ANTI-AGEING: what does it mean in beauty?

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Anti-ageing is a difficult topic to cover - especially in one blog post: a war is currently fought over the meaning of the term in research and medicine, and as a sales buzzword in the beauty business. Anti-ageing now has a number of quite different common meanings and subtexts, each of which is championed by a particular group or allied interests. Advocates of anti-ageing have a way of diving into the fray without defining their terms, and this tends to make the whole area a bit grey.

So what does anti-ageing actually mean?

 

 

In science, anti-ageing research refers exclusively to slowing, preventing or reversing the ageing process. While the future is looking very promising, there is presently no proven and available medical technology that slows or reverses physical ageing in humans.

In medicine, anti-ageing means early detection, prevention and treatment of age-related diseases. This is different from tackling the ageing process itself, and a number of therapies are practised: calorie restriction, for example, lowers the risk of suffering a range of age-related condition.

In beauty, anti-ageing has perhaps the most varied meanings. While it's a very valuable sales point for beauty companies - who doesn't want to stave off the ageing process? - it can be both abused and used effectively credible and less reputable companies. At the worst end of the scale you have the snake oil 'snakesmen' selling anti-ageing products that make amazing promises but may or may not make your skin look younger. At the best end you have beauty companies who invest many millions in developing products that aim to offer real visible results - and often succeed.

The nub of the matter is what actually makes skin look younger. Is it less, or no, lines and wrinkles, no age spots, plump, fresh and radiant skin? Or none of these? As with natural and organic, two other popular buzzwords in beauty, it's open to interpretation. And as such it could be almost meaningless. For a product to be called anti-ageing it need only moisturise skin, because keeping skin moisturised keeps it younger. Or it could have a UV filter and antioxidants, again ingredients that help keep skin young. So really it's up to the user and what their perception of 'younger' is.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand what anti-ageing means is to know what actually helps skin look younger. As mentioned, keeping your skin hydrated - even with a basic cold cream - keeps it lubricated and supple (read: youthful), as opposed to dry and tight (read: aged). Moreover, protecting it from UV rays all year round, not just while on holiday with a sunscreen, preserves skin because it's defended from the sun's ageing rays. Antioxidants - ingredients like vitamin E and some plant extracts may discourage ageing when applied topically by neutralising the effects of free radicals, the reactive molecules in skin which are activated by influences like UV and pollution.

So you could say that the humble cold cream, a simple and inexpensive skin moisturiser, is as much of an anti-ageing product as its chemical-rich, expensive cousin ...

Equally, however, an anti-ageing product doesn't need to be a moisturiser. While foundations and primers can have anti-ageing ingredients in them, many also hydrate, add radiance and temporary tone to skin too, again providing an 'anti-ageing' benefit. Many contain light-reflective particles too, which are added to face products because the particles reflect light away from blemishes and lines - effectively putting them in soft focus - and have an anti-ageing, freshening effect on skin.

The key, when choosing anti-ageing beauty products, is to decide what's important to you. Do you want to just keep your dry skin moisturised and protected, or do you want to treat it with an active anti-ageing product - in other words one which contains all the goodies, researched to help fight the ageing process - and then apply a light-reflective foundation on top for good measure?

There are many routes to take, but this is the guide I always recommend: choose what matters to you most and discover a product that will deliver it, bearing in mind that no product can treat all the signs of ageing (often the ones which offer countless anti-ageing benefits deliver the least), and no single product will work for everyone. Have realistic expectations: promises that sound too good to be true always are.

10 ANTI-AGEING BUZZWORDS & WHAT THEY MEAN:

1. Antioxidant: these are ingredients which neutralise free radicals, the reactive molecules that age skin. There are hundreds of different antioxidants, including vitamins E, C and A, selenium, zinc, green tea, grape seed, lycopenes, quercetin and pomegranate extracts.

2. Free radical: these are the natural reactive molecules that age skin at cellular level when skin is exposed to influences like UV rays, pollution and stress - from outside and inside the body. They start a chain reaction called oxidation which causes loss of firmness, wrinkles and uneven skin tone.

3. Facelift in a bottle: this means that a product may benefit the firmness and tone of skin, but effects are normally temporary.

4. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs): there are lots of different types of AHAs - beta hydroxyl acid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid and lactic acid. They have a smoothing effect on skin, removing dead surface cells and encouraging cell renewal so skin looks fresher and brighter without abrasion. They can work very well if skin looks dull and in need of a tonic.

5. Collagen & elastin: these are the support fibres beneath skin that make it youthfully supple and pingy, and which diminish with age. Some products containing vitamin C and retinol (see below) make the claim that they can supplement and strengthen the natural fibres.

6. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): this is a substance that the body makes to help keep cells healthy, much like an antioxidant in protecting cells from harmful molecules.

7. Hyaluronic acid: another substance found naturally in the body and added to face creams that helps skin stay hydrated, elastic and supple.

8. Peptides: these chains of small amino acids or mini proteins stimulate new collagen production while helping prevent further breakdown and increase the repair of capillaries.

9. Retinol: is a form of vitamin A or retinoic acid. Retinol may regenerate collagen and repair sun-damaged, lined skin. It comes in prescription and over-the-counter strengths that have varying degrees of success.

10. Radiance booster: a benefit often applied to day creams and foundations, many of which contain light-reflective properties which diffuse the signs of age and give skin a youthful radiance from within.

5 GOOD AGE-PRESERVING SKINCARE HABITS

1. Protect your skin from the sun. Always use a broadspectrum, SPF30 or higher, water-resistant sunscreen and stay in the shade between 10am and 2pm. When actively in the sun cover up as much as is comfy with a wide-brim hat and sunglasses.

2. Use moisturiser daily. That means facial moisturiser, body moisturiser and lip balm. Dermatologists agree that sunscreen and moisturiser are the two most effective anti-ageing products you can invest in.

3. Stop smoking. Or never start.

4. Eat healthy food. A healthy diet leads to a healthy body, including skin - the body's biggest organ. Eat fresh, unprocessed food, plenty of fruit, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats.

5. Get enough sleep. Sleep is your body's chance to rejuvenate and that includes your skin - there's a reason it's called 'beauty sleep' ...