Wrinkle creams

Wrinkle cream buying guide

Last updated: April 2012
Getting started

Getting started

Garnier promises "repair action to the core of each wrinkle" so that "in 4 weeks wrinkles are reduced." Aveeno claims that "in 4 weeks, 100% of women showed improved skin vitality" with "reduced appearance of wrinkles or diminished look of age spots." Lancôme claims a "dramatic decrease in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles." At $80 for 1.7 ounces for its cream, you might expect Lancôme to repaint your house, too.

We tested seven anti-wrinkle creams and one control, a moisturizer with no wrinkle-reduction claims: Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture Sensitive Skin Ultra Gentle Facial Moisturizer. (Two Olay products we also tested have since been reformulated.)

Alas, we were underwhelmed.

How we tested

At an outside lab, we had 79 subjects (67 women and 12 men) use two of the products, one on each side of the face, every morning for 12 weeks according to a statistical plan. All had moderate to marked lines and wrinkles, and they didn't know which products they were using. They filled out questionnaires assessing the products after an hour, six weeks, and 12 weeks. Six trained sensory panelists then assessed wrinkle reduction by comparing "before" photos with "after" photos taken at those same intervals, looking at six specific areas on subjects' faces. Panelists didn't know which product or time period they were looking at. They also assessed the products' scent and how they felt on the skin.

At best the products had a small effect, and not on everyone.

After an hour, the Garnier, L'Oréal Paris, and Lancôme Paris products seemed to bring a slight, short-term improvement in the look of wrinkles, based on photos.

After six weeks, all the products had reduced wrinkles a bit on just one-third or less of the people who used them. No product was even slightly better than the rest, including the control.

After 12 weeks, our top-rated wrinkle cream was slightly better than the rest. Sensory panelists judged that it lessened wrinkles somewhat on nine of 16 people. Other products helped only three to six people.

Yet just seven of our 16 test subjects said they'd buy the top-rated wrinkle cream. Sensory panelists said its aroma had a hint of floral and sweet plastic, and some of them needed more than 30 seconds to rub it in. The largest number of test subjects said they'd buy the Neutrogena moisturizer tested as a control.

Wrinkle treatments from your doctor

If you want dramatic, visible changes to your skin, you are probably going to need products available only from your doctor. Even then, don't expect miracles.

Retinoids (Renova, Avage)

Retinoids, or vitamin A derivatives, remain the only proven topical prescription remedy for wrinkles. Dermatologists think that they work by stimulating the growth of more collagen or perhaps even new skin cells. Clinical studies show that retinoids smooth out a few fine lines and wrinkles but don't banish them completely, nor do they affect frown lines and other deep wrinkles. They also help fade age spots and even out blotchy pigmentation.

But these compounds are inherently irritating. New users can expect their skin to be red, itchy, and peeling for a few weeks. Eventually the irritation clears up but some people experience persistent dry skin as long as they use the products. Retinoid-treated skin also gets red more quickly in the sun.

Chemical peels

In low concentrations, hydroxy acids like glycolic or lactic acid are ingredients in some over-the-counter wrinkle creams and home exfoliators. They strip away the top layer of skin cells, so whatever slight effect they have ends when the cells grow back.

Much stronger acids are used in doctor's offices to do chemical peels--in effect, a controlled chemical burn. As the skin heals, the theory is that it will grow back smoother and more evenly pigmented.

But your skin can be red and sore for weeks on end, and extremely sensitive to ultraviolet light. Moreover, no reliable studies have shown that these peels are consistently effective.


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