Quick Tips: Do Face-Firming Products Really Work?

Do anti-wrinkle products really work?
Do anti-wrinkle products really work?
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If you believed every claim on the beauty products in your drugstore, you'd probably think that you could get soft, blemish- and cellulite-free skin by simply slathering on an overpriced lotion. The Fountain of Youth doesn't exist in any bottle, tube or tub, but is there any truth to these beauty claims?

There are plenty of over-the-counter face creams on the market that claim to reduce the signs of aging, says Chris Adigun, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. But whether they actually work or not is another story. "The efficacy behind those topical therapies is still in review," she says. "Right now, there is no specific face-firming product that I would personally recommend."

So how do you get firmer skin? The first thing to focus on is collagen, the tissue that gives skin its elasticity and strength. Increasing collagen, or preventing the loss of collagen, is the secret to staying wrinkle-free. Though the research fails to find conclusive evidence that a single ingredient can firm your skin, several ingredients used in both over-the-counter and prescription creams have shown promise.

The most effective are compounds derived from Vitamin A, which seem to encourage the growth of collagen and help reduce and prevent wrinkles. The prescription-strength compound is known as retinoic acid or tretinoin; the over-the-counter version is called retinol. [Source: Lyon] Just be sure to check the label of your product: The higher retinol is on the list of ingredients, the more likely it is to help your skin.

But retinols aren't the only ingredients that help you get firm skin. Other components to look out for include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) -- such as glycolic, lactic, tartaric and citric acids. These have also been shown to help slough away dead skin and help expose younger-looking skin underneath.

Research also suggests that products containing soy may help stimulate collagen growth underneath the surface of the skin, allowing skin to maintain its elasticity. [Source: Draelos] Copper peptide, dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE, a type of fish oil), and L-ascorbic acid (a derivative of vitamin C) also may have collagen-boosting benefits. [Source: Cleveland Clinic]

Overall, your best protection against sagging skin won't come from a firming cream at all. Instead, it will come from wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen, every day, with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30. By choosing a moisturizer with built-in SPF, says Adigun, you'll limit your exposure to harmful, wrinkle-causing rays and help keep your skin looking youthful and healthy.

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  • Adigun,Chris, MD. Personal interview. July 10, 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Understanding the Ingredients in Skin Care Products." (July 13, 2013) http://my.clevelandclinic.org/healthy_living/Skin_Care/hic_Understanding_the_Ingredients_in_Skin_Care_Products.aspx
  • Draelos, Z. Cosmeceuticals. In: Alam M, Pongprutthipan M, editors. Body Rejuvenation. 1st ed. New York, NY: Springer; 2010: Chap 8.
  • Edgar, Julie. "Retinoids for Aging Skin." WebMD. (July 13, 2013) http://www.webmd.com/beauty/aging/retinoids-for-aging-skin
  • Roemer, Molly. "10 Best Facial-Firming Products." TotalBeauty.com. July 13, 2010. (July 13, 2013) http://www.totalbeauty.com/content/gallery/best-facial-firming-products
  • Stout, Liz. "Do Quick-Fix Firming Creams Really Work?" Daily Mail Online. (July 13, 2013) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-68170/Do-quick-fix-firming-creams-really-work.html