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."