrixyl’s results, it was conducted by the manufacturer and has not been independently corroborated.

Antioxidants. There is a bewildering array of things that seek and destroy free radicals. Many of them are botanical extracts and you can get some ideas of which ones to look out for in our round up of Five Best botanicals. There are also vitamins. The B3 family or niacinamide are worth looking out for. There is enough research to back up the use of vitamin C in anti-aging skin care that would persuade even my friend's cousin. Still it can be drying and some forms are unstable. A very effective combo to look out for is vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid. This even prevents further sun damage. The topical combination of vitamin C (15%), vitamin E (1%) and ferulic acid (0.5%) has been patented by SkinCeuticals. They sell the formula, called CE Ferulic, for $139. Check ingredients lists for idebenone, a powerful form of CoQ10. Look out for some new(ish) ingredients, such as astaxanthin (found in salmon), that are really giving vitamin E a run for its money.

I also like spin trap (phenyl butyl nitrone). PBN can seek out electrons, or free radicals, that are spinning out of control and rectify them before they can do any damage. There have been numerous studies, including one in 1996, that demonstrate PBN's efficacy as an anti-ager. You'll find them in products by Glo Therapeutics and Your Best Face. And another new antioxidant that I discovered literally a few weeks ago when reviewing YBF's Quench, is lipochroman-6. This goes after two specific free radicals, called  RNS as and ROS. According to Lipotec, who makes lipochronan-6, it does a significantly better job of fending off oxidative stress than resveratrol, the antioxidant component of grapes.

Growth factors. These are controversial, not least because the source is sometimes cells from new born babies' foreskins. Cell growth ingredients aim to replace or augment the natural growth agents that we lose as we get older. One of them, TGF-beta (1-3), is a 'super' protein that controls cell functions such as growth and proliferation. It also regulates cell death. Studies at Cornell, Vanderbilt and Jefferson show that TGF-beta stimulates collagen and elastin production. Jan Marini uses TGF-beta (1) in her product line called Transformation, as does A&G Skin Solutions. Skin Medica was one of the first cosmetic companies to use human fibroblasts in its TNS Essential Serum, and ReLuma, which I've been using for a few months, has nine different growth factors.

Related post:

A skin care regime for 40-somethings (part one: treatments)

See also:

A skin care regime for 20-somethings

A skin care regime for 30-somethings

A skin care regime for 50-somethings