Antiaging Products Demystified: 4 Rules to Remember Before You Start Shopping

There are thousands of antiaging products filling our heads with promises, from pricey prestige brands to drugstore options that are more reasonably priced. How can you choose between them, and which ingredients actually might work? Dr. Ellen Marmur, author of Simple Skin Beauty, demystifies the cosmeceutical mystery with these four rules.

Some products state that they prevent and reverse the signs of aging. Others claim to firm, smooth, and lift the skin, and there are plenty that guarantee they stimulate collagen and diminish wrinkles. Anti-aging products do fill our heads with promises. (I completely expect to wake up looking like Gwyneth Paltrow after using one.) There are thousands to pick from, from pricey prestige brands to drugstore options that are more reasonably priced. How can you choose between them, and which ingredients actually might work?

Most of us feel baffled and frustrated, with way too many choices. (Remember my overwhelming shopping trip?) According to the American Academy of Dermatology in Schaumburg, Illinois, 94 percent of women are confused by their anti-aging options. So let’s demystify the cosmeceutical mystery. There are four rules to remember:

1. Prevent aging skin with what you already own: sunscreen.

Sun protection is the best anti-aging product you have and the best investment you can make. Ninety percent of cosmetic skin problems that occur with age (wrinkles, sagging, hyperpigmentation) are caused by sun exposure, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Therefore sunscreen is the best honest-to-goodness miracle cream on the market. There is no point in buying a bunch of anti-aging products to repair damage if you don’t prevent it in the first place by wearing sunscreen every day. Most cosmeceutical ingredients try to mimic substances found in the body, such as antioxidants, peptides, growth factors, coenzymes, copper, and vitamins. So protecting what we already have naturally and maintaining optimal skin health with daily sun protection and moisturizer is worth a thousand anti-aging beauty solutions. In fact, I have a collection of sunscreens and I use them all differently — an oil-free, broad-spectrum SPF 15 for daily use; an SPF 30 when I know I’ll be outside more of the day; a body lotion with added sunscreen; and an even stronger broad-spectrum sunscreen spray for the beach. Because your skin type changes and the amount of sun exposure you receive does too, your sun protection needs to be compatible. Owning several formulations of sunscreen also reduces the excuses not to wear it, and sunscreens are a better investment than a bunch of cosmeceuticals. Think about it this way: every time you put on sunscreen, you’re preventing the signs of aging and therefore saving money on expensive products or cosmetic procedures to fix fine lines or sun spots.

2. Read product labels closely.

The label must list ingredients from the highest concentration to the lowest, so if the anti-aging element you’re looking for, be it niacinamide or vitamin C, is near the bottom, there’s not enough in the product to do anything. (Keep in mind; a high concentration of the chemical is one way to get it into the skin). Most often, a cosmeceutical acts primarily as a good moisturizer, which is wonderful, but it won’t have much more than superficial and temporary results. Most of the ingredients on the label — the water, moisturizers, binders, and preservatives that make up the vehicle — are inactive. Often an anti-aging product includes silicone to provide a smooth texture to the product and make the complexion look smoother too. It may also contain a little glycolic acid or lactic acid to exfoliate the skin and provide instant gratification. These elements don’t actually change anything below the surface of your skin. At least make sure that the antioxidant or peptide you’re buying is very near the top of the ingredients list. De- coding the label has limitations, however. Most of the time a product does not state the concentration or percentage of the ingredients (and it doesn’t have to). And too high a concentration of some ingredients, such as vitamin C, can be toxic to the skin. You also can’t tell from the label whether an ingredient, like an antioxidant, is stable or not.

3. Choose your anti-aging ingredients wisely.
Okay, let’s shift gears. Let’s pretend that all these cosmeceuticals work.

With so many new ingredients promising to fix so many problems, how should you decide among them? Do you need an antioxidant or a peptide? And what is a growth factor, anyway? Is a prescription retinoid safe, or should you try an over-the-counter version first? Step back, look at your skin, and consider what products you already own. A moisturizer? A sunscreen? A chemical exfoliant or a scrub? (Check to see if your moisturizer already contains an antioxidant or one of the ingredients I’ll discuss soon. You may have been using an anti-aging product for some time without even knowing it.) Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve with a cosmeceutical. Are you in your twenties and looking for a preventive product? An antioxidant is a good bet. Do you want to fight wrinkles? Then something with retinoic acid will work. If brown spots and uneven skin tone are your problem, you can use retinoic acid or try a product with niacinamide. Narrow down what it is about your complexion you want to improve, and that will help narrow down your options.

Tending to your complexion is like caring for a garden, which needs a certain amount of water, nutrients, soil, and sunshine to grow and be healthy. If you overfeed or overwater it, the garden is destroyed. In the same way, putting too much of a good thing on your skin is not necessarily better or more effective. I’ve had patients come in with red, irritated skin and show me twenty different products that they use on it. How do all these ingredients react with one another? Are they overlapping the same kinds of chemicals, such as acids, over and over again? Try to pick one or two active ingredients — an antioxidant and a retinoid, for instance — and stick with them for at least three months (a fair amount of time to see if you get results). Switching from one ingredient to another within a span of a couple of weeks — a niacinamide product, then a kojic acid, then an azeleic acid to get rid of brown spots, for example — cancreate a cocktail of chemicals on your face that can be extremely irritating.

4. Research products, and learn the difference between miracles and marketing.
Do your homework on ingredients, and think logically about their claims. Frequently what is proclaimed to be a new chemical innovation turns out to be a derivative of something that already exists. For instance, an exciting ingredient (whose name was created and patented by a cosmetic company) claims to stimulate the production of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and increase the storage of moisture in the dermis. This chemical has a cool, sci-fi name and sounds like an amazing discovery, yet it’s simply a plant-derived form of xylose (a sugar molecule like the GAGs). Again, the manufacturer’s tests are proprietary, and most products containing the ingredient also include hyaluronic acid, a superior humectant. So it’s hard to say which one is responsible for any water retention results in the skin. A little sleuthing online can tell you what a hot new ingredient actually is and if the clinical studies behind it are for real.

Most of these ingredients aren’t really under the jurisdiction of a dermatologist. Traditional medical training has nothing to do with a popular antioxidant like CoffeeBerry, or an ingredient like rare, Japanese seaweed. As a doctor, I must form a medically educated opinion about whether these things provide substantial results or not. I read the claims and the literature available, put them through my dermatologic understanding of the body, and judge if it’s a reasonable hypothesis or not. So far three things have been proven to work as anti-agers: sunscreen, moisturizer (to maintain the health of the skin’s barrier), and retinoic acid.


