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Real Bodies: Behind the lines

Nothing is going to get rid of wrinkles, but some face creams really do help, says ANNALISA BARBIERI
It would be so easy for me to write about anti-wrinkle creams and say that wrinkles aren't the end of the world; they are nature's fingerprints; they make you seem distinguished... but when that first little line appears, it does seem like the end of the world because you know that it is never going to go away.

So, anti-wrinkle creams - do they work? Well, no. They can and do plump up your skin and make it appear smoother and younger, but nothing - listen! - nothing will make a wrinkle disappear completely. Plastic surgery will stretch your skin out so that it doesn't appear so floppy (think of ironing linen: the creases decrease, don't they, but do they disappear completely?). Collagen implants will puff your skin out temporarily in much the same way as putting air in a balloon.

What is a wrinkle? As we age, the amount of collagen that occurs naturally in our skin - the stuff that helps skin stay elastic, firm and resilient - decreases. So the repetitive everyday movements we make with our faces result in fine lines, which then become wrinkles.

Collagen production decreases because as we get older, the nutrients needed to make collagen no longer reach the skin in adequate amounts. And this happens because the capillary pathways that feed the skin get damaged. How? Sunlight damages them, as does smoking, pollution and plain old age. Sad, eh? Which is why exercise is so good for you; as is standing on your head, because your blood - I've said it before and I'll say it again - has all the nutrients your skin needs to keep it happy and healthy for as long as possible. (It's genetic too, but that's too depressing if you haven't got the right genes.) This doesn't mean that anti-wrinkle creams should be avoided, however, because they can help your skin look younger.

My favourite product this month was Ceramide Firm Intensive Lotion for face and throat, pounds 36, by Elizabeth Arden. It was fab. I kept wanting to look in the mirror (an unusual occurrence) because the lotion really did make my face look perkier, like when I'm sporting a ponytail. I'm not promising miracles, but it was very impressive; you apply it under moisturiser. EA's Ceramide Time Complex Cream, with an SPF of 15, pounds 37, was also very good, but not suitable for very sensitive skins - I had a breakout.

Aveda's Firming Fluid, pounds 30, is great for an instant fix but it made me feel as if I had egg whites drying on my face, so do put a more moisturising cream on top. Sisley's hugely expensive Botanical Intensive Night Cream, pounds 125, and Intensive Day Cream, pounds 100, aren't so much anti-wrinkle as deeply nourishing and - although I'm not sure that spending so much on skincare won't give you wrinkles - both are superb. The night cream contains extracts of ginseng and St John's Wort, good for cell restoration, and lily, which fights those famous free radicals. Free radicals are pollutants in our everyday atmosphere which rob skin of oxygen and inhibit cell renewal.

With anti-wrinkle creams, you get what you pay for, so don't skimp. The big companies pump huge amounts of money into researching their products and the cost of all this lab work is passed on to the customer. But there are always exceptions and some very good creams (although not marketed as `anti-wrinkle') are from Neal's Yard. Their Frankincense Nourishing Cream, pounds 8.50, contains frankincense and myrrh, two ingredients renowned for their age-defying properties. The Vitamin E and Avocado Cream, pounds 8.50, is also lovely and nourishing; try the Rose Facial Oil, pounds 9.50, on particularly dry patches prone to lines. Superdrug, which regular readers will know I rate highly, do anti-wrinkle creams too, but I found them to be just like good moisturisers and not high-performance enough.

On the subject of oils, Elizabeth Arden's Ceramide Advanced Time Complex capsules, pounds 43.50, are pods of oily stuff fantastic for travelling, as you can count out exactly how much you need. Aveda's Night Nutrients, pounds 35, is another oily, rather than creamy, substance which immediately sinks in to soothe dry skin. Clarins' Extra Firming Night Cream, pounds 38, recently came out top in a reader poll (quite rightly) and promptly sold out. It works by helping soften and soothe the skin with ingredients of ylang ylang and cedar. The corresponding day cream, pounds 36, (one must have 24-hour support), is packed full of `light-activated' ingredients such as hops, sage and red algae, which aid the skin's supply of vitamin D, increasing firmness. Isn't it ironic that vitamin D production is stimulated by the sun, yet the sun is the biggest cause of wrinkles? One of God's little jokes. Which does beg the question: why don't more day anti-wrinkle creams contain a sun screen? Guerlain does one, the ridiculously long-named Anti-Age 12 Mois Time Responsive Care SPF8, pounds 29.50. If your problem is more saggy chops than lines, try Clarins Contouring Facial Lift, pounds 28. Holly and dark algae help drainage to avoid puffiness, and garcinol (a plant extract) and caffeine stimulates the elimination of excess fats. Single lines can be treated with Shiseido's Wrinkle Control Smoothing Concentrate, pounds 70: a tiny drop can be smoothed over laugh lines or on the teeny ones you get on your upper lip if you draw too deeply on fags. Which you shouldn't be doing anyway, because you know it deprives your skin of oxygen - which causes nasty wrinkles in the first place. Drink however, especially champagne, is fantastic for skin. After one or two glasses, your skin will be devoid of all wrinkles: blemishes and lines will have fuzzed into a peachy perfection. Just remember to throw a chiffon scarf over the mirror for the morning.

Stockist enquiries: Aveda: 0171 410 1600; Clarins: 0171 629 2979; Elizabeth Arden: 0171 574 2700; Guerlain: 0181 998 9423; Neal's Yard: 0161 831 7875, mail order: 0171 498 1686; Sisley: 0171 730 1234: Shiseido: 0171 630 1515.