Even if you take in the suggested daily amounts of vitamins and minerals, your skin might not get enough nutrients to be at its fighting best when confronting ruinous free radicals. Because it is thought that only one percent or so of vitamins and trace elements ingested through food becomes available to the skin, topical face creams have been developed as a more direct route to supplying the skin with nutrients.
The face creams are often referred to as "cosmeceuticals"—they are like pharmaceuticals in that they are sold for quasi-medical benefits, beyond mere aesthetic improvements, and are like cosmetics in that they are not intended to treat or prevent disease and don't need FDA's approval before being sold. Nutrient-based skin creams that have been extensively studied include:
- Retinoids: Probably the best-known retinoid is Retin-A (tretinoin). These members of the vitamin A family have been shown to effectively rejuvenate sun-damaged skin. Though some versions are sold over the counter, retinoids are most effective—and quite possibly only effective—in prescription strengths.
- Antioxidants: The antioxidant vitamins A, C and E are commonly included in skin creams to counter the damaging effects of free radicals. A recent study suggests that these types of topical vitamins can indeed protect the skin, providing a break from fighting UV rays and even allowing the skin to repair its own lines and wrinkles to some degree.
Dermatologist Perricone's skin cream recommendations for "beautiful skin for the rest of your life" include these cosmeceuticals: an alpha lipoic face cream (designed to increase circulation and achieve a healthy glow); alpha lipoic eye therapy with vitamin C ester eye therapy (to reduce eye puffiness and erase dark circles); and concentrated vitamin C ester cream containing DMAE, short for dimethylaminoethanol (to tighten and smooth the skin).
Because cosmeceutical manufacturers can sell their products without FDA approval based on a showing that the product is safe and effective and its claims truthful, it's up to consumers to decide for themselves if product claims are believable.
"The problem with cosmeceuticals and their claims," says dermatologist Lowe, "is that proof with controlled studies is largely missing in the industry." Considering using a cosmeceutical product but have some doubts? Talk to your dermatologist, Lowe recommends.