Few of us embrace the signs of aging skin--those fine lines and creases that creep up after 30. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and using a moisturizing sunscreen will help preserve complexions, but they won't make a 50-year-old look 35. And for those who want a dramatic age reversal, there are plenty of medical solutions—from face-lifts to injectable treatments for lines and creases. But there are also any number of tricks you can do at home or find at a beauty salon or drug store that are reputed to reduce lines with scant (or no) science behind them.
Here's a short list of some popular wrinkle-fighting moves that doctors say are useless, unproven or harmful—and some real tips from dermatologists for keeping your skin young:
1. Food Masks. Egg whites, mashed banana and honey—no, we're not talking about baby food. Each of these has been touted as a beauty treatment that will make skin appear more youthful, although dermatologists say there's no good reason why they would. Then there's citrus fruit and oils. Rubbing your face with pineapple—the most commonly used fruit—will, in fact, exfoliate dead cells, which improves the skin's appearance temporarily. But a castor or olive oil treatment can plug up pores and cause acne.
2. Exercising the Facial Muscles. Actually, making faces aggravates, rather than prevents, wrinkles. There is no evidence that you can build up the small, thin muscle fibers in facial skin the same way you tone biceps.
3. Electricity. Some beauty practitioners apply small jolts of electricity to facial muscles to "reprogram" them to lift. But the effects are brief, says Dr. Susan Weinkle, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of South Florida: "You need to kill the nerve to stop it from contracting for any length of time." The FDA is currently evaluating technology that will kill the nerves.
4. Vitamin E Creams. In any beauty-supply store, you'll see dozens of creams with long lists of ingredients, often including vitamin E. Alas, the vitamin E in these creams does not prevent wrinkles and can cause an allergic rash.
What does work on wrinkles (other than a trip to a plastic surgeon)?
Dermatologists recommend creams containing tretinoin, marketed as Retin A or Renova and available only by prescription, or the weaker over-the-counter creams containing retinol. "If I had to choose one cream, I'd choose one that contains tretinoin or retinol," says Weinkle. Dermatologists also recommend creams with high concentrations of alpha hydroxyl acid, which exfoliate dead skin and trigger formation of new collagen and elastic fibers. OTC versions have a concentration of 6 percent or less of alpha hydroxyl acid, while prescription products typically contain 12 percent or more.
Other helpful creams are those that contain Vitamin C and the brand formulations TNS Recovery Complex, Citrus CRS, Revaleskin and Prevage. Creams based on the small chains of amino acids called peptides seem to have some benefit in promoting collagen production, says Chicago dermatologist Carolyn Jacob, but the proof so far only comes from lab experiments, not large clinical trials with people.
And then there's prevention: Ultraviolet A rays (UVA, not UVB) are most responsible for skin aging, so check your sunscreen for UVA blockage, and opt for 30 SPF in sunny climates, says Weinkle. Sleeping on your back, rather than your stomach and side, can help prevent creases in your face.
Weinkle's personal skin care routine: She uses an at-home microdermabrasion scrub along with the Clarisonic supersonic skin brush. Microdermabrasion goes further than exfoliation, buffing away so much skin that your body reacts as if to a wound and creates brand new skin. Or try an at-home machine that uses crystals instead of the diamond head used in the most state-of-the art equipment in dermatologists' offices.