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Anti-wrinkle cream miracles debunked by scientists

Woman with wrinkle cream on her cheek

Do you use anti-wrinkle creams in the belief that all that collagen is smoothing away the signs of age? If so, it might be time to rethink what goes into your cabinet, because scientists say they just aren’t worth it.

Are you easily blinded by ‘that science bit’ in beauty ads? Considering we spent £32m on eye-care products in 2008, it’s safe to say that we’re falling for the marketing patter.

But scientists have now spoken out en masse to debunk the claims once and for all. They say that cosmetics companies claiming that collagen creams will smooth out wrinkles and cheat the signs of aging can’t possibly work.

Collagen claims are false

These companies commonly claim that skin absorbs their products when, in fact, collagen molecules are far too big for this to happen. Instead, they sit on the face’s surface until they’re rubbed off or washed away.

Not only are scientists saying these claims are codswallop, they’ve also voted them their biggest pet hate, in a survey by charity Sense About Science.

So should we all bin our favourite top-notch beauty products in favour of cheaper basics? If you couple the scientists’ opinions with our research, that might well be a sensible conclusion to draw.

Which? smoothes out the wrinkles on eye cream

Last year we tested 12 anti-wrinkle eye creams ranging in price from £3.21 to almost £49. After comparing 1,807 photos of 139 eye areas we discovered that the cheapest product worked just as well as the more expensive ones.

Dr Tamara Griffiths of the British Skin Foundation was involved in our research. ‘We need to have realistic expectations,’ she said. ‘A pricier eye cream can equal better packaging and more luxurious ingredients, but won’t necessarily work better.’

I’m not sure how I feel about all of this. While I’m happy to spend less on beauty products, there’s something reassuring about turning to a pot of cream for hope when I’m feeling less than my best. But I guess that’s exactly the problem – these claims prey on women’s (and, increasingly, men’s) fears of ageing.

A pot of cream isn’t as expensive as surgery or as time-consuming as changing your lifestyle. It’s quick, easy and relatively affordable, and while there’s even a glimmer of hope that it will work, cosmetics companies will continue to cash in.


All sensible people already knew this.

The evidence is visual and been discussed at length on TV and the papers for some years.

As a scientist – we all laughed our socks off at that ridiculous ‘oxygen in the bubbles perfusing the skin’ advert. What a lot of old pony.

This stuff is basically the new improved version of snake oil, being sold by the corporate charlatans.

Thanks for the insight Chris, it’s actually made you our Comment of the Week. You’ll be featured on our homepage for a full seven days!

Bleep Blorp Bloop says:
20 January 2011

The scientific world goes largely unnoticed…if were as publicized as cosmetics, the world would probably be a much better place…and a lot less stupid.

8 March 2011

I work in the industry, there are many products available, all claiming to work. The very fact that people believe that it works makes it work. They lift thier heads up and look the world in the eye because they believe they are doing the best for themselves and show that. Attitude is beauty not products.

Elizabeth says:
9 March 2011

I logged onto your report when I discovered that a face cream ‘for mature skin’ – I had been given a sample and liked it – retails at £97 for a 50ml pot!! The company website gushes about how the cream acts deep in the skin’s surface (see what they did there?) to help skin ‘regain youthful substance, firmness and radiance’ etc. Why are they allowed to get away with this puffery? Thank you for your report.

Astrid says:
12 March 2012

Thankyou for writing and article to make people start waking up to the crazy lies of advertising!

My mum still cleans her skin with good old soap and some basic mousturiser…. And her skin is wonderful at age 60.

People might be surprisingly happy if they go back to basics and stop living like sheep-like consumers… Believing everything on TV!

Astrid says:
12 March 2012

Thankyou for writing and article to make people start waking up to the crazy lies of advertising!

My mum still cleans her skin with good old soap and some basic moisturiser…. And her skin is wonderful at age 60.

People might be surprisingly happy if they go back to basics and stop living like sheep-like consumers… Believing everything on TV!

Has anyone got news/views on collagen tablets. Supposedly helps arthritis Skin joints etc. They sound so convicing. Surely with our strict laws the vendors would not make false claims. Trading standards, fair trade agencys would be down on them like a ton of..!Simular to strict rules on car sales. Home improvements companys quack doctors etc. Richard

Type the words collagen and quack into Google and you will probably decide to save your money.

Collagen is fibrous protein found in many human and animal tissues. If you eat it, it will be broken down to amino acids, albeit not very efficiently compared with proteins in meat, fish and cereals. Though arthritis involves damage to tissues containing collagen, I am not aware that dietary collagen is going to be of any direct help, other than as a fairly poor source of protein.

As a serving suggestion, I suggest collagen with snake oil. 🙂

Trading Standards cannot cope, especially thanks to the growth of Internet sales.

It would be interesting if Which? could survey foundation creams: not magic snake-oil rejuvenating cons, nor to suggest a Best Buy, but just a comparison of how well the expensive heavily-advertised beauty brands shape up against the affordable high-street products sold by Boots, Superdrug, etc.

The FT weekend magazine “How to Spend It” (which I normally detest) published an interesting detailed survey of some of the glamorous foundation creams in the May 5 2012 issue. Written by Anna-Marie Solowij, “Tech Cover” discusses expensive foundation creams from Chanel, Estée Lauder, Yves Saint Laurent, etc. Although quite detailed, it is clearly not a fully neutral independent survey. The nearest to a bog-standard generic cream mentioned, is the Selfridges product.

