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Fountains of Youth

Potions and powders claim to reduce wrinkles on aging faces. Nobody likes to grow old, but are there things we can do to slow the aging process?

By Kate Schwartz Seamons

We’re bombarded with appeals to our vanity every day. Ads tell us to buy this cream, apply this mask, take this or that, and our sagging, wrinkled, sun-blotched skin will magically become vibrant and youthful again. Are they marketing ploys or are they true?

female washing her face with  water
Photo by Thinkstock

On the one hand, facial aging is unavoidable. Cellular production slows as the years tick by, and the skin cells that produce moisture and collagen become less effective. On the other, having the skin of a 30-year-old at 45 isn’t totally unrealistic, thanks to a few new formulas and technologies.

So smarten up and incorporate increasingly effective serums, peptide creams and anti-invasive, anti-aging gadgets into your skin-care regimen to help you look your best. Here are a few things to consider:

Serum Surprises

When it comes to cutting-edge anti-aging products, serum is a magic word. Many of the helpful molecules in moisturizers are actually too large to penetrate skin pores, explains Gina Page, licensed esthetician at Boulder’s St Julien Hotel & Spa. Serums take the beneficial ingredients and package them in a way that sidesteps this problem, depositing them deep into the skin, she says.

orangeVitamin serums drive antioxidant-rich vitamins like A, C and E deep into pores. And when it comes to vitamins, Vitamin C is an impressive one for the skin. “It reverses old damage by building collagen layers back up, lightens pigmentation from sun damage and acts as an anti-inflammatory,” Page says. She recommends Luzern Serum, a natural, paraben-free line used at the St Julien Spa that’s “reasonably priced at $75,” compared to more than $125 for comparable lines.

Erika Tolnai, an esthetician at Boulder’s Finishing Touch Spa & Salon, also recommends serums containing probiotics, which, in clinical trials, have been shown to help strengthen the skin, “enabling it to resist aging at every stage of the process.” She recommends Bioelements Probotix Anti-Aging Serum ($65), which contains a mix of “probiotic actives (bifidus cell compounds) immersed in soy and rice milk proteins” to help prevent wrinkles and loss of firmness.

However, some serum claims are unfounded, says Boulder dermatologist Shawn Allen. “We do know that Vitamin A helps with skin-cell turnover and regulation of the pigment, and works as an antioxidant. Vitamin C does the same thing, plus aids in collagen thickening,” he says.

“But the idea behind a serum is to create a vehicle that delivers ingredients through the top skin layer down to the deeper layers, where they would work. At this point, we don’t have any good medical studies showing that. So we need to base our decision on whether these products have value in and of themselves by containing Vitamins A, C or E,” Allen says.

“But whether these are actually going to plump up the skin or just sit on top of it as a very elegant moisturizer remains to be proven.”

Peppy Peptides

Collagen is a facial-care buzzword, and with good reason. It’s a primary skin component that keeps things taut. Collagen is made of protein, specifically long chains of amino acids that can be broken into shorter chains called peptides. By applying a peptide cream to our face, we can fool the skin into thinking it needs to produce more collagen.

youth-3The most efficacious formulas contain a combination of peptides, including Argirelene and Matrixyl 3000, which have been effective in laboratory trials. A peptide cream should also contain an SPF for sun protection and hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin.

Although peptide creams might be effective against wrinkles, the effects of long-term use are unknown. Plus, these creams aren’t cheap, because peptides are expensive to manufacture.

Again, though, the science is questionable, says Allen, founder and director of Dermatology Specialists in Boulder. “Although some of these peptides work in a lab, the big question is does that translate into working in the human body?” Many products do not, Allen says. “Most just turn out to be really nice moisturizers that don’t have true biological activity beneath the skin. So, if it feels good and looks good, sure, use it. But the science behind what’s happening is still lacking.” Microdermabrasion is another option to stimulate collagen production, says Finishing Touch owner Kim Niles. This method involves machine exfoliation to diminish fine lines and wrinkles, and lighten dark spots.

Look at the Labels

Over-the-counter products have to be preserved for shelf life, meaning they contain non-natural, added preservatives. “This won’t be a problem for some, but for others, the skin may try to expel the chemical additives, which can cause breakouts and inflammation,” Page says.

Both Finishing Touch and the St Julien use and recommend natural products free of man-made chemicals, preservatives and additives—Bioelements and Sanítas products in the case of Finishing Touch; Luzern, Emminence and the local line Wild Sage at the St Julien. “Your skin will recognize and be able to use the natural ingredients to enable and boost its own natural functions,” Page says.

If you’re looking for a less-expensive option, bypass the supermarkets’ preservative-laden potions and visit a natural grocery chain, like Whole Foods or Vitamin Cottage.

youth-introAnd always steer clear of parabens, which have been shown to cause cancer, Niles says. She also cautions against products containing high levels of alpha hydroxy or salicylic acid that can “strip the skin of natural moisture and thin the skin with increased cellular-turnover rates.”

