A reader tipped me off about Boots No 7 Restore & Renew Beauty Serum (thank you Myrna) saying it works particularly well at smoothing under eye wrinkles. I was a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn't heard of Restore & Renew, although Boots is a major UK brand with a high street presence as ubiquitous as Duane Reade's is here in the US.

It turns out that Restore & Renew is the newly-launched US version of No 7 Protect & Perfect Beauty Serum. This is no ordinary, value for money lotion. This potion had women in Britain rioting in the supermarket aisles.

The tipping point for Protect & Perfect was a BBC documentary aired earlier this year in which a respected dermatologist pronounced that this humble cream (it is now selling in the US as No 7 Restore & Renew in Target stores nationwide for a mere $19.99) was nearly as good as prescription solutions at repairing sun damaged skin.

The dermatologist, Professor Chris Griffiths of Manchester University, had previously worked on trials of tretinoin (a retinol) demonstrating that solutions containing it repaired sun damaged skin. Apparently he doubted that an over the counter cream could have the same effect. Until, that is, he was given a sample of No 7 Protect & Perfect.

"At both the basic science and clinical levels, Boots No 7 Protect & Perfect has been shown scientifically to repair photo-aged skin and improve the fine wrinkles associated with photo-aging." Prof Griffiths drew this conclusion after conducting a trial that measured levels of fibrillin (a protein that is affected by sun damage) on the forearms of 15 volunteers over a 10-day period. "To our surprise the Boots product stimulated fibrillin production, though not quite to the same extent as tretinoin," he concluded.

Admittedly, a ten day trial doesn't tell you if something really works and/or what the longer term effects are. Griffiths intends to conduct two longer studies.

In the meantime, what is the active ingredient in Restore & Renew that is almost as effective as a prescription cream with tretinoin? The answer is extract of white lupin flowers. Just kidding. Well, it does contain that, but the magical ingredient is retinol - only a milder quantity than in a prescription cream.

UPDATE: March 2008. I am allergic to Restore & Renew