Ellen Marmur, MD, author of Simple Skin Beauty (Copyright © 2009 by Dr. Ellen Marmur), is the Chief of Dermatologic and Cosmetic Surgery at The Mount Sinai Medical center in New York City and specializes in skin cancer surgery, cosmetic surgery, and women’s health dermatology. She lives in Manhattan with her family.



Winter Makeup and Skin Care Tips and Tricks

Winter challenges your skin and makeup more than any other season. Here, what you need to know to give your skin the extra care and attention it needs, plus tips on beauty products for achieving the right winter look. From Riku Campo author of Best in Beauty: An Ultimate Guide to Make Up and Skincare Techniques, Tools, and Products

The change of seasons is always refreshing, but winter challenges the skin and makeup more than any of the other seasons. Cold temperatures, snowy weather, heated rooms, and excessive hot showers to warm you up (which, unfortunately, also dry your skin) all make your skin need extra care and attention.

The biggest problem is dry skin on the face, hands, and knees, and sometimes all over the body. The best advice is to moisturize. And moisturize.

Sometimes the dryness can turn into eczema. In that case you must turn to a dermatologist, who can help you choose the right skin care products. You can also use 0.1% hydracortisone once a week on the areas that are really dry, irritated, and itchy. Eczema is genetic and is most aggressive in winter.

The indoor heat along with the cold outdoor temperature makes your skin drier, no matter what your skin type is.

Dry skin: Use a facial serum or oil under a thicker-formula moisturizer.
Oily Skin:
Use an oil-free serum and oil-free moisturizer.
Combination skin:
Use oil-free products on the T‑zone and a thicker moisturizer on the cheeks, which get drier in the wintertime.

Sometimes those with oily skin should protect their skin with slightly creamier face products, especially against extremely cold temperatures and wind. Look for oil-based moisturizers (including almond, jojoba, or avocado oil) that don’t clog the pores. Sometimes you might get whiteheads (tiny white cysts containing lamellated keratin that a dermatologist or esthetician can take out with a tiny needle) around your eye area or on your cheeks.

If you have dry skin, you must avoid water as much as you can; take short showers, and wash your face with a cleansing milk. And everyone should drink more water (or hot green tea) in the wintertime.

Many times dry skin gets flakes on the eyelids and cheeks and around the lip area. The best way to get rid of them is to exfoliate the skin right after showering, when the skin is still soft. After that apply a thick layer of a cream-based hydration mask all over your face. Leave it on for five minutes, then press a tissue on your face and let it absorb the mask. Don’t scrub your face; just gently tap it with the tissue so you get all the extra mask off your face.

Do this in the evening, and by morning your skin will be much softer. You can use the same method on superdry lips: exfoliate your lips and the skin around them with an exfoliating cream or lip scrub (many cosmetic manufacturers make lip spa products with scrubs and various kind of balms and sealing creams).

You can also put a damp hand towel in a microwave for three minutes to heat it and then press it on your lips for a minute to soften the skin, then scrub the dead skin off gently with the towel.

Note: Scrubbing the lips with a toothbrush is really hard on them and can actually break the skin.

Slightly richer foundations are better than tinted moisturizers because there is more to cover on your skin in the winter (uneven areas on the nose, cheeks, and eyelids).

You must use SPF/UVA/UVB protection all year round. The sun that reflects from the snow is as strong as the sun that reflects from water. So choose a day cream with at least SPF 15, or a foundation with SPF. Skin is also paler in the winter, so you must use a wintertime base.

Powder is needed all over the face for oily skin. Those with combination and dry skin should use powder on the T‑area only to set the base. If your skin is dry and flaky, don’t use any base product, just a face oil and your protecting SPF 15 face cream (but you can still use mascara and tinted lip balm).

Most cosmetic companies launch autumn/winter collections full of darker shades for eye and lip makeup colors; dark grays, plums, burgundies, deep Spanish reds, and dark chocolate browns. That is because the fall/winter fashion shows give the direction to the makeup world as well. But there are no rules for which colors to use on a seasonal basis. Most of the products are matte and simply look better in winter: more dramatic and deeper hues that go hand in hand with fall/winter fashions. But remember that what works on the runway does not always work in real life.

If you love pastels in winter, go for them. Keep in mind, though, that if your face is pale, pastel colors will create a washed-out look that is not flattering; light pastel eye and lip makeup looks better on tanned skin, which is why pastels are very popular in the summer. For a cool-tone winter look, wear deeper colors on your eyes and give your lips a matte fuchsia tone instead of light icy pink. Or use some color on your eyes and keep your lips pale (as in the photo: I gave the lashes a shocking blue wintry color!).

Mascara should be waterproof; rain, snow, and going from outdoor to indoor temperatures will make regular mascara run. You don’t always have to use black mascara; try brown, blue, or green. Water-resistant eye pencil is excellent; because it’s made of waxes, it will stay through the rain. Water-resistant liquid eyeliners are good but don’t necessarily stay well because of their flakiness. There are some special eye makeup sealing products that you can apply on top of the eyeliner to make it hold longer. But an umbrella will do a better job in the end. I have also used water-resistant mascara as eyeliner, and sometimes it stays better than most of the real waterproof liners.

Cracked lips are the number one problem in winter. If your lips are superdry, skip the lipstick and use tinted lip balm, which is available in many different colors. The pigmentation is not that high, but you will get smooth, healthy-looking lips with a beautiful sheen. Make sure the balm has SPF and UVA/UVB protection. Exfoliate your lips regularly throughout the cold months. That way you will get rid of the dry flakes on the surface of your lips.

If you want a more dramatic winter look, fair skin looks really good with well-lined red lips, darker skin with well-lined deep brown or deeper cool reds. More moisturizing, richer-formula lip glosses are welcome products in the winter when the temperature drops below 0° Celsius. But on a really cold day, skip the glosses and use tinted lip balms. They protect and moisturize your lips the best.

Blush is a key item to the winter makeup look. It really gives some color to your skin and wakes up your whole face. Use the powder formulas, which sit better than gel or cream blushes. The color of your blush is completely your own choice; again, if you have a cool-tone look, use pink; for a warm tone, it can be peach, warm sand, or terracotta. The only color I would leave out are bronzes. They really don’t look great in winter.

Hands and Nails
Keep your hands moisturized. You can even sleep with cotton gloves on after applying a thick layer of hand cream to your hands. In the morning your hands and cuticles will be soft and moisturized.

Darker nail colors look trendy in the winter. You can buy a lipstick to match with your nail color because cosmetic companies launch the looks that way. It will always give a very sophisticated, mature look.

