Our Rating: 4 stars

With more than a whiff of Ayurveda, Prana SpaCeuticals promises to be “the energy that will breathe life into your skin".  I found this to be both grandiose and a bit hippie dippie and along with a label whose print size is so miniscule that I can’t read anything even when squinting through reading glasses, it didn’t create the best first impression. The second impression wasn’t much better – the only word I could work out was DMAE (a controversial ingredient that I shall come back to later). But the third impression based on using Prana’s Active Vitamin Lift Serum for over a month is a different story. Prana has completely won me over with a very good product.

Behind Prana is Cherie Dobbs, who also has a professional skincare line called ClearChoice, whose products tend to cut to the car chase with well-known actives. This approach has also infused its new sister line Prana. I think that this is what makes Prana special: an extremely intelligent combination of actives with a track record of working, organic botanicals, and a relatively concise number of ingredients with almost no nasties.

Active Vitamin Lift Serum ($75 in the Shop) is a great example of all of those attributes and it does a very fine job of plumping and firming the skin, as well as smoothing out lines. Initially, I found the texture a bit too gel-like, but found that it is readily absorbed and doesn’t leave a sticky or greasy residue on the skin. I also like the serum’s saffron color and faintly citrusy smell – although many a morning I could have done without the wayward pump action.

In an aloe vera base, the first ingredients concentrate on hydration and, of course, you can’t go wrong with vitamin E. But what about DMAE? It is a relatively common anti-ager that is heralded for its “lifting” effect. However, it has also been branded a cell killer. So is it friend or foe?

DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) is found naturally in sardines. As a cosmetics ingredient, it has been claimed that DMAE can help reduce wrinkles by preventing cell deterioration and shoring up cell membranes. In 2007, Canadian researchers found that it does indeed thicken the skin, but speculated that this was a result of trauma - cell death, no less. I have never been able to find research that replicates this and, furthermore, there is a later study that concluded that it thickened the dermis and collagen without any “mechanical effect”. So, ultimately, the jury still seems to be out and, until more proof appears to back up the Canadian study, I am hopeful that DMAE is more friend than foe.

Anyway, if DMAE does knock off cells, perhaps it can be counteracted by alpha lipoic acid, an antioxidant fatty acid that is found naturally in skin cells and helps prevent environmental damage.

Prana’s pragmatic balance between natural botanicals and synthetic actives is very evident in the choice of two expression inhibiting ingredients: spilanthes acmella oleracea paracress extract and a peptide called Snap-8 (said to be 30% more effective than Argireline).

No self-respecting anti-ager these days is without apple stem cells (a relatively new ingredient without much research behind it). Actually, I am more intrigued (and potentially impressed) by enteromorpha compresses extract, and caesalpinia spinosa, which combine to become an ingredient called Homeostatine (still fairly uncommon, one of the few other products I am aware of with this is Boost by Your Best Face). It is supposed to increase the synthesis of collagen I and III, skin thickness and elastic fibers, as well as acting as an anti-inflammatory.

Another interesting and unusual ingredient is ergosterol, a precursor to vitamin D2 that is produced by yeast and fungi when they are exposed to sunlight. There’s Japanese research that suggests that ergosterol prevents cancer. Although I have read that ergosterol can be a skin irritant, I did not have adverse reactions and vitamin D can actually help skin conditions such as rosacea and eczema.  Other vitamins include C and several Bs, including cyanocobalamin (B12).

The only ingredient in Prana that I would prefer not be included  is retinyl palmitate, which has been linked to cancer when exposed to the sun.


Certified organic aloe vera gel, sodium hyaluronate, squalane, vitamin E, DMAE, alpha lipoic acid, vitamin B5, chamomile extract, spilanthes acmella oleracea paracress extract, malus domestica fruit cell, acetyl octapeptide (snap 8), bilberry extract, sugar cane extract, sugar maple extract, orange extract, lemon extract, cucumber extract, enteromorpha compresses extract, caesalpinia spinosa chim, vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid), panthenol, retinyl palmitate, ergosterol, linoleic acid, tocopheryl acetate, pantothenic acid, cyanocobalamin and allantoi, phenoxyethanol.