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Do moisturizers really help with wrinkles?

Venture into a men’s or women’s skin care section of a department store or look at ads in magazines and you will undoubtedly see claims by skin care companies that state that their moisturizers “improve the appearance of wrinkles”.   

Men’s skin is different than women’s skin.  For example, in men, male hormones tend to keep the dermis of the skin thick and robust.  However, despite the natural hormone boost, men’s skin starts to lose its strength and elasticity around the age of 20 (compared to 35 in women).   Around this age, two main types of wrinkles start to form:   very fine lines and wrinkles (especially around the eyes) and deeper wrinkles that are present when the face is at rest.  Most of the very fine lines are caused by dehydration of the outer layer of the skin, called the stratum corneum.  This layer is composed of dead skin cells that are naturally sloughed every few days.   Most moisturizers contain an ingredient called dimethicone, which acts as an occlusive that prevents water from evaporating from the skin.  This increased hydration leads to more water in the stratum corneum, which eliminates wrinkles that are due to skin dehydration.  Consistently applying moisturizer  does, in fact, help increase the skin water content and can prevent those types of wrinkles from coming back. In effect, the moisturizer does not remove the wrinkles, but rather improves skin dehydration that can lead to fine wrinkles.

Wrinkles that are deeper and that are present when the face is at rest tend to be caused by collagen degeneration in the skin, which is accelerated by exposure to sunlight.  Since most people (especially men) do not apply sunscreen on a daily basis, guys tend to age faster than women.  In any case, moisturizers (and allother over-the-counter products) do not help wrinkles that are the result of collagen damage because they do not, by definition, alter the structure and function of the skin.  If they did, they would have to be classified as drugs (like penicillin or any other prescription drug) by the federal government.  The government forces any company that makes a new drug to prove that it works.  Unfortunately, since over the counter-skin-care products are not in this category, they do not have to prove what they say in advertising and can claim whatever they want.  The only topical skin preparation that has been proven to increase collagen in the skin and eliminate wrinkles is all-trans retinoic acid (aka:  tretinoin or Retin-A).  This is why Dana Point Dermatology’s brand name cream contains this molecule as its active ingredient—it is proven to work!  Although this medication is available by prescription only, some researchers have also suggested that it decreases the risk of skin cancer, mainly by increasing skin thickness.

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