By Kyle Roderick Eager to appeal to maximum numbers of youth- and beauty-conscious baby boomers, certain skin care companies are attempting to legitimize their anti-aging preparations by subjecting them to scientific research and/or promoting their medical and cosmetic use. Medical studies have shown that oxygen in the skin decreases with age, sun exposure, frequent air travel, smoking and various other environmental and health factors. With decreased oxygen, free radicals, or destructive molecules which are believed to cause aging, are created in the skin and cause damage. Until recently, the only medically documented method for increasing oxygen in the skin, and thus nourishing it and protecting it from premature aging, was by enclosing patients in hyperbaric oxygen chambers (used in hospitals to heal burns, wounds and skin grafts.) However, some preparations on the market have undergone research proving that they can increase oxygen levels in the skin, reduce wrinkles, and help prevent further skin aging. In other words, there may be more than a little hope for preventing visible signs of skin aging amid all the beauty industry hype. "While these findings are somewhat significant, consumers should bear in mind that they constitute preliminary research," says Bayly Ledes, editor of ATHENA, a new national beauty magazine published by the Hachette Filipacchi organization. "These studies have not been widely replicated and they only concern one anti-oxidant formula," she notes. This means, among other things, that "Other skin care products containing anti-oxidants may lack efficacy."
According to a recent 18-month satellite study of the Supplementation, Vitamin and Mineral and Anti-Oxidant (SU.VI.MAX) trial, applying anti-oxidant vitamins and minerals directly to the skin may significantly reduce and promote natural self-repair of some long-term damage caused by environmental exposure. The eight-year trial, being conducted by a non-profit group of independent French scientists and dermatologists, is supported by grants from various industries such as food, pharmaceutical and travel. SU.VI.MAX and Estee Lauder collaborated on a study evaluating the benefits of topical application of anti-oxidants. According to Daniel Maes, Ph.D., Lauder vice-president of research and development, "We examined the damage caused by environmental and oxidative stress, and tested the efficacy of an anti-oxidant lotion containing seven different molecules, including carnotic acid, which is an extract of rosemary."
Scientists measured skin aging in women living in Tours, Grenoble and Toulouse -- French cities with varying levels of UV radiation. Every six months, scientists took impressions with silicone replicating "mask" material of lines and wrinkles near the eyes. Dermatologists then evaluated these marks with the help of computer analysis.
They also charted skin thickness with ultrasound and with a ballistometer, which measures skin elasticity and firmness. Dr. Maes says, "It took 18 months for the reduction of premature aging to be measurable in those who used the anti-oxidant formula." Also after 18 months, the group which used a placebo lotion registered increases in lines and wrinkles and loss of skin firmness and elasticity. However, says Dr. Maes, "We saw no difference in the skin condition of the subjects who ingested the anti-oxidants after 18 months. Results of this research have been presented at dermatological/cosmetic industry gatherings such as the June 1998 Fourth International Conference on Cosmetic Efficacy in Cologne, Germany. Estee Lauder products containing SU.VI.MAX anti-oxidants include the newly upgraded DayWear Cream and DayWear Lotion. Noting that anti-oxidants have no effect on moisturization, Dr. Maes says that a new anti-oxidant moisturizer is being developed by Estee Lauder, along with foundation and lipstick lines. These should be available in spring 1999. Other products that have been shown to increase oxygen penetration to the skin are in the Karin Herzog line. Before Estee Lauder's anti-oxidant research was announced, NBC's "Dateline" program conducted a study using a Transcutaneous Oxygen Monitor to test claims made by the skin care industry regarding increasing oxygen levels in the skin. Various creams and procedures, such as blowing oxygen onto the skin, were tested. The only product proven to work was Herzog's Vita-A-Kombi cream, which contains stabilized oxygen. It was invented by Swiss researcher, Dr. Paul Herzog, inventor of the artificial respirator.
Dr. Herzog's oxygen emulsion creams were originally developed to aid skin recuperation after trauma such as burns, surgery, skin grafts and radiation dermatitis. Since the early 1970s, these creams have been used around the world by burn specialists, dermatologists and plastic surgeons to improve surgery outcomes. (When Dr. Herzog's esthetician wife, Karin, tried the creams on her face and observed glowing results, they decided to market them under her name as skin care products.) No studies of Karin Herzog formulae have been published in the medical literature, but studies conducted in Swiss hospitals indicate their effectiveness in oxygenating skin and healing leg ulcers, bedsores and scars. Although the company never advertises, the Karin Herzog line enjoys a celebrity following: Steven Spielberg and his wife Kate Capshaw are customers, as are Demi Moore, Courtney Cox and Kyra Sedgwick. "Skin care lines and make-up with proven scientific or medical properties are part of the growing trend in cosmo-ceuticals," says Faith Popcorn, chairman of BrainReserve, a New York-based international marketing consultant firm servicing various Fortune 500 companies. "We're going to see a lot more heavily researched beauty products for women and men in the next few years," she predicts. For now, cosmetic industry giants such as Avon, Lancome, L'Oreal and Estee Lauder are stepping up their research budgets. And Estee Lauder is conducting further studies on anti-oxidants and how they affect skin aging. "We want to discover the exact mechanism in the skin which leads to the reduction of premature aging," says Dr. Maes. "When we find this mechanism, anti-aging skin care will enter the new millenium."