When is an ingredient not an ingredient? Answer when it is in a product by Sovage. A few years ago Sovage was charged by the FTC for making false claims for its Tummy Flattening Gel. Then its seemed to be at it again by implying that Sovage Idebenol is a powerful antioxidant based on an ingredient called idebenone. Sovage Idebenol ($109) doesn't have any idebenone in it and savvy consumers cried wolf. Now Sovage has come up with a novel approach: Idebenol is, it proudly proclaims, "100% idebenone-free".

This is, to say the least, a perplexing marketing strategy. Idebenone is a very good thing and there isn't much to be gained by boasting that you don't have any of it. Unless, that is, you sort of said you did when you really didn't.

What exactly is the ingredient that Sovage Idebenol doesn't have? Idebenone is a version of CoQ10 that has a particularly low molecular weight and has performed well against cell damage from oxidative stress in a variety of trials.

Sovage, desperately trying to recover ground, claims completely implausibly that 100% idebenone-free Idebenol, when tested on 67-year old women, "increased their skin renewal rate so dramatically that it equaled the rate of renewal usually found in women in their late 20’s!"

So, is there anything in 100% idebenone-free Idebenol that might achieve this extraordinary time reversal? Well, it has barley extract, a steaming bowl of which is just the ticket if you are confined to bed with a head cold. Its skin treating properties are, however, unknown. Methylsilanol mannuronate is relatively useful since it is a seaweed that may help the skin retain moisture. Sandalwood is an astringent and anti-bacterial and another tree bark extract, phellodendron (cork tree) is an anti-inflammatory.

To be fair, there are some fairly good ingredients in Idebnol. Soy phospholipids are useful. Phospholipids and liposomes help the skin to retain moisture, restore the barrier functions of the skin, and deliver active ingredients to the skin. Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is a stable form of vitamin C that can be used in fairly high concentrations without (unlike other Cs) causing any irritation.

Notable amongst the botanicals, is hibiscus sabdariffa. I found a study published in India that concluded after testing on rats, that hibiscus is a good antioxidant. Asafoetida is a bitter Indian herb that is a skin brightener. One test showed that it actually works better than the traditional (and irritating) age spot fader, hydroquinone.

Unfortunately, while Idebenol might be idebenone free, it is not free of silicones. There are three of them and they don't do much good and are possibly linked to cancer. Then there is phenoxyethanol, an irritant that is potentially damaging to the central nervous system. Finally, there is every paraben known to man (the preservative group that seems to mimic human estrogen and is, therefore, linked to cancer).

Ingredients in Sovage Idebenone (look! absolutely no idebenone!)

Water, Cyclopentasiloxane, Ethylene/Acrylic Copolymer, Butylene Glycol, Isopentyldial, Hordeum Distichon (Barley) Extract, Glycereth-26, Methylsilanol Mannuronate, Cetearyl Methicone, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil Unsaponifiables, Behenyl Alcohol, Polyglyceryl-2 Stearate, C30-45 Alkyl Cetearyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Santalum Album (Sandalwood) Wood Extract, Phellodendron Amurense Bark Extract, Dimethicone Yeast Polysaccharides, Linoleic Acid, Soy (Soybean) Sterols, Soy (Soybean) Phospholipids, Xanthan Gum, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Hibiscus Sabdariffa Flower Extract, Ferula Asafoetida Root Extract, Pyrus Communis (Pear) Fruit Extract Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Glocosamine HCI, Algae Extract, Yeast Extract (Faex), Urea, Fragrance, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Ethylparaben.