I have oily skin in the summer, and in the winter it’s dry. How can I make my skin behave in a more balanced manner from season to season?
Ole Henriksen answers:
It’s not unusual for an oily/eruption-prone skin to become surface dry in the winter season. Two things cause this: the products used to normalize the oily skin, and the dry indoor heating plus outdoor freezing temperatures. A mistake that many people with oily skin make is to use products with too many drying agents in every product they use.

This is not necessary. It creates a dry surface mantle and potentially more oil flow below the skin surface, which can cause blemishes. Balance is the key here, using a blend of oil-free formulations with humectants such as algae, aloe vera, sorbitol, and glycerin, combined with cell-proliferating and purifying extracts such as sugar maple, sugarcane, lemon peel, and lactic acid, and finally reparative antioxidants such as vitamin C, superoxide dismutase, green tea, and African red tea. In addition, an antiblemish stick containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, bentonite, and kaolin is a must for this skin type. So the answer is to use products that contain the right blend of active ingredients and have a light texture.

Is Vaseline good for my lips in the winter?
Vaseline used on its own isn’t thick enough to stay on the lips for long periods, but if incorporated into a lip balm formulation it works well. For people who may not like the fact that Vaseline is a mineral oil extract, there are other extracts that work just as effectively at keeping lips soft and nourished, such as jojoba seed oil, mango seed butter, carnauba wax, and cranberry seed oil.

Use a humidifier to add moisture to your indoor space if you have to use drying central heating. Put one in your bedroom, and you will notice the difference in your skin in the morning, especially when using face serum and night cream. Your skin will be softer and moister.

If you have very dry skin, use soap-free body wash instead of a soap bar when showering.

You can use a thicker-formula face cream (at least 60% oil) as your night cream. The same cream works as a deep-moisturizing face mask: just apply a thicker layer of the cream all over your face, except in the eye area. Keep it on the face for 10 to 15 minutes, and then press a tissue on the face to absorb the extra oils from the skin. Do this in the evening, and your skin will be moist, especially if you have the humidifier in your bedroom.

If you have sensitive skin, use a protective barrier moisturizer.

Riku Campo, author of Best in Beauty: An Ultimate Guide to Make Up and Skincare Techniques, Tools, and Products, lives in Los Angeles, where he has established himself as the makeup go-to guy for some of today’s most celebrated models and entertainers. For more information, visit



How to Get the Right Look for Your Lips

Six simple steps for picking the best shade for your lips and making the color last, from makeup guru Laura Mercier, author of The New Beauty Secrets.

Let’s start with your lip care routine. This involves gently exfoliating your lips and treating them with a balm that both nourishes and moisturizes. Exfoliate as often as needed using a special lip scrub, a gentle face scrub, or even your toothbrush. Don’t ever use anything harsh, like a loofah. The skin on your lips is much too delicate. I like to exfoliate my lips in the shower. Once I’m out, I cover them with a thick coat of balm. Give the lip balm time to sink in and do its job. Once you’re ready to apply your makeup, wipe off the excess lip balm with some tissue. You don’t want too much emolliency because your lipstick or lip gloss won’t last as long.

You should also practice good lip habits such as drinking enough water. Your lips dry out quickly when you’re dehydrated. Smoking is the worst habit for your lips because it stains, dehydrates, and cracks them.

The Right Shades for You
Once you understand the lipstick and gloss colors that are most flattering on you, you’ll be able to create a variety of lip looks. Best of all, you won’t waste money on colors that don’t work. To begin, you need to know the lipstick or gloss tone that’s right for your complexion. All shades can be divided into two families — warm tones and cool tones. The cool ones include anything with a hint of blue — mauves, fuchsias, milky pinks (imagine fuchsias mixed with white), purples, blue-reds, and berries, just to name a few. Warm tones have a hint of yellow or orange — browns, chestnuts, brown-pinks, beiges, taupes, caramels, corals, and orange-reds. If your skin tends to be yellow or sallow, shades from the cool family will probably look best on you. Extreme warm tones tend to play up the yellowness of any complexion, so try them if your skin is on the pinkish side.

Experiment with different lipstick shades when you have no other makeup on your face. You’ll be able to see which colors brighten your complexion and work best with your eyes and hair. You may find that you can wear warm and cool tones, or you may discover that one tonal family suits you best.

If you are always unsatisfied with your lipstick, mix two lipsticks or other lip products together to find the perfect color. Try mixing warm and cool tones. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

What Is Your Lip Tone?
Another thing to consider when picking lipsticks or glosses is the natural color of your lips. A highly pigmented pout be it pink, blue, or purple, will affect the shade of any lipstick or gloss you apply to your lips. This explains why a lipstick may look one way on you and another way on a friend or a model in a magazine. Keep this in mind when you sample lipstick on the back of your hand and wonder why it seems so different on your lips. It’s because the undertones are completely different. Look for shades that complement or counteract your natural lip color.

Getting Started
The next steps depend on the look you want and your needs. You can simply put on some gloss or sheer lipstick, or you can use a lip pencil to color your lips and cover it with lipstick or gloss. Since I’m sure you have these fundamentals down pat I’m going to take you beyond the basics and teach you some advanced lip tricks.

Pencil Makes Perfect
Lip pencils are a great tool to use to make your lipstick last correct any asymmetric proportions, provide definition, or make your pout larger. Make sure to chose a color that’s a slightly enhanced version of your natural lip tone.

If you like the shape of your lips and just need a little definition, follow the outline of your mouth with the pencil. Next, color in the rest of the lips from the outside to the inside. It’s like coloring inside the lines in a coloring book. You don’t want to see a dark, obvious outline around lighter colored lips. Nothing’s more old-fashioned, and it doesn’t look elegant or sophisticated.

For Serious Lipstick Work

Just as your face sometimes needs to be prepped before applying makeup, so do your lips. The tips and tricks that follow all require the same lip preparation, which I’m going to describe here. You need some camouflage, your lip pencil, translucent setting powder, and a powder puff. Using your finger, press a little camouflage into and around your lip line until it disappears into your skin. (Don’t cover your lips entirely.) Dip your powder puff into a small amount of translucent powder and shake off the excess. The amount that remains is all you need. Press the puff very lightly over your lips. You want a surface that is dry, not dry-looking. Now your pout is prepped and ready for you to use your lip pencil as directed in the paragraphs that follow.

