Wrinkle serums

Wrinkle serum buying guide

Last updated: March 2012
Getting started

Getting started

Nothing betrays a woman's age more than wrinkles, according to the 12,699 Consumer Reports online subscribers who responded to our survey about aging. For the many Americans determined to vanquish wrinkles, the market overflows with anti-aging lotions, potions, skin-care regimens, and even body washes that manufacturers claim work magic on your dermal layers--in weeks!

But how well do they really work? Not very, our latest tests show.

How we tested

We bought nine face serums, a product we haven't tested previously. Serums, which are thinner and more fluid than creams, usually soak into the skin quickly. Those we tested range from $20 to $65 and are available at drugstores, department stores, and specialty beauty stores such as Sephora or online. Almost all are claimed to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Our test took place at an outside laboratory and included 79 participants, 67 of them women, between ages 40 and 65. Testers used one serum on each side of their face for six weeks, longer than the time their manufacturers claim it takes for the products to visibly reduce wrinkles. (We didn't include products that were claimed to take longer to work.) We camouflaged the products so that testers couldn't identify which they used.

Using a high-resolution digital camera, we took photos of each participant's face before the test, 20 minutes after first using the serum, and after six weeks of use. Our trained sensory panelists analyzed the photos and scored each one on the length and depth of any visible facial wrinkles. The Ratings are based on the extent to which the sensory panelists detected an improvement.

The two serums with the best results received fewer positive comments from the testers than the others did.

Most of the serums had no noteworthy smell. An exception: Sensory testers said the Neutrogena had an unusual burnt odor, though it dissipated over time.

Results were inconsistent

After six weeks of use, the effectiveness of even the best products was limited and varied from subject to subject. Every serum we tested produced a visual change in wrinkle length or depth for at least one person and did nothing for others.

When we did see wrinkle reductions, they were at best slight, and they fell short of the miracles that manufacturers seemed to imply on product labels. We don't know whether using the serums for longer than six weeks would yield a greater improvement. But the dermatologists we consulted said our findings weren't surprising, because the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees cosmetic safety and labeling, doesn't require manufacturers to test the products for efficacy, let alone test for whether they meet their claims, though claims must be "truthful and not misleading."

Natural didn't cut it

Burt's Bees Naturally Ageless Intensive Repairing Serum contained a laundry list of essential oils and no parabens or phthalates. And with a tiny bottle (less than one-half ounce), it was among the priciest products tested in terms of cost per ounce.


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