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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.

Collagen Is Key continued...

"We don't claim it's better than a medical procedure -- we claim that many women aren't ready [for an injection] so until they are ready, or if they never are ready, we are giving them a choice with a skin care technology you can use at home," says Hodges.

According to Strivectin-SD spokesman Dave Owen, when their ads pose the question, "Is this better than Botox," what they are really asking, he says, is: "Is this better than Botox for you?"

"We're just saying that if you're not ready for an injection, then the ingredients in our product can make a difference in how your skin looks -- and it's the end result that counts," says Owen.

And these products contain a lot more than just pentapeptides; they include vitamins and herbs with antiaging potential. And at least in the case of Strivectin-SD, the ingredient list was originally developed not for antiaging purposes, but for use as a stretch mark cream. Since stretch marks are the result of split and broken collagen fibers, their researchers theorized that a peptide involved in collagen production and wound healing might also help repair stretch-marked skin.

It wasn't long, however, before the company says women discovered on their own that the compound could also help build collagen reserves anywhere they're needed -- including the tiny lines around the eyes, mouth, and forehead. And the rest, they say is antiaging history.

Despite the homespun tales of success, without published medical studies the question still remains as to whether or not these pentapeptide compounds can really make the jump from wound healing inside the body to antiaging effects on top of the skin. According to Sumayah Jamal, MD, they probably can -- but in a very small proportion.

"I think you'll get some activity with the creams, but not anywhere near what happens during wound healing," says Jamal, an assistant professor of dermatology at the NYU School of Medicine in New York City.

Gordon remains dubious of the promises. "It is a big jump to say that what happens under the skin is the same thing that happens on top of the skin; I have not seen any conclusive evidence that this jump is possible," she says.

But that doesn't seem to stop the antiaging brigade. Still more attention has been focused on yet another entry in the antiaging category: products like "Wrinkle Relax" that combines two types of pentapeptide technology -- palmitoyl pentapeptide and acetyl hexapeptide, (also known as "argireline")  -- for a compound that may mimic both a wrinkle-filling shot and a Botox injection.

"Botox works by destroying a protein involved in the release of a neurotransmitter that would otherwise keep a muscle tense, allowing a wrinkle to form," Jamal tells WebMD. By stopping the tensing motion and relaxing the muscle, the wrinkle seems to disappear, she says.

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