Get Bigger Lips (Naturally)
Almost everyone dreams of having sexier lips, but few people use their lip pencil correctly to achieve this look. Instead of drawing outside your entire lip line, just widen the middle of your top and bottom lips. (You may not need to do the top and bottom. Some people have naturally plumper bottom lips or vice versa.) Once you prepare your lips, raise the bow of your top lip by drawing slightly above it and reconnecting it at the middle on either side. Make the lower lip a little rounder at the center.

This looks more natural and is an easier correction than going from corner to corner and drawing outside your entire mouth. The exception to this rule is if you have very thin lips. In this case, you can draw outside the entire lip line to enhance its appearance. Don’t forget to fill in the space between your natural lip line and the correction.

If your lips are asymmetric, then you can use a pencil to correct them. Again, make sure your lips are prepped correctly. This will help you draw in the shape more beautifully and help the color last longer.

Laura Mercier, the author of The New Beauty Secrets: Your Ultimate Guide to a Flawless Face (Copyright © 2006 by Gurwitch Products, LLC), is one of the most renowned beauty authorities in the world today. Her 20-year career as a makeup artist has brought her from Provence, Paris, and points around the globe to red carpets, photo studios, and movie sets. Laura’s work has appeared on the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Allure, Elle, W, and other magazines, plus countless advertisements, album covers, movie posters, and more. Laura Mercier Cosmetics, her beauty brand, has enjoyed great success since 1996.



5 Beauty Products You Love but Don’t Need

Despite all the advertisements to the contrary, skin truly needs the barest minimum. You may love your eye creams, toners, face masks, and other beauty products, says Dr. Ellen Marmur, author of Simple Skin Beauty, but they’re unnecessary luxuries.

They sure are fun to buy and lovely to use, and all the jars and bottles look pretty in your bathroom, but these cosmetic options are far from essential. If they’re not in your budget and you don’t have the time for a twenty-minute face mask or an added step in your nightly regimen, then skip them — and don’t feel guilty about it. When it comes to cleansing, moisturizing, and protecting, these three things won’t do anything more for your skin than your three essentials. If you want to treat yourself to a special skin care purchase or an at-home facial, go for it. I don’t blame you, and I do it too. But please don’t be tricked into thinking you need it.

Eye Cream
If you’re going to cancel one item from your shopping list, this is the one. It’s just as effective, and far more efficient, to multitask with your regular moisturizer and daytime SPF. Yes, it feels nice, but, no, it is not a necessity. In actuality, it’s simply redundant. The skin around your eyes is more delicate, but unless you are massaging a thick balm on the rest of your face, the moisturizer you use on your face and neck has the same formulation and many of the same ingredients that you get in any eye cream. The same moisturizing ingredients can treat the fine lines and dryness around your eyes just as well as they take care of the same issues anywhere else on your face.

What about puffiness or dark circles? I’ll tackle both those issues in chapter 8, “Skin SOS,” but suffice it to say that an eye cream isn’t going to eliminate them. Dark circles are due primarily to your anatomy, while puffiness is often a sign of water retention inside your body (often from lack of sleep). A cool compress or cold, damp chamomile tea bags will calm puffiness better than a special eye cream, although they are both temporary cures. If you are bothered by puffiness around your eyes, make sure your regular moisturizer contains anti-inflammatory ingredients such as chamomile, cucumber, or aloe vera (which would be found in an eye cream as well).

In a classic comedy bit, Jerry Seinfield speculates about why women need all those truckloads of cotton balls. How can they possibly use so many, and for what possible purpose? The answer: toner. How many cotton balls and bottles of astringent did we go through in high school and college, anyway? Toner is meant to remove residual makeup and oil from the skin. But since most cleansers these days do that just fine, toner is an unnecessary added step. Gentle, soothing alcohol-free toners (they usually contain moisturizing or anti-inflammatory substances like rosewater or cucumber) are totally superfluous if you use a moisturizer. (However, I do prefer them, even to makeup remover, to take off any extra bits of eye makeup or concealer because the consistency is so watery.) An alcohol-based astringent toner (similar to the antiseptic version we all remember as teenagers) usually contains ingredients such as witch hazel or salicylic acid to get rid of oil. For those who are addicted to washing their faces in the morning, a quick swipe of toner instead may be just the right remedy. These are great for combination skin conditions, to eliminate oil from one area of the face (rather than all over). For the most part, I, like Seinfeld, don’t have much use for cotton balls.

Face Masks
I relish the thought of giving myself an at-home facial, relaxing in front of the TV wearing some kind of blue or green face mask. The odds of this happening (with four kids, a crazy schedule, and a husband who would laugh himself silly) are slim to none. But so are the chances that a mask — whether it be one for moisturizing or a clay mask to “soak up” oil — can do something really transformative or long-lasting to my skin. Can a mask super-moisturize your face and seal the hydration in? Yes, but only until it’s rinsed off. Truthfully, masks are like ChapStick for your face — an occlusive film over the surface that provides a nice, temporary fix. For someone with sensitive or rosacea skin, a mask packed with anti-inflammatory ingredients (such as aloe vera, allantoin, and chamomile) and humectants will feel wonderful and soothe the skin, but only while it’s on the face. Again, it’s always important to read the label, especially if your skin is feeling sensitive. Fruit acids or menthol, which are commonly found in masks, could cause irritation.

Moisturizing Masks
If a mask has active ingredients, such as anti-inflammatories or antioxidants, they might be better absorbed into the skin because of the occlusive barrier of the mask. But that’s a big “if,” since those ingredients would have to be lipophilic (oil-loving and compatible with skin) and microscopic enough to penetrate pores in the first place. By the same principle of occlusion, I sometimes treat eczema on the body by applying a steroid cream, then putting plastic wrap over it to provide an occlusive barrier so the cream doesn’t evaporate or wipe off. This also provides a slight pressure that pushes the medication onto the skin. It’s similar to slathering on a rich foot cream and then covering the feet with cotton socks — although, unlike a medicine, the moisturizing effect wears off the minute you wash your skin.

Clay Masks
Clay masks don’t actually absorb or “soak up” oil, and they can’t really “purify” and “detoxify” your pores either. A mask with kaolin (a mineral-rich clay), sea mud, or even charcoal does provide a gentle way of exfoliating by coating the skin like an adhesive. When it dries and is rinsed off, the mask theoretically pulls off some dead cells, debris, and oil with it. It’s the same concept as rolling a lint brush over the surface of a sweater. Pore strips work the same way, and they’re terrific. Sometimes a clay mask contains active ingredients like sulfur, which is a natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, or tea tree oil, a natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. But a treatment like this won’t be more effective than a salicylic acid exfoliant and diligent nightly cleansing. A clay mask can reduce the oil you have right now, but unfortunately it’s just going to build up again in no time.

