It doesn't cost £400 a jar and arrive in a gold-embossed box decorated with pseudo-scientific jargon.
Instead, the £19.75 No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Beauty Serum can be found on the shelves of Boots – and as of today it becomes the first anti-ageing cream scientifically proven to eliminate wrinkles.
The scientist who invented the revolutionary skin cream spoke yesterday of the secret, military-style operation which he hopes will up-end the multi-billion-pound global cosmetics industry.
Stewart Long, chief scientific adviser to Boots, said the 160-year-old Nottingham company had stockpiled "warehouses full" of the cream ahead of today's publication of an independent scientific evaluation of the product.
At £19.75 for 30ml, the cream is a fraction of the price of other beauty serums which have impressive lists of ingredients but less effect. It was tested by 60 volunteers with typical signs of sun-damaged skin and the results of the randomised double blind controlled trial, the first of a skin care product, showed 70 per cent had significantly fewer wrinkles after 12 months of daily use compared to those using a placebo.
The study has been published in the British Journal of Dermatology, and Boots is braced for an onslaught by women demanding the new elixir.
Mr Long, 42, said: "We have been producing the product for months, wrapping it in black plastic packaging and storing it in our high-security warehouses to make sure none gets out or on to eBay."
The cream, which comes in two versions, standard and "intense", triggered near-riots among shoppers when, in March 2007, a BBC Horizon documentary revealed initial laboratory tests showed it worked better then more expensive creams. Boots sold almost 6m tubes in the nine months following the programme, proving the marketing power of hard science. But critics said the laboratory tests did not prove it would reduce wrinkles in humans. That led to the new trial, paid for by Boots and carried out at the University of Manchester.
The patent on Protect and Perfect, launched in 2003, is ascribed to Mr Long, but as a Boots' employee he does not benefit directly. "I don't get a royalty on it – I wish I did. But the better the company does the better I do in terms of a bonus," he explained.
Chris Griffiths, professor of dermatology at Manchester University, who performed the original tests in 2007 as well as the new trial, said yesterday: "Very few over-the-counter cosmetic 'anti-ageing' products have been subjected to a rigorous, scientific trial to prove their effectiveness. Our findings demonstrate that a commercially-available cosmetic can produce significant improvement in the appearance of facial wrinkles following long-term use."
The cream, which contains white lupin, retinyl parmitate, a derivative of retinol (Vitamin A), and peptides and anti-oxidants, is thought to work by stimulating production of fibrillin – essential to the structure of the skin in the same way tent pegs hold a groundsheet smooth. Fibrillin is destroyed by the effects of the sun and ageing.
However, the British Association of Dermatologists said the size of the benefit had been exaggerated. "Approximately one in five people using the cream will get something extra for their money over plain moisturisers," a spokesperson said. "It is an interesting step forward in research although the long-term benefits are unknown."
The UK's £673m skin care market is dominated by Boots, Procter & Gamble and L'Oreal, according to analysts Mintel, and anti-ageing products are the fastest-growing area. After yesterday's results for the Boots product, dermatologists predicted a flood of similar trials as companies compete for domination of the market.
Dr Richard Weller, senior lecturer in dermatology at the University of Edinburgh, said: "This will raise the bar for what we should expect from the cosmetic companies in showing that their products work."