Reviewed by SarahK on December 6, 2010


What if I told you that there existed an age vaccine, much the way that there exists a flu vaccine to protect you against influenza? No, you can’t just ask your doctor to inject you with the magic serum, but Givenchy says that you can, indeed, smear it on your face. That’s right, your vaccine comes in the form of a cream – and it promises to protect you from ageing.

Skeptical? I am too. But what I’ve read about Givenchy’s latest product, Vax’in for Youth ($90) is, if nothing else, very interesting.

The way that an actual vaccination works is by administering a small, harmless amount of substance into the body that forces the immune system to produce antibodies; if it works as intended, the body should become immune to whatever disease the vaccination is supposed to protect against.

Givenchy’s claim is that small, induced doses of stress placed on the skin will make cells believe they are being damaged (the way that a body thinks it is being attacked by the vaccine), and the skin will respond by producing an “age-defying” (as Givenchy puts it) protein called HSP70.

And it’s not only Givenchy that’s touting the powers of the protein. It has been proven that HSP70 actually does protect cells from oxidative or heat-induced stress. One study concluded that a “reduced ability to express HSP70 in response to stress may be a common phenomenon underlying the aging process.” At the forefront of Givenchy’s campaign is Professor Suresh Rattan, a biogerontologist whose research on hormesis has comprised the scientific backing of Vax’in for Youth. Hormesis is the theory that exposure to relatively small amounts of stressors or toxins will help your body become immune to them. While there are renowned scientists who have invested legitimate time and research into the support of hormesis, there is definitely some heated debate about the validity of the theory.

Interestingly, Suresh Rattan is part of a group of 51 scientists who authored and endorsed “Position Statement on Human Aging,” a brief document to warn consumers about ineffective and possibly dangerous antiaging products. The document states that health care providers are endorsing antiaging products “that they claim will slow, stop or reverse the process of aging…even though in most cases there is little or no scientific basis for these claims.” According to the document, scientists are also “unwittingly contributing to the proliferation of these pseudoscientific antiaging products.”

The irony of Rattan’s authorship of a document that advises the public not to be fooled by scientists who promote antiaging products is pretty clear. At first I thought that a different Suresh Rattan co-authored the statement, but the biogerontologist lists “Position Statement on Human Aging” on his website as one of his credits.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on Rattan, but I’m having a hard time letting go of my skepticism. Still, the science behind Vax’in for Youth is something to ponder. While most people in the beauty industry focus on UV rays, pollution and other factors that contribute to aging, Rattan is focusing on the body’s own natural protection system that apparently kicks in when exposed to stressors (in Rattan’s experiments, the stressor was high temperature). When the cells Rattan was studying were heated for short periods of time, they aged more slowly than cells left at a normal temperature.

The idea that Givenchy has bottled this stress in a cream (using sanchi, a ginseng extract and hypotaurine, a protein) seems farfetched. However, the ingredients increased production of HSP70 by 24% in 6 hours in test tube experiments. When tested on humans, results were also very positive. But of course, none of the research is independent or peer-reviewed.

I think the concept behind Vax’in for Youth is fascinating – but the science doesn’t back up Givenchy or Rattan. At least, not yet.