OTC Anti-Aging Products: Hype or Hope?

While the potential benefits are many, clinical studies are few

Findings from a study* released August 13, 2007 revealed that a limited amount of clinical research exists to prove the effectiveness of many over-the-counter (OTC) anti-aging products. The study is published in the July/August 2007 issue of the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS).

Click here to view the study.

OTC anti-aging products represent a billion dollar industry: Americans spent more than $2 billion on these products in 2000 alone. While a limited body of evidence exists to prove the efficacy of many of these products, their popularity continues to increase.


The Journal article reviews the published results of existing scientific research on ingredients commonly found in OTC anti-aging creams. The review evaluates numerous different investigations of the effectiveness of vitamins, alpha-hydroxyl acids, moisturizers, antioxidants, pentapeptides and botanicals.

  • Vitamin A, or retinols such as RetinA®, has shown great promise, however their effects have only been proven in prescription-strength formulations; OTC benefits have not been determined. A wide range of studies using prescription antioxidants have proven that application of OTC compounds containing these acids can improve the skin’s appearance, wrinkling, pigmentation and roughness by increased fibroblast growth and collagen synthesis.
  • Minimal studies have been performed on the effects of Vitamin B on the skin, though what evidence does exist is promising. One study comparing the effects on a single side of the face have shown that the vitamin can reduce hyperpigmentation, yellowing of the skin, red blotches and fine wrinkles and lines.
  • Extensive testing of the effectiveness of Vitamin C, alpha-hydroxyl acids and pentapeptides has scientifically proven the anti-aging benefits of this water-soluble, and most plentiful in the skin, antioxidant. Regular topical collagen and dermal papillae with new blood vessels are formed.
  • Moisturizers have not been extensively researched, but have been shown to improve the hydration and appearance of skin. Moisturizers can make the skin look soft and flexible by binding water and preventing water loss.
  • Botanicals such as grape seed extract, soy compounds, green tea and Gingko biloba are relatively new in the market and have gained great popularity in recent years, but their healing qualities have yet to be proven through randomized, placebo-controlled human trials. Many cell culture and animal experiments have been conducted to investigate the efficacy of these botanical compounds, however, indicating the potential for many beneficial effects such as increased collagen expression, improved antioxidant activity, accelerated healing and enhanced hydration.

* Catherine K. Huang, MD and Timonthy A. Miller, MD are co-authors of the clinical study, “The Truth About Over-the-Counter Topical Anti-Aging Products: A Comprehensive Review.” Dr. Huang is a resident in the Department of Head & Neck Surgery, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and Dr. Miller is Professor and Chief, Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at the same institution.

As a result of this study, consumers have access to more scientific-based information to help them make educated decisions about skincare treatments. It is important that patients discuss options available to them with their doctor.


The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery is the leading organization of board-certified plastic surgeons, specializing in cosmetic plastic surgery. ASAPS active-member plastic surgeons are certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

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