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Makeup Gets in on the Anti-Aging Craze

Foundations are adding such ingredients as retinols and antioxidants that claim to help slow the aging process. To see what's beyond the surface, check our list.

Stacie Stukin

Special to the Los Angeles Times

August 27, 2009

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YOU MULTI-TASK all day - text and drive, talk and type, drink water infused with vitamins. So why shouldn't your makeup do double-duty too?

A new generation of foundations aims to do just that, promising more than an even skin tone and a dewy finish. Fortified with ingredients usually reserved for skin care products, these foundations say they can diminish fine lines and wrinkles, treat acne, firm the skin - even help reverse aging.

Some, including Peter Thomas Roth's new Un-Wrinkle Pressed Powder, contain a cocktail of active ingredients, including antioxidants and a synthetic version of snake venom that's actually called SNY-AKE (it claims a Botox-like effect, reducing wrinkles by inhibiting muscle movement). True Cosmetics' Protective Mineral Foundation is one of many that boasts "cosmeceutical" ingredients, which claim drug-like benefits and in many - but not all - cases, have legitimate research to back them up. Idebenone, the cosmeceutical in True, is a free-radical fighter, and the company cites clinical studies showing that it improves the appearance of sun damage, age spots and fine lines and wrinkles.

Others, such as Estee Lauder's Resilience Lift Extreme Ultra Firming makeup, tout their collagen-boosting capabilities via peptides and the moisturizing properties of hyaluronic acid -- two substances touted to have skin rejuvenating properties.

Naturally, the trend is driven by the growing anti-aging skin care market. According to the market research company Mintel, from 2004 to 2006, makeup brands with anti-aging benefits sparked a $39-million growth in the $6-billion cosmetics category - and that's just for brands sold in drug and food outlets.

"There is sort of this race to be the one product that is all things to all women," says Kat Fay, a senior health and beauty analyst at Mintel. "It's anti-aging, it gives you a tan, firms your skin, evens out your skin tone and does your taxes too!"

But the products are also selling to younger women, who are looking for prophylactic beauty strategies. "New science, technology and ingredients are at the core of this," Fay says. "The idea is we can build a better you."

But some dermatologists question using makeup as an approach to anti-aging or skin treatment. "When you put these cosmeceutical ingredients in makeup, theoretically they should have some effect, but if someone has a skin condition they want to treat, something like acne or rosacea or even fine lines or wrinkles, they'll probably see better results from a physician-prescribed therapy," says Jenny Kim, associate professor of medicine and dermatology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Since these aren't approved by the FDA, which requires a certain amount of testing, it's hard to judge the efficacy."

It's also impossible to know exactly how much of these ingredients are in the product. "Ingredient lists are tough," says cosmetic chemist Joe DiNardo, vice president of Pharma Cosmetix Research. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, the most being at the top of the list and the least at the bottom. "But when you get to ingredients that are 1% or less of the formulation - where some of those actives may be - they can be placed in any order," he says. "That's usually where you get all those buzz ingredients that may not even be at a functional level."

Still, many of these ingredients do have legitimate research backing up their claims, says Suzanne Bruce, a Houston dermatologist who has written in medical journals about the effectiveness of cosmeceuticals. So, she says, using a so-called functional foundation can't hurt, and "it might even help."

But how much? And when will it not make a difference at all? Here's a look at the major ingredients on the expanding list of makeup with benefits. Now, if only there were a lipstick that lowers cholesterol.

RETINOLS

What are they: Vitamin A compounds or derivatives that increase skin turnover, thereby exfoliating and helping to rebuild collagen. They are often called retinyl palmitate in ingredient lists, and they have been shown to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, even out skin tone and improve skin texture.

Where to find them: Retinols are extremely common, but L'Oreal is emphasizing them in its new Visible Lift Line Minimizing & Tone Enhancing Makeup ($14), which also has SPF 17 to prevent skin damage and a film-forming ingredient that tightens the skin similar to the way a clay mask does - think Spanx for the face.

