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Consumers Want to C for Themselves


Those of us who grew up hearing Grace Slick sing "Feed your head" are heeding a different lyric today: "Feed your skin."

That's the message from the Baby Boomer-loving beauty industry, which is pumping vitamins and enzymes into a growing collection of creams, gels, lotions and potions to convince us that nutrients truly can "nurture" the skin.

Perhaps no concoction has received more attention than topical antioxidants, the newest of the "fountain of youth" elixirs from the laboratory that promise to slow, even reverse, the signs of aging.

According to the antioxidant theory of cell decay, sunlight generates oxygen-containing molecules called free radicals. The free radicals damage the skin's collagen and elastin, causing wrinkles and bags. Free radicals also are believed to produce DNA mutations which can lead to skin cancer. According to a new study from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, antioxidants may suppress the growth of cancer cells. For this reason, antioxidant vitamins like A, C, and E that scavenge free radicals are showing up in sunscreens, including Murad's new Environmental Shield SPF 15.

But for the wrinkle-prone, vitamin C holds the most promise. For years scientists have known that vitamin C helps produce collagen--the major structural protein of skin. But getting that C where we want it has been tricky, since any excess in the diet is naturally excreted by the body. Until about three years ago, applying vitamin C topically wasn't an option either, due to the vitamin's inherent instability: in the irony of ironies, this powerful antioxidant degrades when exposed to light, heat, or air.

Enter Cellex-C--brainchild of Sheldon Pinnell, professor of dermatology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. His research proved that vitamin C (in the form of stabilized L-ascorbic acid at 10% strength) applied to skin before sun exposure prevented UV immune suppression, a precursor to skin cancer. Pinnell patented his formula, which delivers 20 to 40 times more vitamin C than is normally found in skin. "All we're doing is applying something that the body naturally uses to protect itself, but in a much higher concentration, so that it does an even better job," he says.

Since Cellex-C's debut, other topical Cs have exploded on the skin care scene, including Lancome's new Vitabolic, Le Pont's Vitamin C patch (to wear on crow's feet overnight), Ayur-Medic's Glyco-C Serum from a pair of Beverly Hills physicians, and even a new, improved version of the original Cellex-C formula called SkinCeuticals High Potency Serum (with 15% L-ascorbic acid).

Although pioneer Pinnell is not surprised by the trend his creation sparked, he believes the the craze can only continue as new makers produce new versions, including his own SkinCeuticals version.

But users still have to take it on faith that topical vitamin C actually lays down new collagen, since there has been no definitive human research published on the question. There is a "wrinkling trial" currently underway at Duke University using the Pinnell's new higher strength serum, but there is no word yet on when the results will be in.

For those who decide to use topical vitamin C on a daily basis, be prepared to be patient. "Although visible differences will not be seen for approximately two months," cautions the SkinCeuticals brochure, "improvements in the appearance of skin tone and texture may occur in as little as a few days," reads the SkinCeuticals brochure. "Given the antioxidant properties of vitamin C, the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles will become less noticeable within three to eight months."

Okay, so it's not a face lift. But the women who continue to buy topical C--and the numbers are legion--are convinced that they see a difference. For those ready to try a topical C product, experts suggest looking for one with at least 10 % of the vitamin. Most contain the water-soluble, L-ascorbic acid form of vitamin C, which must be kept tightly capped, away from heat and light. If not, the liquid gold can turn to very expensive brown sludge.

To avoid just that, some makers substitute ascorbyl palmitate or magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, which are converted by enzymes in the skin to vitamin C. These fat-soluble forms of C go on nice and easy (instead of thin and watery), but Pinnell warns consumers to "ask how high the concentration is and how it's getting into the skin."

Meanwhile, every brand has its personal fan club. In Beverly Hills, the clients of facialist Cindy Karimi (at the Joseph Martin salon) says they see an improvement in superficial lines and elasticity from using Cellex-C. At the medical offices of plastic surgeon Raj Kanodia and dermatologist Ezra Kest, patients can't get enough Glyco-C serum with 15 % L-ascorbic acid. And for facial clients of Anastasia Soare, there's nothing better than the SkinCeuticals line.

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