Prematurely ageing skin often mirrors the body's inefficiency in eliminating toxins and waste products.
Excess sun exposure creates skin-damaging free radicals, leading to 'photoageing'. UV (ultraviolet) A exposure is especially harmful as it breaks down skin collagen fibres (J Invest Dermatol, 2001; 117: 1218-24). However, sun and pollution are more potent than sun exposure alone, and cigarettes are more damaging than either.
Smoking ages skin by destroying collagen and reducing circulation, thus reducing oxygen and essential nutrients to the skin. Smoking 20 cigarettes a day for just a few years is equivalent to nearly 10 years of chronological ageing (Br J Dermatol, 2002; 147: 1187-91) - a much greater rate of damage than lifelong sun exposure.
Many intelligent individuals scan food labels for harmful additives, yet will use toiletries containing a multitude of undesirable chemicals.
But facial skin is thinner than skin elsewhere, and thus may absorb toxic chemicals (such as petroleum byproducts, carcinogens, solvents, oestrogenic suncreams and preservatives) more readily.
In addition, many anti-wrinkle creams use harsh chemicals like alpha-hydroxy acids, glycolic or lactic acid, passionflower or citrus extract to strip away superficial skin. Recent evidence suggests that these agents actually cause premature ageing as well as increase UV susceptibility (Arch Dermatol, 1996; 132: 631-6; J Am Acad Dermatol, 1996; 34: 187-95).
In today's creams, mineral oils (paraffinum liquidum, petrolatum) have mostly been replaced by semi-synthetic lipids (fats, oils) and their constituents, including ceramide, hyaluronic acid, cholesterol, triglycerides, phospholipids and glycerine. Many also use silicones (dimethicone and various siloxanes), which produce water-repellent 'dry' oils and waxes. While they increase the 'feel-good factor' of a product, they are poorly absorbed by the skin. This places a question mark over how well ingredients suspended in them will be absorbed. Some, like dimethicone, are also cancer-causing suspects.
Natural vegetable oils (almond, jojoba, coconut, soya, carrot, wheatgerm, macadamia, olive and avocado) and some animal-derived oils (squalene and emu) are well absorbed and more compatible with human skin. High in essential fatty acids and vitamins A, D and E, these fatty acids temporarily strengthen cell membranes, slow down the formation of fine lines and wrinkles, and resist free-radical damage.
Beeswax and soya wax are good alternatives to silicones, while vegetable glycerine and honey are good replacements for synthetic humectants (water-attracting substances) like propylene glycol.
Antioxidants may also help. Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone) can smooth wrinkles, though published human research is scant. Vitamin E (as alpha-tocopherol or tocotrienol) is antioxidant and helps prolong the product 's shelf life. Some studies suggest it can also smooth superficial wrinkles, if used continuously.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) scavenges free radicals, is rapidly available to skin cells and may be UV-protective. Vitamins C and E work well in combination against UVB. Vitamin E also can work in synergy with carotenoids. Other UV-protective nutrients include selenium, Ginkgo biloba extract and aloe vera. Many plant extracts, such as rosehip oil and horsetail, as well as those from cocoa and green tea are also antioxidant.
In judging our 14 anti-wrinkle creams, we looked for a high percentage of plant ingredients, scientific evidence of usefulness and 'red flag' ingredients that are potentially toxic or irritant (such as mineral oil, parabens, polyethylene glycols [PEGs], propylene glycol, plastics such as copolymers, alcohols and solvents, and synthetic colours and fragrances). We also looked for clear labelling and value for money.
Almost all of today's moisturisers claim to include beneficial plant extracts and antioxidants. But, apart from Barefoot Botanicals ' Rosa Fina cream, Nuxe's Phytochoc and Rio Trading's Rosa Mosqueta oil, none gave us any indication of what proportion of the product was plant-based. As ingredients are listed in descending order, the higher up on the list, the more there should be in the product. Nevertheless, we would like to see manufacturers obliged to make clear statements about the contents on the label.
Similarly, when products use ingredients such as glycerine and stearate, it would be useful to know whether these are of animal or plant origin, as they may be either. Only a few products made this absolutely clear.
Cost had little to do with quality or efficacy. Most of the best in our sample were in the 24-34 p/mL range (see table, p 3). Although some high-street brands cost substantially less, they often contained a number of undesirable ingredients.
While no product can affect skin in a permanent way, we were pleased to find so many natural, luxurious and reasonably priced alternatives that moisturised the skin, supported skin structure, included UV screening and antioxidant properties, and provided a sense of wellbeing with natural fragrances. Barefoot Botanicals, Green People and Weleda 's creams were our particular standouts.
