When Ponce de Leon went looking for the fountain of youth, little did he know that a few centuries down the road, it would be bottled and sold over the pharmacy counter.
At least for maintaining youthful-looking skin, there is one chemical solution that can prevent the "vast majority of future aging," according to Dr. Nowell Solish, cosmetic dermatologist at Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
"You only have to apply it once a day," says Solish. "It's very inexpensive and will stop - I'd guess - about 80 per cent of all aging of the skin.
"This magic cream is called sunscreen."
Most of the aging of skin is caused by the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays, he says, adding a condemn! ation of tanning beds. "They are the worst because they're straight doses of ultraviolet, which is very aging light."
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) agrees with Solish, and posts on their "Aging Skin Net" website photographs of people aged from 18 months to 64 years that show how sun exposure affects the underlying layers of the skin.
"Photoaging (from sun exposure) may be responsible for the majority of age-associated changes in the skin's appearance: mottled pigmentation, surface roughness, fine wrinkles that disappear when stretched, "age" or liver spots, dilated blood vessels," says the AAD. "Chronic sun exposure is a major risk factor for skin cancers."
But many people in the 50-plus population endured a lifetime of sun exposure before terms like "SPF" and "photoaging" became staples of the North America! n lexicon. For those who fear the damage is already done, Dr. Neil Sh ear, head of dermatology at the University of Toronto and Sunnybrook, has good news.
"There is some reversibility," Shear says. "We have found in many patients that using sunscreen later, after problems have started, will help by giving the skin a rest from the constant exposure to ultraviolet light. It allows the natural repair mechanisms to catch up by not being constantly under assault from the sun."
Sun or not, there's no doubt that skin, like every other organ in the body, is affected by age. Solish points to speculation about the role of hormones, since post-menopausal women on hormone-replacement programs often seem to have softer, more youthful-looking skin.
There are genetic factors, says Shear, and other lifestyle factors such as excessive washing - which strips the skin of its protective oils - and smoking that drastically increase wrinkling.
"We end up making less natural oils on the face with age," he says.! "So the skin gets drier and there's less support from the body in terms of hormonal balance. So people do need more moisturizing; they do need to be a bit gentler in how they wash their faces; they do need to change what they do over time."
And that's where skin-care products can help.
Unlike drugs, says Shear, most cosmetic products have not been subjected to clinical studies and rely heavily on anecdotal evidence. But, in his practice, he has discovered many that seem to work.
He cautions that it's definitely "different strokes for different folks." When it comes to skin types, there's no such thing as "normal."
Anyone who suffered from eczema as a child likely still carries a sensitivity that makes them vulnerable to many products on the market, Shear says. They need good moisturizing and natural, unscented products, such as those marketed by the French company LaRoche Posay and Galderma under the Cetaphil label.! Cliniderm, he says, also produces "a nice line of fragrance and preservative-free products that are great for these patients."
On the other hand, those who are prone to the skin disease rosacea, characterized by a bright red complexion, must take care not to over-moisturize their skin. A good cleanser for them is marketed by Cetaphil, he says. And camouflage make-up is recommended to help cover the ruddiness of the complexion. One such product, called Cover Fx, also seems to be soothing to the skin and protect it from temperature changes and wind, which can cause stinging and itching in rosacea patients.
Solish says such touted products as alpha and beta hydroxies and vitamin creams have minimal benefit. He recommends the prescription drug tretinoin, better known as Retin-A, as the "best anti-aging cream available." It works by promoting new growth of collagen under the skin's surface and has been shown to improve dark spots and skin colour and create a smoother feel.
"And, it's cumulative, s! o it gets better with time, while some of the other creams wear off after a few weeks," he says. The cream can be somewhat irritating but Solish says if a patients starts slowly with lower concentrations and works up, side effects appear to be short term.
Other products in the marketplace claiming to have rejuvenating and anti-aging properties include the following:
- Nu Skin offers a new anti-aging regimen called 180 Skin Care System. It's comprised of five products including a face wash, energizing mist, cell-renewal fluid, night repair complex and UV block hydrator with SPF 18. The company claims the system will help erase fine lines and wrinkles and increase skin smoothness, improve elasticity, combat environmental stress, reduce age spots and discolouration and protect the skin from sun damage, past and present.
- Almay has a line marketed as Kinetin Skincare Products that it claims will "naturally renew and repair skin without irritat! ion, redness or dryness." These include a cleanser, age-decelera ting lotion and daily cream (both SPF 15), a night repair and rejuvenating concentrate and an eye-care treatment.
- Vichy Laboratories last fall introduced Novadiol, a cream that contains plant-based estrogen, plant oils, beeswax and an anti-free-radical complex. Vichy has developed an active ingredient called Phyto-Flavone that combines soya extract and two phyto-active ingredients to fight skin-density loss, which is linked to hormonal aging. Soya isoflavones are renowned phyto-estrogens.
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