Just Assume Most Skincare Science Is Grade-A Bullshit

Stores like Sephora are packed with rows and rows of expensive creams with bold promises about anti-aging properties and dermatological science. Don’t bet the farm on a single one of them.

Pacific Standard takes a hard look at the claims of “cosmeceuticals” and finds a bunch of pseudoscientific bunkum:

In the absence of meaningful regulation, anti-aging skincare products are now overrun with unproven or controversial “active” ingredients, at times even eschewing the FDA’s language restrictions with impunity. Most major manufacturers are careful to use tempered phrasing when advertising their products, guaranteeing only to “reduce the appearance” of wrinkles and sun damage, or, vaguely, to “promote” and “boost” the production of skin-firming collagen.

There’s very little oversight ensuring this stuff isn’t just good, old-fashioned snake oil. The FDA doesn’t police these products rigorously because they’re cosmetics, not medicine, and the FTC has its hands full with bogus fat pills. But generally, anything proven truly effective by clinical trials requires a prescription and products that tout themselves as “clinically tested” aren’t exactly peer-reviewed. Side-eye the “dermatologist recommended” offerings with everything you’ve got:

In a letter entitled “Are We Consultants or Peddlers?” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology, dermatologist Ernst Epstein makes his opinions clear: “There is a price paid by the dermatologist who sell cosmetics…. It is our integrity. … Our patients are deluged with ads proclaiming the special qualities of moisturizers, night creams, eyelid renewers, and other magic rejuvenators of aging skin. Scientifically, this is all nonsense; we know that while some of the ‘cosmeceuticals’ may temporarily plump up the skin a bit more than others, the differences are trivial and temporary.”

Samples and Makeup Alley reviews will guide you better than the very scientific packaging promises—and even then, it behooves you to remember your brain will try to convince you that a $250 face cream really must be something special. (But if you’ve got any unwanted La Mer lying around, by all means, send it my way.)

Photo via photopixel/Shutterstock.

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