Hollis Brooks, 44, a lifestyle writer, knew better than to believe a lotion could turn back time. But two years ago, when a few fine wrinkles appeared above her lip, she decided to dip into the plain little jar of Creme de la Mer at the Neiman Marcus counter. Impressed that it was created by a NASA scientist, she paid a lot--$85 for a 1-oz. jar--and is happy to keep on paying. The pesky lines haven't gone away. But they also haven't got worse. And now she sounds like the saleslady who first hooked her on the product. "You should see my skin," she raves. "For somebody 44, it looks good."
Most of us don't expect the fountain of youth when we slather on a face cream at night. After all, we've grown up with fantastical claims from the cosmetics industry that never seem to pan out. But suddenly the cosmetics counters are arrayed with dozens of new products that promise really and truly to reduce the signs of aging. The difference is that this time around, there may be some solid science behind the claims.
A smart soul has even conjured up a name for all these fabulous new lotions: cosmeceuticals (think cosmetics plus pharmaceuticals). The idea is that they're more potent than cosmetics but not so powerful that the Food and Drug Administration needs to regulate them like drugs.
Baby boomers, 76 million of whom are now in their 40s or 50s, refuse to grow old gracefully. Sales for what the cosmetics industry genteelly calls "age-specialist" products could shoot well over $2 billion this year, says Mark Brooks of NPD BeautyTrends. It has even inspired a best seller--The Wrinkle Cure (Rodale Books; $22.95), by Yale dermatologist Dr. Nicholas Perricone. With so many products to choose from, it's a challenge to separate the science from the spin:
--Renergie, created by cosmetics powerhouse Lancome, was one of the top-selling products in the age-specialist category last year. It seeks to restore youthful elasticity to the skin while reducing wrinkles.
--Creme de la Mer was invented by Max Huber in the 1960s to treat his own rocket-fuel burns. According to Estee Lauder, which owns the product, his formula consisted of fermenting a seaweed broth to the prerecorded gurglings of previous batches. Lauder researchers don't know why the sounds make a difference, but without them, they contend, the cream loses its potency.
--Idealist, also by Estee Lauder, plays on the incipient insecurities of the late-20s crowd. "You can't just start thinking about the effects of aging at 30," says Sandy Cataldo, senior vice president of marketing. "For 40% of women, it becomes a lifelong obsession between 25 and 29." Among other ingredients, Idealist's breathable polymers (that's silicone to you and me) are intended to fill in the pores in the skin that grow larger with age.
--Aveda's Tourmaline Charged Hydrating Creme, which is designed to retain the skin's moisture and block out ultraviolet rays, uses the gem as a "tuning fork" to increase the "vibrational energy" of its other ingredients.
Cut through the hype, and you're looking at a potpourri of the same active ingredients. There are antioxidants for preventing skin damage from exposure to the sun, copper peptides for stimulating skin repair and hydroxy acids for sloughing off layers of dead skin. Wheat germ and barley extracts often serve as natural moisture barriers.