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How To Read Those Labels

March 18, 2007|Shari Roan | Times Staff Writer

SORTING through the confusing landscape of ointments, creams and solutions found at the cosmetics counter doesn't require an advanced degree. Common sense and a little product awareness go a long way. Read the label and the literature. Here's a list of what to look for.

Retinoids and retinols: Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that are available by prescription only, such as Retin-A and Renova. They're the only substances proven to soften fine lines and wrinkles. They will not remove deep wrinkles or frown lines and can cause redness and irritation. Their chemical cousins, retinols, are over-the-counter substances that are not as powerful but may still help diminish very fine lines and smooth the skin.

Acids: Alpha hydroxy acid (glycolic acid, lactic acid), beta hydroxy acid (salicylic acid) and polyhydroxy acid are effective at helping slough off the skin's oldest layer and encouraging cell renewal to smooth the skin. They can cause peeling and irritation (polyhydroxy acids are less irritating).

Antioxidants: Vitamins C and E are the most useful antioxidants, which are essentially prevention agents that combat free radicals and protect the skin from sun, wind and pollutants. Antioxidants may also stimulate the skin to make more collagen. Other antioxidants that may provide mild benefits include idebenone, coenzyme Q10, caffeine and those antioxidants found in green and white tea and pomegranate.

Anti-inflammatories: These are substances that can lessen irritation and redness in the skin. They are mostly botanicals such as licorice extract, pine bark extract, milk thistle, quercetin, chamomile and aloe vera.

Peptides: These compounds, similar to proteins but smaller, may work to stimulate collagen and thicken the skin. There is some evidence that copper peptides are useful as well as palmitoyl pentapeptide-3. But many other peptides are too large to cross the skin's surface.

Growth factors: These are substances that act as chemical messengers between cells and influence cell division and new cell growth. They have been used in drugs to treat wounds. Growth factors are just beginning to draw some attention in the cosmetics world. The most promising is TGF-beta, which may increase collagen production.

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