Topical products for aging skin

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CROW'S FEET ARE FOR THE BIRDS

If you're 20 years old or older, chances are your skin care regimen includes products to prevent or treat the signs of aging. And although science hasn't figured out how to keep the biological clock from ticking, research is turning up powerful skin care ingredients that can actually prevent some signs of aging and turn back the clock at least a few years.

Antioxidants
Perhaps the most powerful of these ingredients are antioxidants: micronutrients that trap and destroy free radicals, which are harmful cellular by-products that many scientists believe are the main culprits in aging and disease. "Antioxidants can provide a very effective and powerful [beauty] program without surgery or anything drastic like that," says Terry Grossman, MD, co-author of Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (Rodale, 2004).

"In our youth, our cells turn over quickly and efficiently. As we get older, this doesn't happen-they can mutate so they're no longer healthy, strong, round cells," says Shan Albert, aesthetician, educator and product developer. Antioxidants are one of the best ways to prevent this, she says, because they "can help old cells be replaced with healthy cells, leaving you with a healthy, radiant complexion."

Myriad antioxidants exist, and each has its own unique benefits. "There are many different kinds of antioxidants that address different kinds of oxidant damage — it's not like one antioxidant fixes all free radical damage; that's why it's important to have more than one," Albert says. While some antioxidants protect your skin from damage, others can actually repair skin damage that appears in the form of wrinkles, thin skin and age spots.

When cruising the beauty aisles, knowing which products work — and which work best for you — can be tricky. But these antioxidants have proven to work in skin care.

Pycnogenol: An antioxidant derived from the bark of French maritime pine trees, pycnogenol helps stimulate the production of immune cells, which in turn helps protect against the aging process, according to Frank Schonlau, PhD, director of scientific communications for Horphag Research in Geneva. "Pycnogenol releases pro-inflammatory mediators that help immune cells protect the skin from photoaging [the detrimental effects on skin that result from long-term exposure to sunlight] and extend the skin's resistance to sunburn."

The ingredient, he says, also improves microcirculation of tiny skin capillaries, supporting better oxygen and nutrient supply and better hydration, which work together to give skin a healthy look and vibrant glow.

Vitamin C: What makes vitamin C such a powerful skin care ingredient is its "ability to impact collagen formation and repair sun damage," says Patricia Farris, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. Collagen is the "glue" that holds tissues together.

Grossman, too, has seen success with topical vitamin C. "Topical vitamin C is now available in very stable, highly concentrated forms. It has very powerful antioxidant benefits to the skin that improve and prevent sun damage, and it actually improves the texture of the skin and makes it firmer."

A study published in the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery in March 2002 found that when subjects applied a topical formulation containing 10 percent vitamin C for 6 weeks, their collagen levels increased, their skin was more hydrated and their wrinkles were actually reduced.

Green Tea: Known for its health benefits when sipped as a tea, recent research proves that the plant's antioxidant activity works topically as well. "Green tea is one of the better antioxidants because it is full-spectrum, so it takes care of quite a few free radicals," says Albert. Indeed, the February 22, 2001 edition of the journal Carcinogenesis reported that the polyphenols in green tea reduce the amount of free radicals and inflammatory prostaglandins, which arc produced by skin immune cells in response to UVB sun rays.

When research scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that green tea actually reactivated dying skin cells, they began referring to the botanical as the "fountain of youth." The researchers are still determining the implications of these findings, but they believe green tea's active ingredients could revolutionize skin care.

Vitamin A: Also known as retinol, vitamin A is a standard tool used by dermatologists to combat aging skin. Although the over-the-counter form isn't as powerful as the prescription retinoic acid, it can still produce dramatic results. "When you use high levels of vitamin A, it will work like Retin-A," Farris says. Retin-A reduces wrinkles, increases collagen production and reduces age spots.

Ginkgo Biloba: This versatile botanical is showing up in many beauty products. Ginkgo works as an antioxidant to reduce inflammation in the skin. One study published in the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology (October 1997) found that it increased production of skin fibroblasts, which make collagen.

CoQ10: Coenzyme Q10 occurs naturally in human cells and plays a large role in cellular energy production. The body's CoQ10 levels decrease naturally with age as well as with stress and illness. CoQ10 molecules are small, so they can easily penetrate the skin.

One study found that after 6 weeks of CoQ10 application to eye wrinkles known as crow's feet, wrinkle depth was reduced by 27 percent; after 10 weeks of application, fine lines and wrinkles were decreased by 4? percent (Zeitschrift für Gerontologie und Geriatrie, 1999).

Beyond Antioxidants
Although antioxidants may he the current label stars on most skin care products, keep a lookout for these exciting ingredients as well.

Spin Traps: These powerful compounds remove or destroy free radicals by trapping them. One unique aspect of spin traps is that they appear to not just prevent the inflammation process but also to minimize inflammation for up to 12 hours after application.

Hyaluronic Acid: Found in connective tissue throughout the body for cushion and lubrication, when applied topically, this acid draws moisture to the skin and helps keep it there.

Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE): In preliminary studies, this naturally occurring compound has been shown to visibly firm sagging skin.

Liquid Crystal: Derived from plants, this serum helps protect cell walls so they retain moisture.

Stay Smart
While yon may be ready to fill your shopping cart with the latest antioxidant-packed skin care products, bring your common sense along with your checkbook, experts advise. "Ask a lot of questions," Albert says. To be effective, antioxidants must be present in high levels and in stable forms, she cautions.

Albert also recommends looking at the other ingredients listed on the label in addition to the active ones. "You don't want to see petroleum, parabens and synthetic fragrances listed in the ingredients," because all of these sub-stances are potentially harmful.

Farris says to shop with your thinking cap on and not to fall for exaggerated claims. And "if you don't see results in 4-6 weeks, it's not working," she says.

PHOTO (COLOR): Older age is time to add new wrinkles to your life, not to your skin.

PHOTO (COLOR)

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By Anna Soref

Eating for Healthy Skin
David Wolfe, author of Eating for Beauty (Maul Brothers Publishing, 2002), recommends eating the following foods 3-4 times a week for healthy, radiant skin.

Aloe Vera: Rich in sulfur (the No. 1 mineral in the skin). Excellent internally and topically. Use the gel inside the plant, not the plant's skin.
Arugula: Rich in sulfur and alkaline minerals such as magnesium and calcium. Great for salads.
Coconut: Contains some of the best quality oils of any food. When in the tropics, indulge.
Cucumber: The skin of the cucumber is rich in silicon, which adds shine to the skin and builds strong hair and nails.
Hemp Seed: Overall, the best spectrum of oils and sulfur-bearing proteins of any food.
Wheat Germ Oil: Probably the best natural source of skin-protective, skin-healing vitamin E. Internally and topically useful.
Radish: Rich in sulfur and vitamin C, both of which purify the body, destroy free radicals and add glow to the skin.

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If you're like most women (or men), you'll begin to see noticeable improvement in the color and texture of your complexion just two to four weeks after beginning a customized skin health program.