The Latest Anti-Aging Trend Isn't What You Think

Photographed by Ben Ritter.
Skin care and makeup have been in bed with each other for years now. To wit: It’s a challenge to find face makeup without SPF, there are antioxidants in just about everything, and more and more color cosmetics are being fortified with anti-aging ingredients like peptides, hyaluronic acid, and botanical extracts. Sounds good in theory, right? But is it all one big scam, or are we actually helping our skin with these additions?

Makeup: The New Anti-Ager?
There is no shortage of color cosmetics on the market that promise more than good coverage or a long-wear finish. On the prestige side, these products are particularly easy to spot: blush with hyaluronic acid from By Terry, highlighter with collagen-boosting extracts from Chantecaille, brow gel with peptides from Tarte, lipstick with antioxidants from Marc by Marc Jacobs — and this is just a small sampling.

Then there are brands creating anti-aging skin care with a cosmetic twist, like Caudalie, whose line of botanical-based skin care is now being harnessed in a tinted moisturizer, or 3LAB Skincare, which uses its bio-engineered growth hormone and apple stem-cell technology in its lone cosmetic offering, a BB cream. The drugstore isn't exempt, either. Mass brands from Neutrogena to Revlon are spiking their makeup with antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, and more. As you'll notice from the examples here, there are few products left untouched by the power of anti-agers. This begs our first big question: Can active ingredients penetrate the skin if they're trapped in makeup?

If you already applied a thick cream or SPF, anything on top isn't going to be able to penetrate the skin.

Dr. Dendy Engelman, Dermatologist
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The Layering Game
If dermatologists have taught us anything, it's that the order in which you apply your skin-care products makes a difference. "My rule of thumb is apply your products from thinnest to thickest," New York dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman told us. Admittedly, that's a little tricky when the skin care is also in your makeup. "Even if you can have topical Vitamin C in its most active form, L-Ascorbic, if it’s applied with a thick foundation, is it really active? Or is it just sitting on top of your skin mixed in with all the makeup muck?" Short answer: probably not.

Therefore, just like skin-care products of varied consistencies, don't expect actives in the third, fourth, or even 10th layer of product to have any chance of getting through to your skin. "If you already applied a thick cream or SPF, anything on top isn't going to be able to penetrate the skin," Dr. Engelman explained. As a rule of thumb, she says that the only things an active ingredient in makeup could reasonably penetrate are a hydrating mist, toner, or light serum. Translation: Your cream blush could do some good if you're wearing it alone, but apply it over SPF, primer, and foundation and there's little to no chance. (Of course, Dr. Engelman stresses that skipping SPF is only suitable for nighttime.)

Clever Marketing Or Skin Saviors?
Even if you give your product the best shot of working by applying it directly to your skin, however, it may simply not be effective. It's a point that Dr. Ron Moy, Los Angeles dermatologist, cosmetic surgeon, and vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation stressed — sans sugarcoating. "Most products don’t actually have any active ingredients that really work, scientifically," he told us. "We get seduced by marketing and packaging, but there isn’t a lot of science."
Of course, most doesn't mean all. Many brands do have studies proving the efficacy of their products. "Aveeno's formulas actually have a lot of science behind them," Dr. Engelman said about the tinted moisturizers sold in the drugstore. "They work on a specific pathway that blocks something that makes melanin" (as in, the part of your skin that makes pigment, like freckles or brown spots). But for every brand with science behind it, there are several others that fall flat. "The real reason [that many products aren't effective] is that science hasn’t really reached this field," Dr. Moy explained.

Most products don’t actually have any active ingredients that really work, scientifically.

Dr. Ron Moy, Dermatologist
So, What's The Harm?
Our final question is one that may not address the bigger problem, but one that can perhaps help us get there. Maybe they work, maybe they don't, but is there any harm in them? "Probably not," Dr. Moy said, and Dr. Engelman agreed, but with one caveat: "The concept of acids in makeup is great in theory," she said. "But it may over-dry the skin and could photo-sensitize you, so you're more prone to burns." That means, it's best to have more control over your retinoids, AHAs, or BHAs, like salicylic acids and benzoyl peroxide, which can be found in acne-targeting makeup. "It could be causing more harm than good," she explained. And for the rest? "They certainly won’t do any harm, but it's good to remember that just because it says it on the bottle, does not mean you'll have the effects on your skin."
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