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Hope in a Jar: Do Skin Creams Work?

New antiaging skin creams claim to do as much as a medical procedure -- but can they? Doctors explain.

WebMD Feature

You've seen the antiaging skin care claims, in newspapers, magazines, and even online: ominous photos of hypodermic needles posed along side innocuous, even innocent-looking jars of cream.

The message: Topical cosmetic creams promises the same wrinkle-relaxing, age-defying results as some pricey wrinkle-filling injections like Restalyne and Juva Derm,  or even Botox.

But can they? If you're skeptical about what you read, you're not alone. Not surprisingly, some doctors also question the claims and the promises.

"The bottom line is that if these creams could accomplish the same thing as a medical procedure, they would be drugs and not cosmetics -- and that's what you have to keep in mind when deciding whether to try or buy," says Marsha Gordon, MD, vice chairman of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Some of the antiaging treatment technology focuses on compounds called pentapeptides -- small groups of long-chain amino acids that function as chemical messengers throughout the body. Among the most popular creams containing these ingredients include the Regenerist line by Olay, Strivectin-SD by Klein Becker, Wrinkle Relax by DDF, and the Principal Secret Reclaim line.

And though doctors say there are no published medical studies showing they work, experts involved in product testing say there is ample science behind the pentapeptide technology.

"It had a very strong pedigree going into the process -- we weren't just looking for the next hope in the jar, we were really looking at medical science before we started down the path with these products," says Lauren Thaman Hodges, director of Beauty Science for Olay skin care products.

Initially, the research on pentapeptides was done in relation to wound healing. As part of the body's natural response to help skin heal, published studies showed peptides are instrumental in increasing cells in the skin to produce more collagen.

Collagen Is Key

But collagen isn't just for healing boo-boos. It also plays an important role in how skin ages. Gordon explains that collagen is the support structure that gives our skin a firm, young appearance. When levels remain plentiful, our skin looks young and fresh. When levels decline, we lose that support and wrinkles begin to form. While wrinkle-filling injections can temporarily fill in the gaps,  some researchers believe that  topically applying these peptides to the skin might help it make more collagen on its own. This would have a "filling"  effect similar   to the wrinkle injections – but without the needle!  

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