Rosa Fina Intensive Facial Radiance Cream
Distributor: Barefoot Botanicals
Price: lb18.95 (55 g)
This beautiful, naturally coloured cream, of 100-per-cent plant origin, includes a rich mix of apricot, Rosa mosqueta, carrot and starflower oils, horsetail, citrus extracts and frankincense, and is fragranced with essential oils. Ingredients are largely organic and free from GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Vita Min Fix
Distributor: Green People
Price: lb11.99 (50 mL)
Green People continue to impress with products free of synthetics, GMOs and petrochemicals. This one includes seaweed, avocado, evening primrose and sandalwood. It is free from alcohol, artificial colours and worrying preservatives. Also, many of its ingredients are organic.
Wild Rose Night Cream
Price: lb7.80 (30 mL)
Based on a single ingredient - Rosa mosqueta (rosehip) oil - this reasonably priced cream contains no preservatives, artificial colours or petrochemicals. It also includes myrrh, horsetail and beeswax (a good alternative to silicone-based waxes).
Frankincense Nourishing Cream
Distributor: Neal's Yard
Price: lb10.65 (40 g)
A cream for mature skins, this has some organic ingredients plus the addition of both frankincense and myrrh. We liked it for the simplicity of its ingredients. Neal 's Yard has a reputation for quality products with no animal derivatives. The only downside is that, rarely, frankincense and myrrh can cause 'allergic' reactions.
Rio Rosa Mosqueta
Distributor: Rio Trading
Price: lb9.99 (20 mL)
A straightforward product with one ingredient - Rosa mosqueta oil. High in essential fatty acids that temporarily feed the skin, it has no preservatives, no colours and no animal ingredients. These come at a price though, as this was among the more expensive of our road-test products.
Energys Ultra Regeneration Hydrating Cream
Distributor: Higher Nature
Price: lb39.36 (50 mL)
Novel ingredients include frangipani, willow, papaya, noni, cherry kernel, sea buckthorn and false flaxseed oils plus antioxidants. This expensive product claims to ''radiate beneficial energy'' to the skin. We remain sceptical. However, the ingredients appear to be safe (if somewhat lacking in evidence and mentioned at the bottom of a long line of other, less unusual ingredients - mostly humectants). It 's hard to see how to justify this costing more than twice Barefoot Botanicals' product.
Distributor: Jason Natural Cosmetics
Price: lb14.93 (60 g)
With a little adjustment, this could have been an excellent cream, high in natural organic oils and antioxidants. It fails itself only by including silicones, parabens and a sunscreen (oxybenzone) whereas other products in the same price range managed to avoid such ingredients.
Price: lb26.42 (30 mL)
A 'dry' oil based on a mixture of silicone and vegetable oils, this product also contains oat extract, St John 's wort, and vitamins A, C and E, but no preservatives and no alcohol. However, it is very costly - the most expensive product in our survey.
Anti-Wrinkle Q10 Plus
Price: lb9.45 (50 mL)
With shea butter, macadamia nut oil, and Co-Q10 and other antioxidant nutrients, this was the best of the surveyed high- street brands. Nevertheless, it contained a number of synthetic ingredients, the only justification of which is to hold the formula together (rather than benefit the skin). The range of undesirables includes parabens, perfume and the formaldehyde-releasing preservative DMDM hydantoin.
Distributor: Laboratoire Nuxe
Price: lb27 (50 mL)
This is so nearly what a top-end product should be. With an innovative list of ingredients, including cocoa polyphenols, its clear labelling gives the percentage of plant ingredients (23 per cent). It uses no GMOs, mineral oil, artificial colours or animal ingredients, but it does contain parabens, silicones and propylene glycol.
Nurture 12 Hr Multi-Active Night Cream
Price: lb5.95 (50 mL)
This uses PEG, parfum, propylene glycol and parabens. Hidden among these are small amounts of vitamins A, C and E, as well as borage and wheatgerm oils. We think we 'll pass on this one.
Stop Anti-Ageing Night Cream
Distributor: Garnier Synergie
Price: lb5.99 (50 mL)
Synergie builds it reputation on using plant ingredients but, apart from shea butter, and orange and apricot-kernel oils, this is not a natural product at all. It contains parabens, artificial colours and, amazingly for a night cream, the sunscreen methoxycinnamate. Inexpensive, but you only get what you pay for.
Price: lb13.99 (50 mL)
This contains 'Boswelox' - and for this ridiculous renaming of a frankincense-based compound to sound like 'Botox', we deducted a point. But that's not all - this product is silicone-based, with PEG, propylene glycol, a sunscreen, parabens, and other preservatives and fragrance.
ZV Lavender and Vitamin A Anti-Wrinkle Cream
Price: lb4.95 (45 mL)
If price were the only concern, this would be a winner. Based on almond oil with vitamin A and lavender, this could be so much more if it didn 't also contain the full range of parabens, phenoxyethanol (a preservative) and propylene glycol.