Are Claims About Beauty Creams Only Skin Deep?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gold -- not just for jewelry! Green tea -- not just for a caffeine buzz! Caviar -- not just for impressing dinner guests!

All three of those are ingredients in beauty products available to consumers willing to spend hundreds of dollars for an ounce of face cream that might keep their skin looking young.

"Ninety-eight percent of the 'cosmeceutical' industry is all about marketing," says Eric Finzi, a dermatologic surgeon with offices in Chevy Chase and Greenbelt. "If you buy a $1,000 cream, there's no reason to expect that it's better than the $50 cream. It might be worse. The answer is, 'We don't know.' "

These high-priced creams are considered cosmetics, not drugs, so they haven't been through the rigorous clinical trials necessary to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Finzi has seen over-the-counter creams make a great difference in his patients' skin, particularly creams that contain retinoids or alpha hydroxy acid. Skinceuticals makes a retinol cream that costs about $50 per ounce; NeoStrata's Ultra Daytime Smoothing Cream with sunscreen runs about $22 for 1.4 ounces.

Some skin care companies mooch off other research labs' findings to produce products that are "extrapolations to the nth degree," says Washington dermatologist Tina Alster. If the product is effective, it could be due to the marquee ingredient or just a good, hydrating base cream, says Alster, who serves as a consulting dermatologist for Lancome.

We asked the doctors to read the advertisements for these zany products and make some sense of them.

-- Rachel Saslow

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