“Avoiding parabens and preservatives as much as you can is advised,” Allen agrees. Niles suggests looking for products with squalane and hyaluronic acid; both are natural moisture factors contained in our skin that hydrate without clogging the pores.

Gadgets & Gizmos

In addition to slathering on serums and creams, a few gadgets and gizmos promise to massage and exfoliate skin into peak condition. A complement to peptide creams, the NuFACE facial toning system ($325) is an FDA-approved, handheld micro-current device (the only one, in fact) that delivers a micro-pulse to the skin. The manufacturer claims that using it just five minutes a day can help increase collagen and muscle tone in your forehead, cheek and neck areas (it’s not recommended for use around the eyes) by amping up the rate at which the body produces muscle proteins.

But what about those fine lines around the eyes? Using “sonic action” similar to the sonic toothbrush, the Clarisonic Opal Sonic Infusion System ($245) gently infuses paraben-free anti-aging “sea serum” to reduce fine lines.

If those price tags are too steep, consider the Stimulite Facial Sponge ($18 through gaiam.com), an exfoliator made from recycled materials that slips on your hand, allowing you to easily massage your skin to break down toxins and promote cellular renewal.

Again, Allen cautions that these devices “often have a short-term effect of stimulating the muscles, but the long-term effect has not been proven.”

Fact or Fiction?

When all’s said and done, do anti-aging facial products produce results, or are they just “vain promises on beauty jars”? to quote musician Joni Mitchell. “Some really do work,” Page says. “We’ve seen great results with serums reversing the signs of sun damage and premature aging.”

But, she adds, “staying youthful-looking will always be related to a person’s genetic makeup and lifestyle choices, regardless of how many serums one uses. The things that make your skin look the way it does in your 40s and beyond are a direct reflection of first, genetics, second, time spent under the sun, and third, lifestyle choices.”

For better skin on the outside, treat your inside with care, Tolnai says. Drink lots of water. Sleep enough. Eat fruits high in antioxidants (berries are a sure bet), and lots of green, leafy, antioxidant-rich vegetables. Opt for foods high in omega fatty acids, like salmon and avocado, and take a multivitamin supplement.

But your biggest anti-aging weapon “is prevention,” Allen says, “which means using a daily sunscreen, optimally with zinc oxide and no preservatives. That’s the best way to retard the aging process.”

youth-thumbIT’S ALL ROUTINE

Want skin in your mid-40s that looks like a 30-year-old’s? “I’m 45 years old and my skin looks 30,” says Kim Niles, owner of Finishing Touch Spa & Salon in Boulder. “I’m told this all the time, and people are surprised when I tell them how old I actually am. If only my behind looked 30!” Here is Niles’ anti-aging facial routine:

  • Every morning she cleanses with Sanítas Moisturizing Cleanser and exfoliates every other day with Sanítas Rose Facial Scrub. She then applies Retin-A cream and Sanítas Peptiderm Eye Treatment, moisturizes with Sanítas Peptiderm Moisturizing Cream and Sanítas Vita-Rich Serum, and applies either a mineral makeup with a sunscreen or Sanítas Solar Block.
  • Every evening she repeats the above steps, but skips the Retin-A cream.
  • Every other month she gets a facial.

“The simplest remedies are the most profound,” says Rebecca Luna, owner and founder of Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary in Boulder, who believes you shouldn’t put anything on your skin that you couldn’t eat.

“Your skin is the largest organ in the body, and it absorbs everything put on it,” she says. She recommends making a simple anti-aging facial moisturizer by combining a few natural essential oils.

Start with a base of evening primrose or jojoba oil. Then add a few drops of nurturing essential oils for the skin. Luna recommends the following:

  • Rose-hip-seed oil: “The number-one herb for maturing skin is rose. It’s very nourishing and tonifying.”
  • Helichrysum: “Very specific for cell rejuvenation—we put it in our scar oil.”
  • Wild-carrot-seed oil: “One of the number-one oils for skin cancers.”
  • Another inexpensive and simple option is a clay mask. All you really need is clay, which you can buy for as little as $2 at Luna’s apothecary.

Start by steaming your face over a bowl of hot water to open the pores (toss in a little dried chamomile for its rejuvenating effect). Then take any gentle clay—Luna recommends French green clay—and moisten it with some steamy water and apply it to your face. The clay shrinks as it dries, drawing out toxins, revitalizing skin and tightening pores. “I love it because you can’t mess it up,” Luna says.


If you have dry skin, try the following mask recipe made from all-natural ingredients:

Marianna’s Mediterranean Balancing Mask for Dry Skin

  • ½    ripe avocado, mashed
  • 1    tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1    teaspoon organic honey
  • 1    teaspoon (heaping) Greek yogurt

Mix and blend all ingredients well. Thoroughly apply mask to face and neck. Cover face with thin gauze or cheesecloth. Leave on 15 minutes. Remove gauze. Remove mask with a warm, moist towel or washcloth. Finish with a skin toner formulated for dry skin and a hydrating moisturizer. — Recipe formulated by Marianna of Marianna’s L’Esthetique Medi Spa in Boulder

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