Will they work: "Retinols, especially retinoic acid found in prescriptions like Tazarac and Retin-A, are where you get the most bang for your buck," says Kim, the UCLA dermatologist. "They have been shown to help reverse photo damage and help with fine lines and wrinkles."

Research suggests they may be the best over-the-counter option to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. "Vitamin A-derived ingredients are the only ones that have truly been tested to show they reduce wrinkles," says Nick Morante, a cosmetic chemist.

ANTIOXIDANTS

What are they: Found in ingredients such as vitamins A, C, E, B complex, green tea, selenium and coenzyme Q10, they help stimulate healthy cell growth and protect skin against UV exposure and free radicals.

Where to find them: Prescriptives' new All Skins Mineral makeup foundation ($32.50, plus a $30 brush) combines vitamins C and E with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide for broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection. Clinique's Repairwear Anti-Aging Makeup ($28.50) boasts the antioxidants mimosa bark extract and vitamin C.

Will they work: There is research that demonstrates topical application of some antioxidants is effective, but Morante says the most effective way to deliver antioxidants is through skin care products, rather than makeup, because makeup is designed to sit on the surface of skin, not penetrate.

However, he adds that it's possible to get the same level of antioxidants in makeup as in treatment products -- look for products that contain several antioxidants rather than just one, which indicates well-considered formulation and, most likely, better effectiveness than a formula that relies on just one antioxidant ingredient.

HYALURONIC ACID

What is it: One of the main components of the skin, it helps preserve structure and moisture. As we age, the amount in our skin decreases. Injectable fillers such as Restylane and Juvéderm use a man-made equivalent. But in topical skin care, hyaluronic acid is used primarily for its moisturizing properties.

Where to find it: Hyaluronic acid is often paired with peptides. But in Jane Iredale Liquid Minerals ($46) makeup, spheres of titanium- and zinc-based foundation are suspended in a serum that contains hyaluronic acid as well as free radical-fighting vitamin C and Coenzyme Q10.

Will it work: Hyaluronic acid has been in skin care products and cosmetics for a couple of years. Medical journals have published no clinical studies on topical application, Kim says, and "to claim that hyaluronic can rejuvenate the skin by applying it topically is probably a stretch, but it's very good for the skin because it's very moisturizing."

SALICYLIC ACID

What is it: A plant-derived acid that controls the Ph levels on the surface of the skin, preventing bacteria that can cause acne.

Where to find it: Neutrogena Skinclearing Oil-Free makeup ($11.50) has oil-absorbing powders to help control shine, plus vitamins A, C and E, as well as 0.5% salicylic acid to help prevent break-outs. Almay Clear Complexion Liquid makeup ($12) has 0.6% salicylic acid and a botanical called meadowsweet, which has vitamin C and naturally occurring salicylic acid.

Will it work: Salicylic acid has been around for about a century and can be used as high as 2% in over-the-counter products. UCLA's Kim cautions that it might irritate sensitive skin but adds, "We know salicylic acid helps with acne, and even if it's not in as high quantities as in some skin care products, that doesn't mean it couldn't help someone with occasional break-outs."

PEPTIDES AND MORE

What are they: Some peptides (chains of amino acids) function as messengers in the skin, allowing the epidermis and dermis layers to communicate more efficiently, and some stimulate collagen production; others claim a Botox-like effect by sending a signal through the skin to the muscles to "turn down" the strength of contractions - with the idea that as the muscles contract less, lines will be less noticeable. If your product lists hexapeptides, polypeptides, GABA or SYN-AKE (a synthetic form of snake venom that relaxes muscles), you're in the peptide ballpark.

Where to find them: Revlon's Age Defying Makeup ($14) has a patented blend of hexapeptides and botanicals called Botafirm. Smashbox's newest powder foundation, called Halo Hydrating Perfecting Powder ($66, including brush), has hexapeptides (and goji berry antioxidants), which it claims reduce fine lines and wrinkles by rebuilding the skin.

Will they work: No medical journal studies prove peptide efficacy, Kim says. "The idea is reasonable to deliver small peptides though the skin but I think we still need some time to evaluate and see if these really work."