A new book claims to have proved that anti-ageing moisturising creams really can help to make your skin look younger. Here, Sarah Stacey, one of the book's authors, defends these surprising findings. But Dr Paula Franklin begs to differ: most of the claims made on the jars, she says, cannot possibly be supported

Creams can help you look younger - I've seen the proof, says Sarah Stacey

When it comes to 'miracle' creams, there's a conflict in the heart of many baby boomers. Women like me, the flower children now kicking 50, imbibed the "bare-skinned is best" mantra along with the lentils and muesli. But every morning, we're faced with reality: we're not only getting older, we're looking it. And most of us don't like it.

But somewhere deep in our puritan Anglo-Saxon psyches, a loop tape still tells us that investing in a face cream, like wearing our best clothes, is vain. Sticky layers of Vaseline are fine, even my Grandmother's favourite "vanishing" cream (whatever vanished, it wasn't the wrinkles), but buying an anti-ageing cream is just being duped by the ads.

Even if we plough our way through the moral furrows, can we believe the extravagant promises - fine lines disappearing, wrinkles vanishing like Polyfilla'd cracks in walls, plumper, smoother, above all younger skin?

There's huge bucks in them there pots - American women between 30 and 50 lavish more than $1 billion annually on buying hope in a jar - so are we women just victims of whizzkid marketing, being led like sheep to the cash registers?

The answer is No. And that's not just my own experience. For our new book, Feel Fabulous Forever (another wild promise, you might say, but we stand by it), Jo Fairley and I asked 1,060 women to test 89 anti-ageing creams, with retail prices varying from pounds 3-plus high street brands to wait-for-months cult creams at well over pounds 300. Because brand reputation and sexy packaging is often a significant factor in perceived results, virtually all the products were blind-tested, decanted into code-marked plastic pots. Our testers were asked to use them on one side of their faces only, continuing with their normal moisturiser on the other, and report back at the end of the jar.

We were as sceptical as many of our testers. But four or five weeks later, letters poured in. The jars weren't finished but, for some testers at least, the improvements on the treated side were so clear that they had chucked their other products and smeared the trial cream all over. Some products bombed, but we came out with six blind-tested products which averaged eight marks out of ten or more.

You don't need to spend a fortune, either. Although five products were in the pounds 20 to pounds 40 bracket, the costliest cream didn't figure near the top and the joint second was a pounds 7-ish cream based on frankincense essential oil. But you won't see that one, which comes from a small natural products company, advertised in glossy mags or on TV.

Waging war on wrinkles isn't the only reason for using skin creams. British dermatologists are coming out of the anti-cosmetic closet and advising women to give them a good try before contemplating a face lift. Not only will some improve texture and tone but they also provide a barrier against environmental pollution, the biggest cause of sags, bags and wrinkles, which may trigger all sorts of problems from infections to rashes.

No-one's pretending that skin creams are the only answer to looking young: sleep, exercise, good fresh food and lots of water are vital. But take it from more than 1000 fully paid-up British beauty cynics: anti-ageing creams can help.

Moisturisers feel good, but you may as well use Vaseline, says Dr Paula Franklin

Skin creams are a minefield. Just because a product is expensive or has a designer label, this doesn't mean it is any better. Price is certainly not an indicator of effectiveness and in some cases Vaseline can be just as good, particularly on the lips.

The claims made about some creams don't stand up to scrutiny. I know of no evidence to support claims that creams can deposit oxygen in the skin. Similarly, with the promises for collagen. It is hard to see how a cream can actually deposit collagen in the skin in any way that is going to make any difference.

The only ingredient we do know to be effective is retinol acid, which is used in therapeutic creams as well as cosmetic products. In higher concentrations, it is used in the treatment of acne, because it helps removes the top layers of skin. In lower concentrations which are now found in some skin creams, there is evidence that it actively works to improve the appearance of the skin by helping to shed the top, dead, layer more effectively. As a result, the light fine lines many not appear to be so severe.

Women - and it is mainly women - use creams for two main reasons. Some use them simply because their skin feels dry when they don't put something on it. If you wash you face with soap and dry it, for the first few seconds it feels tight and all the cream does is relieve that feeling. The aim is to lubricate the skin and most creams do that simply by putting water in the skin, suspended in the cream along with whatever oily component there is in the product.

But many women also use skin creams because they think it is going to keep them looking younger for longer, and that is certainly how they are sold and advertised and presented.

There must certainly be a psychological element involved in using creams, particularly the expensive ones. The messages from advertising are very powerful ones, and the packaging is very alluring, and there is an element of status about it, too.

The truth is that the majority of the creams are water-based and the way to find out what's in them is to look at the list of ingredients which are listed in order of proportion. If water is the first ingredient, then it is the main one. The thicker and the heavier the cream, the more oil there is.

The first thing to consider when you are buying a cream is how old you are. If you are 25 to 30 and under, all you really want is a cream that makes the skin feel less tight and more comfortable. I don't think that at that age there is any necessity to use creams with retinol, for example.

Vaseline is excellent and for a lot of women who use cream for their bodies, it is probably as good as anything you can buy, though some women may find it too heavy and oily to use on the face.

Personally, I use Vaseline for my lips and I think that without doubt it is the best. For my face, I use an inexpensive moisturiser from a supermarket. The only reason I use the cream - I am 38 - is that after I have washed my face it feels tight and using the cream makes it more comfortable.

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