Google the words “face cream” and you’ll net a mind-boggling 150 million search results.
Add to your research “moisturizer” (20.5 million results), “lotion” (69.9 million), “ointment” (24 million), and “face serum” (50.7 million), and you now have well over THREE HUNDRED MILLION opinions to consider.
At that startling moment in a woman’s life where deciding on the best anti-aging cream for her particular face has suddenly become an earnest goal, that is definitely TMI.
Online shopping doesn’t reduce the complexity any either. An amazon.com search for “face cream” in all departments returns ~119,000 actual product listings, and that’s not even counting all the viscosity options mentioned above. Even a physical saunter through the stultifying number of face creams in my local London Drugs can cause me to break out in facial hives, which is precisely not the point.
In addition to the overwhelming number of options, I’m accosted by relentless marketing propaganda suggesting I search my mirror for signs of red blotches, visible pores, dark bags, fine lines, and reflections hinting at anything crepey, sagging, shriveled, or likely to turn into a pothole by next spring.
Factor in quasi-medical articles warning me of chemical ingredients likely to mutate my lymph nodes, and I confess to rapidly losing sight of my inner beauty.
Credible recommendations and reviews of the best anti-aging face cream and anti-wrinkle lotions are as illusive as the Fountain of Youth itself. Can’t someone trustworthy just point me to the magic cream, please?
Turns out there are, at least in my world, a number of sources I do trust, starting with Lulu of Lulu’s Chinese Health Center in Parksville on Vancouver Island.
The Magic Cream (above), which Rick went to pick up for me, was intended as a break from my regular OTC cortisone for a chronic patch of dermatitis on my leg. After getting squared away on the cream, Lulu made Rick stick out his tongue.
He complied and came away with some intriguing goodies to restore the yin to his yang, but that’s a story for a different day. My point here is that when he told me of her somewhat startling request, I was aware that my confidence in the leg cream immediately went way up. Apparently, for my money, if you’re in the business of recommending curatives for one of the biggest organs of the body—a person’s skin—it’s a huge credibility builder if you also know a thing or two about reading tongues.
The FDA regards face goop as a “cosmetic,” and as such, devoid of medicinal value or worthy of the more rigorous testing applied to drugs. Any statement they make approving a cream is focused exclusively on safety, not effectiveness. Cosmetic companies, however, are experienced and crafty in the art of blurring the perception lines between “medically proven to FDA drug-level standards” and “tested in a lab with a dermatologist somewhere in the building.”
So when someone—anyone, apparently—with a whiff of actual healing insight comments on a face cream, I pay attention.
Thus, the other actual person that I trust to recommend the best anti-wrinkle cream for me is my dermatologist, a woman of respectable age with skin that glows with a radiance that starts at least a half an inch below the surface of her face.
Her advice came prefaced by saying the best anti-wrinkle cream is a sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 30 that I should have been using since birth. Once the wrinkles, blotches and spots actually arrive, the best you can hope for with potions and lotions is to prevent further damage and maybe to modestly plump up the saggy bits with a nicely scented unguent that makes your skin feel good.
“Best face cream? CeraVe. Use the one with sunscreen on your face, neck and back of your hands. For the rest of you that you can reach, slather on either the lotion if it’s hot and humid, or the creme if it’s winter and dry. It absorbs well, and smells good.”
Apparently there are a lot of dermatologists (or best friends) giving the same advice: the modestly priced 12-oz. CeraVe lotion ranks on Amazon as the #1 Best Seller in Facial Moisturizing Lotions with a 4.7 star rating by over 1200 reviewers.
The CeraVe eye wrinkle cream was my idea.
While my busy dermatologist didn’t have time to unpack the rationale for her medically-informed opinion on CeraVe, the Mayo Clinic weighs in on the topic by suggesting that while there is no known “face lift in a bottle” available for the weary and wrinkled consumers, products containing retinol (vitamin A), vitamin C, hydroxy acid, coenzyme Q10, tea extracts, grape seed extracts and niacinimide “may” result in “slight to modest improvement, mostly due to their ability to exfoliate, prevent water loss, or counteract inflammation.