Ellen Marmur, MD, author of Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman’s Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin (Copyright © 2009 by Dr. Ellen Marmur), is the Chief of Dermatologic and Cosmetic Surgery at The Mount Sinai Medical center in New York City and specializes in skin cancer surgery, cosmetic surgery, and women’s health dermatology. She lives in Manhattan with her family.


Home Beauty Remedies That Really Work

Thirteen favorite do-it-yourself beauty treatments that are both easy and inexpensive, from actress and Dancing with the Stars alumna Lisa Rinna, author of Rinnavation: Getting Your Best Life Ever

  • To lighten age spots, mix the juice of 1 lemon, 1 lime, 2 tablespoons of honey, and 2 ounces of plain yogurt together in a bowl. Yogurt contains a natural bleaching property. Rub the mixture into each spot, including sun-damaged cleavage. Do this several times before you need to attend a big event, and your skin will look even and gorgeous.
  • To make my absolute favorite face tightener and pore minimizer, beat 1 egg white to a froth. Apply the foamy liquid to your entire face, focusing on problem areas around the jaw, eyes, and forehead. Let it dry completely (about ten minutes), then gently rinse and pat dry.
  • To combat under-eye bags — there are many tried-and-true remedies for this problem — try placing cucumber slices, raw potato slices, moistened tea bags, or chilled spoons over each eye. Leave them on for ten minutes or so, then check your results. Repeat until bags disappear.
  • To reduce puffiness around the eyes: Preparation H is an old tried-and-true prescription for shrinking eye puffiness. It works, but some people find the ointment greasy and/or are put off by its smell (or just the idea of it). I am one of those people. Someone told me to try Tucks pads, and guess what? They work just as well as Preparation H and are odor and grease-free. You can use them on your neck, jaw line, or forehead — any place that needs quick tightening.
  • To make a fantastic moisturizing mask, mash up an avocado and apply it to your face. You’ll look scary while it’s on, but after removing it with warm water you’ll see that it works.
  • To make my excellent exfoliator, mix a few tablespoons of sugar with a few tablespoons of olive oil or water, if you have acne-prone skin. Gently massage the mixture all over your face. Rinse with warm water and pat dry.
  • To make a gentle exfoliator, make a paste of baking soda and water and rub the mixture all over your skin. Rinse thoroughly with warm water and pat dry.
  • To make a clay mask – which is great for pulling toxins out of your skin — some facialists use (I kid you not) 100 percent clay kitty litter. (I told you I’d try anything!) It contains the same ingredients that are in the expensive clay masks. Make a paste of the clay by mixing it with water, and apply to your skin. Let it sit until it hardens, and then rinse with warm water and pat dry.
  • To make your own collagen booster, mash 1 cooked carrot with 1 avocado, then add 1/2 cup heavy cream and blend. Apply the cream to your face and neck and leave it on for fifteen minutes. Then rinse with cool water. The beta-carotene in the carrot, the vitamin E in the avocado, and the calcium in the heavy cream combine to boost collagen levels, lighten age spots, and improve overall skin tone. Do this once a week for a month and your face will glow.
  • To use oils to your advantage: coconut oil is a miracle moisturizer on dry hair, nails, feet, you name it. Olive oil is a legendary Mediterranean beauty secret for supple, soft skin — rub it on your skin, your feet, and your nails. To condition and repair damaged hair, combine 1/2 cup of olive oil and 2 to 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary and let it sit overnight. The next day, remove the rosemary, and massage the oil into your hair; let it soak in for ten to fifteen minutes, and rinse with warm water. Then shampoo to get rid of the oil residue. Sesame oil is another great all-over body moisturizer. Neutrogena makes a body oil that is super light and smells heavenly; apply it to damp skin after you shower for a smooth, subtle sheen that also accentuates muscle tone and enhances a tan. Right before I step onto the red carpet, I like to rub a little lavender oil on my arms and legs. It smells great, and it makes my skin soft and silky.
  • To make a lip exfoliator — you should try to exfoliate your lips once a week to get rid of dead skin and plump them up — mix a paste of honey and sugar and rub the mixture on your lips. Then use a toothbrush to slough off the dead skin.
  • To make an instant lip plumper, simply rub cinnamon on your lips. It’s that easy.
  • To make my ultra hand moisturizer, blend 1 egg yolk, 1 tablespoon of honey, 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 2 drops of lemon essential oil. Use it every time you wash your hands and your hands will be silky smooth in no time.

Lisa Rinna, author of Rinnavation: Getting Your Best Life Ever (Copyright © 2009 by Lisa Rinna), is an award-winning actress and television host, best known for her roles on Days of Our Lives and Melrose Place, as well as her co-hosting duties on Soap Talk, her appearances on Dancing with the Stars, and her red-carpet interviews on the TV Guide Network. She is the creator of a line of dance-themed exercise DVDs called Lisa Rinna Dance Body Beautiful, and she runs her own successful boutique, Belle Gray, with her husband, actor Harry Hamlin, with whom she has two daughters, Delilah and Amelia.



Fish Oil, A Real Magic Bullet for Radiant Skin

Supplements can be controversial, but as Kat James, the author of The Truth About Beauty, found, fish oil is one nutrient you can count on for real results for healthy skin and hair.

My very first, leap-of-faith, life-saving supplement regimen included fish oil, which — combined with alpha-lipoic acid and milk thistle — not only healed my sick liver (food couldn’t do it, as I had already been eating the healthiest way I could) but also completely transformed my skin and my moods. This was back at the dawn of the nineties, more than a decade before fish oil became known to the general public. Today, there are hundreds of studies on omega-3 oils showing dramatic reductions in everything from anger and anxiety to depression, from risk of sudden heart attack to insulin resistance, and from joint inflammation to bone loss and much more.

On the beauty front, the skin, weight loss, and hair benefits of fish oil and omega-3s has now been confirmed in dozens of published studies, showing significant improvement in nearly all major skin diseases involving inflammation, including eczema, psoriasis, and even sunburn. More recent studies confirm that fish oil protects against UV radiation, reducing the skin’s responses to both UVA (blistering) and UVB (redness) radiation. The anti-aging and even damage reversing effect from fish oil was confirmed in a study published in the Journal of Lipid Research.