A survey by Which? please: let us know if there is any advantage at all in paying more for a well advertised brand.

Rachel says:
31 May 2012

Great article about collagen skincare products – I’ve always felt that a decent moisturiser is all you need. However, I have taking marine collagen as a supplement, and I do feel some difference in my joints – a bit less creaky I think.

As long as you believe that pills will be useful they may work even if they contain no active ingredients. This is known as the placebo effect and helps sell a lot of supplements.

Jennifer HH says:
17 July 2012

I hate feeling that I’ve been conned, especially when it comes to my skin.

I research all products before parting with my cash and regularly review products on beautypedia, which are a useful and indeed eye openening educational resources.

I discovered this through a magazine and most people who are seriously interested in beauty will have heard of the book ‘Dont go to the cosmetics counter without me’. Don’t buy the book, beautypedia is a free online resource containing all of the reviews and is constantly being updated.

They have tested just about every product on the market from every day brands such as No.7 and Vaseline etc to the high end £250 a tub Estée Lauder miracle creams, and even more… Mostly it’s US market but the majority of brands are available in UK.

It focuses on the active ingredients and promotes basic creams with simple actives that are beneficial to skin rather than the made up ‘patent pending’ boswelox type ingredients.

It’s been a money saver for me and may make you look at the world of beauty with a new found awareness.

Above all I believe in using products that I have tried and tested and find work for me, which is a combination of products ranging from £1 to £50, because they have an effect that I am pleased with. If it doesn’t do it for me I’ll stop using it! Easy.

Everyone is talking about derma rollers which supposedly plump out the skin.I wonder what “Which” would say about them?Anyone tried them?

garnetquagga says:
10 April 2015

They’re probably in the same category as the weight loss belts that supposedly vibrated the fat off you.

Can the skin absorb Vitamin A? Or anything for that matter?

Nothing to add to the sensible comments above, except, if I may, to share the experience of my daughter, who, despite consulting Citizens Advice with regard to a purchase, is now too embarrassed to take the matter any further.

About 45 years ago I wrote an advertisement for a beauty product. It made my boss laugh. Up till that time I had written reasonably competent adverts for things like double glazing and tractor tyres. However, when trying to write about a lanolin product, the muse deserted. My boss had a good laugh, and the incident marked the beginning of the end of a short career in copywriting.

I say this to make clear I’m not against aggressive advertising in principle. However, my elder daughter was in touch with me this morning to get my opinion on the letter she had written to a company marketing a product called ‘Collagen Restore Age Repair Formula’ – in an attempt to recover the £170 she had had to pay for something she had understood to be a ‘free’ offer. When she phoned their Dutch office she had barely uttered 3 words of introduction when she was savaged by the lady who took her call. Apparently she should have read the conditions tucked away in the small print.

Their advertising is everywhere, including ‘reviews’ which turn out to come from the company itself. For example I followed the Google trail of the phrase ‘Collagen Restore: Is it a Scam?’ and found the following: ‘There are skeptic people in this world who like to besmirch the name of some hard working folks. Recently Collagen Restore was surrounded by false rumours of being fake and a hoax. These baseless and weak attempts to defame Collagen Restore are nothing more than pathetic …’ And so on. The company has a very powerful presence indeed when you google the subject, but I did eventually find something that looked like an independent review on a website called ‘Supplementpolice.com’.

Some years ago, I saw an advert for a free sample of something (might have been a tooth whitening product).

When they wanted my credit card details for a free sample, I was suspicious and did a bit of research.

What I found was many ‘miracle’ products offered as free samples. If you don’t go out of your way to find and read the terms and conditions, you can find yourself signed up to a monthly supply of the product that they charge you for and it won’t be cheap. Some say if you are not satisfied with the product you can return it but only if it is unused. And you are right about the company supplying its own reviews. You can also find many people caught in their trap who are unable to get out of it.

So never give payment details for a free sample. It won’t be free.

monique says:
30 November 2016

Best I have ever used is Monsia 🙂

If you eat properly don’t smoke and hydrate your body drinking lots of water, this shows up in your skins elasticity. Stress also plays a part, taking its toll on the way you look and feel generally….. we all have to take better care of ourselves or aging speeds up in our bodies….If spending money on beauty creams makes you look and feel better…..why not??

People regularly say that I look a lot younger than my 49 years. My ‘secret’ is that I have never smoked, am tea total, exercise twice a week and eat a balanced diet that is free of addatives and low on sugar. I think my DNA also plays a part. My skin care regime consists of a weekly exfoliation with any product that I find on offer in the supermarket and my current favourite face cream costs £5 from Aldi. It is SPF 15 but having used clarins, neal’s yard, Olay, loreal, Boots No 7 and many others, I can find no significant difference. My partner treated my to a luxury facial at a spa on holiday but apart from it being fairly relaxing, once again no significant difference to my skin. I do have two stubborn frown lines but have now reached the conclusion that the only way to get rid of them is by getting Botox.

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I’ve appreciated reading the above comments. I don’t think many of us are fooled in to expecting miracles, but I do think that some brands are more comfortable to use than others. What I would like to know more about is the process of animal testing on what I buy. I’m increasingky aware that ‘not tested on animals’ might mean not tested by us, but the ingredients have probably been tried on animals before we buy them.’

Patricia says:
18 February 2018

We need more exposure of these companies who make such false claims about ‘beauty’ products. It’s a scandal what they get away with.

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