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Anti-Aging Skin Care Secrets

What works — and what makes your money, not your wrinkles, disappear

My bureau, with its collection of day, night and eye creams, alpha-hydroxy acids and cell repair, resembles a cosmetic counter. Still, judging by what’s going on in the mirror, you’d never know I’m making such a fuss.

I’m tempted by Botox and the many versions of it now on the market. But Botox does nothing for sun spots. Instead, I vow to upgrade my basic skincare arsenal to stop the ravages of time, pollution and sunlight.

Enzyme Cream: Buyer Beware

Is an enzyme cream the answer? Enzyme creams contain proteins that act as catalysts and play a part in digestion and pregnancy, as well as countless other bodily chemical reactions. Fruits, such as pineapple and papaya, and other substances, contain enzymes and when these enzymes are extracted and applied topically through masks, creams or cleansers, they can reduce the visible signs of aging and past sun damage—or so says the product packaging.

Touted as age erasers, enzyme creams claim to “polish” the skin and stimulate new cell growth as well as dissolve dead skin cells. They also pledge to battle free radicals, wayward oxygen molecules below the skin’s surface that cause wrinkles and possibly even melanoma (skin cancer) by attacking collagen, a major component of the skin’s connective tissue. But before you spend $200 on a 1-ounce jar, take heed. Call me the Grinch, but enzyme creams don’t live up to their reputation.

“They’re not harmful, but they’re not helpful, either, because enzyme creams don’t penetrate the skin,” says Seth Matarasso, a board-certified surgeon and clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California School of Medicine. In fact, they can’t even get past the skin’s most superficial layer. Regard enzyme creams as, at best, a basic moisturizer, he advises. Albert A. Kligman, MD, a professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia agrees and casts off these exotic elixirs as “trivial.”

So enzyme creams aren’t the fountain of youth they purport to be. Instead, dermatologists tell us there are plenty of things you can do right now that can save your skin from the aging fast track.

Morning

Screen your rays. Use sunscreen every morning with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 to 30 for unlined and supple skin. The sun’s UVA and UVB rays damage collagen and weaken the skin’s elastic fibers, says Debra Luftman, MD, author of The Beauty Prescription (McGraw-Hill, $24.95).

For even greater coverage, select a sunscreen that also contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

Go with a glycolic acid such as an alpha or beta-hydroxy acid. These over-the-counter preparations exfoliate the skin to slough off cells that can dim an otherwise radiant glow.

Night

Reach for a retinoid. Retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives that unclog pores, reduce fine lines by boosting colagen and speed cell replacement. Retinol treatments such as Retin-A or Renova (Retin-A in a more moisturizing base) are sold by prescription.

Over-the-counter, less concentrated but less expensive versions called retinol are also excellent age-fighters. “They improve the skin’s texture by penetrating the collagen layer,” says Dr. Luftman. Apply to wrinkles and expression lines. Retinoids aren’t recommended for pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant.

Morning or Night

Cool it. Take lukewarm, not hot, showers. Hot water zaps moisture from your skin, causing dryness, says dermatologist Stuart Kaplan, MD. Also, “apply moisturizer as soon as you get out of the shower to seal in moisture,” he
advises. Over-the-counter moisturizing creams such as Dove or Oil of Olay or a morning application of sunscreen formulated to moisturize are effective.

Banish sun spots. Even the faintest sun spots need to be evaluated by a dermatologist. “There’s a certain type of melanoma that can look like a sun spot,” Dr. Luftman explains. To fade the spot, you may need a chemical peel or laser therapy, although a prescription bleaching cream is available.
Forget about over-the-counter bleaching creams. Most sun spots penetrate several layers; nonprescription bleaching creams won’t reach them.

Seek out foods rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C helps form collagen and acts as an antioxidant that is thought to combat the free radical molecules that damage collagen from the inside out, says Luftman. Excellent sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits as well as potatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, mangoes and papayas.

Sandra Gordon is a freelance writer.

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