Anti-Aging Breakthroughs

The science behind anti-aging treatments -- from creams to the doctor's office.


May 1, 2008 — -- This is a good time to have some wrinkles on your face. No, really. In the past few years there have been groundbreaking advances in plastic surgery, dermatology and the ever-expanding anti-aging cosmetic industry.

Back in the day, your mom probably used a wrinkle cream on her face that promised to "hydrate" her skin and reduce fine lines. These days the buzzwords are anti-oxidants, enzymes, gene therapy and nano molecules.

If you have some fine lines, a few wrinkles but you're not yet ready for the "f" word (facelift), an anti-aging cream might be right for you. But before settling on a product, you'd do well to brush up on your first-year chemistry.

"We are using nano liposome technology with a capsule so small that is gets absorbed through the hair follicles and releases the active ingredient into your skin," said John Kressaty, head chemist at 3Lab, Inc.

"Nano liposome is a very small particle that is able to pass through the skin to deliver vital nutrients. Five years ago, technology was limited where the products only stayed on the surface of the skin and now, with new technology, the molecules are easily absorbed topically," adds Stephanie Scott, public relations director for 3LAB, Inc.

Kressaty was describing the technology behind a recently released 3Lab product called "h" serum, a "bio engineered growth hormone anti-aging serum" that retails for $200. The product is based on a "replica of human growth hormone" and the company says clinical studies show a 50 percent reduction in the "depth of wrinkles after four weeks of use."

"HGH is a hot news topic and our "h" Serum is totally efficacious. It is not dangerous like injectible HGH; we're not using actual human growth hormone rather a synthetic, bio-engineered topical HGH that comes from plants. So, it's safe to use," states Stephanie Scott, public relations directorfor 3LAB, Inc.

The new cosmetic product is so popular that it sold out at London's upscale department store Selfridge's, and there's now a waiting list.

Brand-name companies employ teams of chemists to scour medical research for breakthroughs that can be adapted to the cosmetics industry. The companies then conduct research and clinical studies.

Take Estee Lauder. The cosmetics giant is betting big on a new product called Re-Nutriv Ultimate Youth Crème ($250). According to Dr. Daniel Maes, senior vice president of research and development for Estee Lauder, Re-Nutriv is based on genetic research involving the longevity gene SIRT-1.

It turns out that a compound called resveratrol might — in high doses — activate the SIRT-1 gene to extend the life of skin cells. But resveratrol is notoriously unstable as a molecule, so Estee Lauder came up with a way to create a cosmetic-friendly compound dubbed "resveratrate." Recently, resveratrol has been reported as a compound often found in red wine that contributes to slowing down the aging process.

Maes is also not shy about trumpeting the anti-aging effects of his product.

"This is the biggest breakthrough in anti-aging science, the fact that somebody has been able to isolate the gene which controls the way cells are aging and this is the first time a cosmetic product will be able to slow down the genetic aging process," said Maes.

"We are economizing the cells instead of letting them divide rapidly. We are slowing down that process." Estee Lauder will be rolling out an eye cream and other products later this year, the company says.

Critics dismiss these over-the-counter anti-aging creams as mere marketing in a jar.

But Dr. Jeffrey Dover, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, believes that's not necessarily fair.

"Price doesn't determine quality but science has really improved the quality of those products, although people shouldn't expect miracles," said Dover.

Just as the anti-aging products at the cosmetic counter have evolved, so have the anti-aging treatments changed at the doctor's office.

For years, cosmetic dermatologists could prescribe nothing but Retin-A and advise a little common sense — wear sunscreen. But that all changed in 2002. "The Botox kick started everything. We went from having nothing to having something that works well and is safe and effective 99 percent of the time. And that was the beginning of a whole new generation of fillers," said Dover.

Those derma fillers, such as Restylane and Radiesse, have revolutionized what plastic surgeons like Dr. Vito Quatela, president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, can do.

"We are not using these as crack-fillers any more, we are using them to put volumization back in the face," said Quatela.

And instead of lasting 3-6 months, now treatments can last 1-3 years.

"We are combining fillers now. Any given patient might have three different fillers — one for around the eyes, then the lips. I can get creative with fillers, it's something like sculpture and I just never had that ability before," said Quatela.

As for the next new thing, Quatela said watch out for something called neuroablation.

"You can knock out the nerve that causes the frowning. Preliminary results have showed it to be as effective as Botox."

And liquid silicone may be due for a comeback, said Quatela. "It got a very bad rap when breast implants were taken off the market but I know that behind the scenes there are investigations and studies with liquid silicone once again and it could be a permanent filler for the treatment of certain acne scars or lip augmentation."

Breakthroughs may grab the headlines, but dermatologists like Jeffrey Dover still counsel the basics.

"For the most part I try to make it really simple. Wear a moisturizing sun-screen and use a prescription-strength retinoid. We know that reverses the signs of chronological aging," said Dover.

And reversing those signs of chronological aging is a booming billion-dollar business with no signs of slowing down any time soon.

"I think going forward we are going to see stem cells play a future in this. There's a lot of work being done right now. If people are provided with stem cell therapy, either topical or internal, then the rejuvenation of epidermal cells may be just a few years away. We're not there yet but some exciting things are being done in Belgium and Thailand," according to Dr. Sharon McQuillan, a board-certified physician who is affiliated with the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.

"We are just starting to make inroads into the idea that we can encourage skin health. We learn in medical school that our skin is the largest organ in the body and yet we consider it an envelope, and we don't treat it as we should," said Dr. Sharon McQuillan.

Maybe with a little help from science, that's about to change.

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