They go on to say that when sifting through the merits of, say, 120,000 or so available options on Amazon, you should consider the following variables:
- Cost: there’s no discernible correlation between more money and fewer wrinkles
- Concentration of effective ingredients: all non-prescription options contain lower doses than their prescribed counterparts, resulting in more limited and short-lived miracles
- Individual differences: Everyone’s skin is different. Just because wearing a 1/2- inch thick coat of mayonnaise to bed every night works for Cate Blanchett doesn’t mean it will work for you. (I just made up this example, but mayonnaise and olive oil do feature highly in the list of homemade wrinkle cream ingredients.)
- Layering on of ingredients: there’s no proof that using two or more of the above use ingredients works any better than one by itself.
- Frequency of use: there’s no overnight drama in the face cream world, unless you count a nasty reaction that leaves your face bright red and flaky. You need to use products for many weeks before even the “modest” effects kick in, and they’ll disappear if/when you quit
- Side effects: see “nasty” above
So what DO they recommend to retain whatever youthful dewy glow remains?
- Quit smoking: It wrecks your facial collagen and elastin, causing skin to sag and wrinkle prematurely. The up side of this is if you’re 45 but your face and neck look 75, people might conclude you have great legs for your age!
- Use moisturizers, and choose one with a built-in sunscreen of at least 15. Though moisturizers can’t prevent wrinkles, they can plump up dry skin and temporarily mask tiny lines and creases. The best wrinkle cream yet may be a wide-brimmed hat and limited sun exposure.
- Consult a dermatologist if you’re interested in a personalized skin care assessment and recommendation for what OTC products might work best for you, and when to call in the big guns of prescription creams, Botox, or sand-blasting.
One final go-to source that we often find helps cut through the mental fogging of choice-overload is Consumer Reports. In this 2011 wrinkle cream review, (latest review available), they report having rigorously tested a swath of anti-aging face creams across 69 women and 12 men for a period of 12 weeks.
They report that while the Garnier Ultra Lift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Moisturizer, L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Face and Neck Day Cream, and Lancôme Paris Renergie Double Performance Treatment Anti-Wrinkle Firming Cream each produced a very modest improvement after an hour, after six weeks all the products tested had smoothed fine lines a teensy bit, and on only a third or fewer of the people who used them. This result included the control cream they used which had no anti-wrinkle magic ingredients at all.
And while I’m tempted to hoot that you can’t make up product names like the Lancome winner above, apparently, you can.
Twelve weeks in, the sensory panelists judged that in a field of burst bubbles, the Garnier product came out slightly ahead of the contenders, judging by blind-controlled photos that it reduced wrinkles “somewhat” on a little more than half of the test subjects who had tried the product. And even at that, fewer than half said they’d buy it, citing an aroma containing a hint of floral and “sweet plastic,” the need for some serious elbow grease to rub it in, and a slight residue. The rest of the products barely moved the needle at all on fewer than 20% of the testers who used them.
Ironically, without even knowing the brand or specific product, the highest number of votes by test subjects said they’d buy the control product with NO anti-wrinkle ingredients, the Neutrogena moisturizer. (Note: the report didn’t specify which exact Neutrogena moisturizer was used. I just picked one with an SPF rating of 30. This one also has an SPF rating of 30 and a slightly higher reviewer rating, but I put it in second place for using a word I don’t understand–“Helioplex”–in the product name.)
In the search for the best face cream for you, pick one that’s easy on your wallet, has a decent sunscreen, and smells and feels nice.
For now, I’m trying a little dab of the Magic Cream on my face with my CeraVe (I can’t help myself), but just in the morning. While it feels great, it smells vaguely like Pad Thai with sesame oil. And even though Rick tells me frequently I’m quite a dish, I don’t want to go to bed smelling like one.