The effect on my own skin from fish oil was nothing short of amazing. Within a couple of months of starting this regimen, my skin literally “forgot” that it had been continually irritated, prone to horrible rashes on my eyes and chin, and unquenchably dry all my life. It forgot that it needed heavy-duty lotions in order not to crawl with discomfort after every bath and shower. The space between my brows, the crannies on the sides of my nose, and my legs all failed to attend to their constant scaling. Dryness and inflammation had “left the building” along with my need for body moisturizers. I almost forgot to remember these things as they ended, but I’ll never forget what it was like to take for granted that I would have those problems for the rest of my life and then learn I was wrong.

My hair was transformed dramatically from my fish oil regimen, too. It went from being super-brittle, coarse, and dull to being glossy and silky, enabling me to grow it out long (and have it actually grow downward instead of outward) for the first time since my childhood. Beyond the fact that hair is a biological appendage of the skin (which is why people with oily skin have oily hair, and people with dry skin have dry hair), there are other possible explanations for fish oil’s effects on the hair. Hair health is particularly vulnerable to hormone imbalances and compromised circulation (many hair loss remedies focus on that). Stress is another cause for changes in the hair (alopecia areata, or temporary, nonhereditary hair loss, is caused by stress or trauma). Because omega-3s and fish oil have been proven to increase circulation, reduce the impact of stress, and help balance hormone activity, they offer proven benefit in each of these important contributors to hair health.

Several studies have compared the actions of fish oil to plant-based omega-3 oils and have found that fish oil supplementation more effectively raises the body’s levels of EPA and DHA (the components responsible for most of the documented health benefits). Getting EPA and DHA from flax oil requires a conversion by the body, which many people do not efficiently make. Still, flax is better than not supplementing with omega-3s at all (so strict vegans might be able to get all their omega-3s from flax, but might also be biologically challenged in converting it to anti-inflammatory compounds). Molecularly distilled fish oils are the gold standard in supplementation recommended by more and more mainstream, as well as alternative, MDs. Avoid cheap drug store brands. Ironically, getting all your fish oil from fish could give you unwanted outcomes unless you are careful about avoiding mercury, as high mercury levels not only contribute to heart problems but are also known to cause hair loss.

I have taken fish oil for nearly two decades now, with few interruptions. And those interruptions are valuable reminders of what it was like to live in both the physical and emotional discomfort in my own skin. Fish oil is unquestionable proof that real “magic bullets” sometimes do exist.

Nationally renowned beauty and holistic health expert Kat James, author of The Truth About Beauty: Transform Your Looks And Your Life From The Inside Out (Copyright © 2007 by Kat James), transformed her body and skin beyond recognition after a twelve-year eating disorder and the resulting liver disease nearly took her life. Through her book, national health columns, public television special, lectures, and acclaimed Total Transformation® programs, she has helped millions to mastermind their own healing transformations using science and strategy rather than suffering or extreme measures. James came to know the inside of the beauty industry from her many years as one of the most quoted experts and cosmetics-company spokespersons of the 1990s, and now offers a rare new perspective on enlightened, holistic self-transformation. Her advice has appeared in nearly every major women’s and national health magazine, including Vogue and O, The Oprah Magazine, as well as on the Today show. She is founder of and creator of Total Transformation® programs. Her clients have included celebrities such as Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker and world-class athletes.


Hair Care Products: Which Ones Do You Really Need?

Store shelves are lined with a dizzying array of shampoos, conditioners and styling products. Hair replacement surgeon Susan Craig Scott, author of The Hair Bible, tells you how to pick — and even make — the best ones for your type.

Ask yourself what specific benefits your hair type requires. Is your hair dry or damaged? Does it need more or less conditioning? Should you choose a clarifying shampoo to strip away residue that can build up on hair? Do you like the fragrance? Do you want a shampoo that will make your hair shine? Ingredients like macadamia nut, olive, jojoba oil, or shea butter have been used for years to give hair a shiny coat. Two-in-one shampoos are another option and ideal for women who want to save time, money, and space in their gym bags.

Make your own: Skip the soap, which can dry both the hair and scalp and may contain chemicals that penetrate the bloodstream through hair follicles. Instead, add a few drops of lemon juice to your regular shampoo each time you wash or combine triple-strength herbal tea (chamomile for light hair, rosemary or sage for dark) to an equal amount of your shampoo. You can also moisturize dry, brittle hair with vegetable oil to create an oil-enriched shampoo; add unflavored gelatin or an egg to your regular formula for a protein shampoo; or combine alcohol and water (1 to 3 parts) for a suds-less shampoo.

The most important ingredients to look for in choosing a conditioner are fatty acids. Look at the first five ingredients listed on the label and you’ll see mentions of acetyl or stearyl alcohol and other ingredients ending in “amine,” which are designed to combat static. A creamy-feeling formula, one that feels like a hand cream, will work best. It’s also relevant to choose a conditioner that’s designed for your hairstyle, like a volume conditioner to give hair a lift or a curl-enhancing conditioner to play up your curls.

Make your own: Avocado adds protein and oil for shine and manageability. Egg yolk mixed with two teaspoons of castor oil and one teaspoon of rum moisturizes dry hair. Mayonnaise mixed with one beaten egg yolk and one teaspoon each of vinegar and powdered kelp adds shine and body. Honey, on its own, conditions any shade. Massage any of these natural conditioners into dry hair, cover with a shower cap, and allow to permeate for 30–60 minutes before shampooing. To speed up the process, wrap hot, moist towels around your head.

Different products do the trick, according to your hair’s texture. But here are some guidelines: Hair sprays work well for any hair type; choose one with a lighter chemical grade if you have fine hair that gets easily weighed down. Gels add texture, volume, and shine, increase holding power, control frizz, provide moisture, and smooth hair. Choose a lightweight formula for thin hair, save the extra-hold for thicker, wavier locks. The same rules basically apply for other styling products. Mousse is designed to increase hold and shine and combat static; choose a formula that can be easily brushed out so hair isn’t sticky. Pomades increase the degree of hold, texture, and shine. Wax sticks add shine and help lock in moisture.

Make your own: Instead of gel, mix noncarbonated or flat beer with water as a final rinse to control flyaway hair and keep it in place. Try a stiffly beaten egg white as a protein-enriching styling mousse. Simmer one tablespoon of flaxseeds in 1 cup of water until slightly thickened for a setting lotion. Substitute your regular hairspray with a spritz of lemon juice from a misting bottle to add resiliency, body, and highlights. Put your wax stick on the back burner and try blending 1 teaspoon of instant, dry milk (whole milk for normal to dry hair, skim for oily hair) with 1 cup water to create a wave. For homemade pomade, brew double-strength rosemary tea to preserve curls in damp weather (use only on darker hair colors).

