Buyer beware: Experts urge caution when using unproven anti-aging treatments

June 15, 2012

Buyer beware: Experts urge caution when using unproven anti-aging treatments
Buyer beware: Experts urge caution when using unproven anti-aging treatments

Many people who want to achieve a more youthful appearance often use creams and lotions in addition to any surgical or nonsurgical cosmetic procedure such as injections of Botulinium Toxin Type A or hyaluronic acid, laser treatments, chemical peels, microdermabrasion or a facelift. However, a US News and World health report warns that many commonly-used over-the-counter anti-aging treatments may not deliver results - and some may even be dangerous.

The report emphasizes the need for consumers and patients to be careful when purchasing expensive creams, taking vitamin supplements and receiving anti-aging hormone treatments. Much of the field is unregulated and might do more than waste money. In March 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned against mercury in some skin products that have found their way illegally into the country.

"Exposure to mercury can have serious health consequences," said FDA medical advisor Dr. Charles Lee. "It can damage the kidneys and the nervous system, and interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children."

"The FDA classifies creams and lotions as cosmetics, which are defined as having no medical value," explained the Mayo Clinic. "So the FDA regulates them less strictly than it does drugs. This means that products don't undergo the same rigorous testing for safety and effectiveness that topically applied medications undergo before approval to go on the market."

An August 2011 study conducted by Consumer Reports found that most wrinkle creams are largely ineffective. Nearly 80 participants used various lotions for a period of 12 weeks and had their appearance evaluated by sensory panelists who compared the appearance of their skin through photographs at various intervals throughout the study. Overall, the study found that these anti-wrinkle creams are only slightly effective, and not for everyone who uses them.

Experts say the efficacy of any over-the-counter anti-aging product may depend on your skin type, how often it is used and how you use it. Individuals interested in keeping their skin looking youthful should take common sense steps to protect it such as using sunscreen, eating healthy and avoiding smoking.

A 2007 Aesthetic Surgery Journal article found that many over-the-counter topical products do not have any science behind their claims. Their studies found that while Vitmain C, alpha-hydroxy acids and some ingredients are proven, many ingredients in products cannot live up to their advertising. Researchers also found that keeping the skin hydrated and moisturized did the most to help the overall appearance of the skin.

Those who want help keeping the skin healthy and young-looking should consider discussing their options with a licensed, board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist.

The mission of the Aesthetic Society includes medical education, public education and patient advocacy. Plastic Surgery News Briefs are summaries of current stories found through various news and magazine outlets that relate to or mention plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. The views expressed in these news articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Aesthetic Society, but are merely published as an educational service to our members and the general public. For additional information on these subjects and other plastic surgery related topics, please go to

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