If you believe the ad claims, the fountain of youth can be had at every price point. • Serums, creams, muds, masks, foams and lotions, sold at the humblest discount stores and fanciest spas, promise to firm, lift, plump, tone, polish, brighten and smooth your skin to its youthful glory. • Or a doctor can zap, inject or prescribe away your fine lines, uneven skin texture and age spots with treatments that deliver faster, more dramatic results — at a higher price. • Over the counter or medically administered, anti-aging products and treatments appeal to millions hoping to hold back the years without full-fledged facelift surgery. • But how much can you expect from a $16.99 jar of wrinkle cream, a $50 spot brightener or a $100 volcanic mud facial?
"There is no such thing as a facelift in a bottle," said Bryan Barron, a makeup artist turned skin care researcher. He works with famed "cosmetics cop'' Paula Begoun on her bestselling books like Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me and website, cosmeticscop.com, where the team evaluates and recommends skin care and beauty products.
"One thing we've found over the years is there are good and bad products in all price ranges. Expensive doesn't necessarily mean better," he said.
He cautions consumers not to be misled by unrealistic claims. Sure, you can subtly brighten your skin, soften fine lines and lighten some discolorations — if you are persistent and use sunblock faithfully. But some improvements just won't happen over the drugstore counter.
"So many products claim they will get rid of your turkey neck or give you a taut jawline,'' Barron said. "But that's just not going to happen with skin care products.''
Physicians and other trained medical staffers can use lasers, intense pulsed light, radio frequency and infrared therapy, injectable fillers, Botox and prescription topical creams that erase fine lines, relax wrinkles, make tiny veins vanish, fill in folds, renew skin cells, fade age spots, even out skin color and smooth skin texture.
Even here, though, it's best to keep expectations realistic.
"I tell patients who are in their 40s, 50s and older, I can't make you look like you were 20," said Dr. Neil Fenske, professor and chairman of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at USF Health. "But I can drop the clock back five or 10 years."
Even that much improvement requires a firm commitment to sun protection, Fenske says.
"Golfers often have terrible skin because of years of sun damage. I tell them they must be willing to make a lifestyle change to maintain their new complexion," said Fenske, who is also medical director of the USF Health Cosmetic & Laser Center. "I tell them to take up tennis, because you can play at night."
Fenske and Barron agree that every other anti-aging weapon is pointless without daily use of broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
"Think of sunscreen as a daily essential that is non-negotiable," said Barron, "like brushing your teeth."
Skin Care Tour of the Face
Here are the major signs of facial aging, along with products and procedures to address them. In general, products purchased over the counter are not as potent as those available through a prescription. But none of it will help without vigilant sun protection.
Cosmetic Rx: Products with retinoids, alpha-hydroxy acids, soy, hydroquinone, kojic acid, topical vitamin C.
Medical Rx: Microdermabrasion and chemical peels for mild sun damage.
Deep frown lines
Medical Rx: Botox; injectable fillers.
Fine lines, wrinkles,
Cosmetic Rx: For early, fine lines: retinoids; topical vitamin C or alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA's) or glycolic acid.
Medical Rx: For wrinkles and deeper lines: Botox; laser resurfacing.
Dark circles, bags, puffiness
Cosmetic Rx: For dark circles, products containing retinol, hydroquinone, green tea or vitamin C. For puffiness, temporary fixes include hemorrhoid cream and ice packs.
Medical Rx: Surgery is the only permanent fix for fat deposits or mounds under eyes.
Uneven skin surface,
rough texture, large pores
Cosmetic Rx: Products with AHA or vitamin C; combination products with vitamin E and retinoids.
Medical Rx: Medical laser resurfacing.
Medical Rx: Injectable fillers.
Sagging, crepey skin
Cosmetic Rx: For very mild cases, topical products containing niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and hexamidine, but don't expect significant firming.
Medical Rx: For mild to moderate cases, medical skin tightening treatment with radio frequency or infrared devices, or intense pulsed light treatment. The permanent fix: surgical facelift.
Deep lines in lips
Do-it-yourself Rx: If you smoke, stop!
Medical Rx: Medical laser; injectable fillers; Botox.
Age spots, fine lines, redness, veins, discoloration or uneven skin tone
Cosmetic Rx: Topical lighteners with hydroquinone or kojic acid
Medical Rx: Chemical peels; intense pulsed light treatment.
Sources: WebMD, University of Maryland Medical Center, USF Health Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, health.com, realself.com, wisegeek.com, cosmeticscop.com.
Skin Care Products
Some over-the-counter products can offer subtle improvements. Here are a few drugstore recommendations from Paula Begoun. You'll find many more products (including her own line) at all price points on her website: cosmeticscop.com.
Alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA
What it does: Reduces fine lines, smooths skin surface.
Also known as: glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid. Look for concentrations of 5 to 15 percent.
Try: AHA Souffle by Alpha Hydrox ($14.99) and Regenerist Night Resurfacing Elixir by Olay Regenerist ($31.99).
Retinol or Vitamin A
What it does: Improves fine lines and minor wrinkles, as well as sun damage. Increases collagen production.
Also known as: retinyl palmitate, and retinylaldehyde. (prescription forms are retinoic acid or Retin-A or tretinoin )
Try: Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream, Night by Neutrogena ($12.99) and Pro-X Deep Wrinkle Treatment by Olay ($47).
What it does: Lightens age spots and other discoloration. OTC products have up to 2 percent concentration; prescription products are stronger.
Try: Dark Spot Corrector, Proactiv Solution, $22.
Wash your face!
Morning and evening, use a gentle, water-soluble cleanser before applying anti-aging products and moisturizer. Don't forgot the sunblock in the morning — and carry a small bottle for a midday touchup.
Try: Olay 4-in-1 Daily Facial Cloths, Sensitive ($5.99); PHisoderm Cream Cleanser
for Sensitive Skin ($4.69); CeraVie Foaming Facial Cleanser ($11.99).
On the web
Irene Maher spoke with Bay News 9's Al Ruechel about this story. Go to tampabay.com and click on Links in today's Times to see the video.
tips to turn back the clock
Teeth: Yellow teeth age you instantly. Try OTC whitening strips or see your dentist for faster results.
Hair: Try subtle color — keep it close to your natural hue — and a soft, youthful style.
Makeup: Get an expert to show you how the right shades and techniques can freshen your look.
Lips: Stay close to natural. Dark hues are aging.
Hydrate: Drink lots of water; limit alcohol.
Don't smoke: It causes deep lines around the lips and broken capillaries.
Don't squint: Get good sunglasses and the right eyeglass prescription.
Eat right: Stress fruits, veggies, lean proteins, fish, nuts and whole grains.
Exercise: A daily workout increases blood flow to skin and other organs.
De-stress: Nobody looks good when she's stressed out.
Sleep: Like stress, fatigue shows on your face.
Stay out of the sun: Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen every day; add a hat when outside.