These chemical treatments are designed to help change the color, texture, and structure of your hair. For best results, try both types of treatments in a salon under professional guidance; if performed incorrectly, the results can be disastrous. And don’t attempt to create your own formulas. The risk of seriously damaging your hair isn’t worth playing chemist.

Make your own:
Chamomile and Calendula Hair Lightener: The bright yellow of chamomile and calendula flowers resembles the sun and is bound to brighten your hair the same way. This temporary rinse lightens and brightens blond hair, increasing its softness and adding movement. Gentle highlights add texture and depth of color. Botanical formula: 4 cups water, 2 cups dried chamomile flowers, 2 cups dried calendula flowers, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon lemon extract.

In a saucepan, bring water, chamomile, and calendula to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from heat, strain liquid into a bowl or pitcher, and stir in lemon juice and extract. When cool enough for application, stand in your shower and slowly pour the solution over your head, massaging it into your hair to cover all strands thoroughly. Cover hair with a plastic shower cap. Leave on for at least 40 minutes, then remove shower cap and rinse hair thoroughly with warm water. Use every other day for lasting effects.

Black Tea–Rosemary Rinse for Dark Brown Hair: Use the strong qualities of black teas and richly roasted coffees to add natural dark brown highlights to hair without damaging it. Tea and coffee, which are known to stain, are perfect for coloring brown hair. Rosemary is also an exceptional coloring agent for brown hair. Use the following recipe every other day on light to dark brown hair to add richness to brown hair of any shade. For a milder effect, use one less teaspoon of coffee and one less tea bag.

Botanical formula: 7 bags black tea or 2 1/2 tablespoons loose tea, 2 tablespoons chopped oregano leaves, 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary leaves, 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon instant coffee, 1 tablespoon lemon extract. In a saucepan over medium heat, mix the tea, oregano, and rosemary with the water; steep for 45–50 minutes. Remove tea bags and filter out oregano, rosemary and loose tea if used. Place liquid in a small pitcher. Add coffee and lemon extract to liquid and stir until combined. Let cool, then while standing in your shower slowly pour the solution over your head, massaging it into your hair and scalp and covering all strands thoroughly. Cover hair with a plastic shower cap for 30 minutes. Remove shower cap and rinse hair thoroughly with warm water.

Oil Treatment: Weekly hot oil treatments can add luster and shine to the hair. Oils that most effectively penetrate the hair include olive oil, almond oil, avocado oil, safflower oil, and corn oil. Here’s how to do it yourself: Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a small saucepan over a very low flame until just warm. Remove from heat and let cool for about one minute. Massage warm oil into your hair. Cover hair with a plastic shower cap and then with a towel wrap. Leave on for 30 minutes, then rinse and shampoo as usual. Or, try this creative concoction from Philip B.:

Honey-Maple Hot Oil Treatment Botanical Formula: 1 teaspoon canola oil, 1 teaspoon margarine (softened), 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon coconut oil or extract, 1 teaspoon orange oil or extract, 1 tablespoon light sesame oil, 1 teaspoon macadamia nut oil, 1 teaspoon avocado oil, 1 teaspoon maple syrup, 1 teaspoon honey. Put all ingredients into a small saucepan, except for the syrup and honey. Heat over a very low flame until just warmed (about 2–3 minutes). Remove from heat. Cool for about 1 minute and add syrup and honey. Test with your finger to make sure it’s not too hot to apply to scalp. Massage oil mixture into hair and then cover with a plastic shower cap. Leave on for 10 to 20 minutes. Remove shower cap and apply a mixture of equal parts shampoo and water and work into hair. Lather and rinse.

Susan Craig Scott, M.D., author of The Hair Bible: The Ultimate Guide to Healthy, Beautiful Hair Forever (Copyright © 2003 by TimeLife Media, Inc.), is a cosmetic and hair replacement surgeon who received her medical degree from Columbia University. Board certified in surgery and plastic surgery, she is an attending physician at Beth Israel Hospital; Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital; Lenox Hill Hospital; and the Hospital for Joint Diseases. She has appeared on such television programs as The Today Show and Eye to Eye and since 1996 she has been team physician to the WNBA’s New York Liberty.



7 Easy, Natural Eye Treatments You Can Make at Home

You don’t need to spend a fortune on eye creams. You can make these masks and treatments using ingredients found right in your kitchen. From Return to Beauty by Narine Nikogosian

If we are fortunate enough to have our eyesight, we are able to enjoy all of the world’s magnificence and beauty. My son’s smile, the canyons I drive through after work, even my husband snoring on the sofa — I take in my life with my own beautiful eyes.

Happy, sad, worried, or frightened — these windows to the soul also tell others all they need to know about us. If your eyes are watery, this means there are vitamins missing from your diet. Also, the older we get, the drier our eyes can become. These problems can be fixed with adjustments in our lifestyle and diet.

We need to take good care of our eyes. Good eye vitamins are A, E, C, B, and B2. Foods that are rich in these vitamins include carrots, green beans, green onions, melons, tomatoes, bananas, potatoes, cabbage, wheat, walnuts, garlic, chicken, pinto beans, milk, and fish.

Avoiding the following habits will help your eyes maintain health: overworking, too much computer time, too much television time, smoking, alcohol, and not enough sleep.


To rejuvenate your eyes after a long day, fill a large bowl with water and add 1 teaspoon of sea salt. Soak your face in the water, opening and closing your eyes several times. Soak clean cotton balls in green tea and swipe them over closed eyes.

Peel and seed a slice of pumpkin. Cook it in 2 cups of water until soft, then mash it and add 1 teaspoon of honey. Place inside clean gauze, then place over your eyes and relax for 20 minutes.

Peel 1 small potato. Shred it, then place it in clean gauze. Cover your eyes with this and relax for 15 minutes. Rinse off with cold chamomile tea.

In a small bowl, mix 1 teaspoon of chopped parsley and 1 cup of milk. Soak clean cotton balls in the mixture and swipe them over closed eyes.

As well as changing those habits that help to create dark pigmentation under the eyes, try one or all of these recipes. (Sometimes darkness under our eyes or on our eyelids is genetic, but these recipes help lighten its appearance.)

Dark Eyelids
Place 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh parsley on your eyelids and rest for 20 to 25 minutes. Rinse off with warm water.

Dark Under-Eye Circles
Place 2 teaspoons of organic cottage cheese on clean cotton balls. Pat gently under your eyes and leave on for 20 minutes. Rinse off with warm water.
In a small saucepan, put 3 teaspoons of diced cucumber into 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Mix in 1 teaspoon of honey. Allow to cool. Dip a cotton ball in the mixture and pat gently under your eye area. Leave on for 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse off with cold water.

Narine Nikogosian, author of the Return to Beauty: Old-World Recipes for Great Radiant Skin book (Copyright © 2009 by Narine Nikogosian) and the Return to Beauty Vook, trained in nursing with a concentration in dermatology in her native Armenia and Russia before she came to the United States. She ran the successful Starface salon in Glendale, California, and later built a well-respected reputation as a talented aesthetician at Ole Henriksen Face/Body on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Her clients include many of Hollywood’s top stars, including Jessica Alba, Carmen Electra, Charlize Theron, Ellen DeGeneres, and Kiefer Sutherland.


Top Tips for Avoiding Razor Burn

Almost every woman experiences razor burn at some point, says Dr. Amy Wechsler, author of The Mind-Beauty Connection. Here’s how to avoid it.

Q. I get wicked razor burn sometimes on my legs and under my arms. Is there any foolproof way to avoid this? Or treat it so it doesn’t happen again? What am I doing wrong with my shaving?

A. A razor burn results when the follicles become irritated. You’ll see the redness within minutes to hours. It can happen frequently if you shave too closely, too harshly, too quickly, or on skin that’s not softened by the warm water enough to endure the abrasion. Almost every woman experiences razor burn at some point; avoiding it to begin with is the best medicine, since the rash can be painful. If you try to shave again too soon, it can avalanche into a series of razor burns as you continue to irritate your skin.

To treat a razor burn get yourself an over-the-counter tube of hydrocortisone (0.5 to 1 percent strength) and apply it to the affected area twice a day. Switch from regular shaving cream or gel to a hypoallergenic and fragrance-free variety; try Aveeno Ultracalming Shave Gel or Kiehl’s Simply Mahvelous Legs Shave Cream (and finish it off with Kiehl’s Simply Mahvelous Legs After-Shave Lotion). Alternatively, you can also go for Clinique’s line of shaving products; even though they are marked for men they can work wonders on women’s legs, too! If you’ve been using a razor with three or more blades, decrease to a two-bladed razor.

To avoid razor burn: Use good razors, and change your blade at least once a week; shave toward the end of your shower after your skin has softened from the heat, use a shaving cream or gel, go slowly and don’t push into your skin, and don’t go over the same area twice. If razor burn is a persistent problem, consider laser treatment, which damages the hair follicles and prevents hair growth. Laser hair removal typically requires a series of treatments (five to seven), followed by a touch-up every six months to a year.

Amy Wechsler, M.D., is a dermatologist and a psychiatrist, one of only two doctors in the country who are board-certified in both specialties. She is also the author of The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Reverse Stress Aging and Reveal More Youthful, Beautiful Skin (Copyright © 2008 by RealAge Corporation). Evidence of the mind-beauty connection walks into her office every day: “Premature aging and adult acne are the two most common skin problems I see, and stress and exhaustion are often at the bottom of both,” she says. Dr. Wechsler practices in New York City, where she lives with her husband and two kids. She is a member of the RealAge Scientific Advisory Board.



Antiaging Products: What Really Works

American women drop nearly $2 billion on antiaging creams and potions. Are they worth it? Dr. Amy Wechsler, author of The Mind-Beauty Connection, has the answer.

In 2005, American women dropped a cool $664 million on antiaging creams and potions, and that was just in department stores. Today, that figure has jumped to nearly $2 billion. We’re shelling out big bucks for ingredients like oil from the seeds of hand-harvested arctic cranberries and Koishimaru silk extracted from delicate cocoons. And if you add cosmetics in general that we buy to spruce up our natural looks (or cover up those blemishes and uneven skin tones) then the number skyrockets well into the billions.

Maddeningly, much of that money is being spent on products that have little effect on skin’s aging process, because to halt the march of fine lines, sag, and pigmentation changes, you have to change skin’s deeper layers. And if any of the bazillion department and drugstore products that claim to erase age’s trademarks could actually do that — say, by increasing cell turnover in the dermis — the FDA would classify them as drugs. A few do exist, but you can only buy them with a doctor’s prescription.

Why are so many cosmetic claims so convincing? Five reasons:

  • Clever writing. Read the claims carefully and you’ll realize they’re full of qualifying words like “aim to” and “designed to diminish” and “reduce the appearance of” and… well, you get the idea. These promises are etched in anything but stone.
  • Scientific trappings. Even if a product says, “clinically shown to…” remember that it’s one thing to research how a component of coffee, such as caffeine, say, affects mouse skin, and quite another to claim that adding coffee to a lotion will perk up human skin. Also, little cosmetic research meets the scientific gold standard — that is, a randomized, double-blind crossover study, performed by a qualified researcher (who is usually affiliated with a university or teaching hospital) with no financial stake in the outcome. The studies are usually very small, typically lack a control for comparison, and are paid for by cosmetics companies, which have a vested interest in the results.
  • The placebo effect. If you’ve just plunked down $27.50, or $275, for a moisturizer, you want it to make your skin look younger, smoother, firmer, so it’s easy to see changes for the better. And let’s not forget the psychological aspect of buying something luxuriously packaged. The packaging alone can lead you to believe it will work! Savvy beauty companies don’t skimp on presentation, especially when they command mucho dinero for their goods.
  • No cops. Cosmetics aren’t regulated by the FDA, so if a product doesn’t diminish fine lines, well, nothing really happens. And if you’re not sure it did anything unusual, but it smelled wonderful and felt terrific, you might buy it again anyway.
  • Vague promises. How many times have you seen a product marketed with the phrase “Clinically proven to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by up to 33 percent,” or some such? Have you ever asked yourself, what does that mean, exactly? You don’t live in a clinical setting, so does that percentage work in the real world? The term clinically proven sounds persuasive, but as we just saw under “scientific trappings,” it’s often more marketing than science. Generally, the phrase means that at least one component of the product has been shown, in one study or another, to have had some biological actions, such as helping wounds heal faster by stimulating cell division. But it’s not necessarily true that it has been demonstrated by a well-controlled, independent clinical study to have significant effects in skin.

Amy Wechsler, M.D., is a dermatologist and a psychiatrist, one of only two doctors in the country who are board-certified in both specialties. She also is the author of The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Reverse Stress Aging and Reveal More Youthful, Beautiful Skin (Copyright © 2008 by RealAge Corporation). Evidence of the mind-beauty connection walks into her office every day: “Premature aging and adult acne are the two most common skin problems I see, and stress and exhaustion are often at the bottom of both,” she says. Dr. Wechsler practices in New York City, where she lives with her husband and two kids. She is a member of the RealAge Scientific Advisory Board.