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Magic Ingredients in Beauty Products?

When it comes to ingredients in beauty products, here’s what really counts.

Illustration by Ryan Snook.

Beauty companies love to tout the benefits of their “miracle” products, with ingredients ranging from the extraordinarily costly (gold, diamonds, crushed pearls) to the absurd (snail slime, a tree resin called dragon’s blood).

Are there magic ingredients in beauty products—or is it all just marketing? According to Tina Alster of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, it’s a little of both.

“The reality is that these things probably have some effect, but they don’t have that great an effect,” Dr. Alster says. “What people are paying for is the novelty rather than the fact that this is a great product worth spending a couple of hundred dollars on.”

She says that when it comes to skin care, the two most important products to use daily are sunscreen and an antioxidant: “Ninety percent of what we attribute to aging is related to sun damage, so outside of sunscreen, an antioxidant is the next-best thing because it helps clear away free radicals and enhance new collagen formation.” Alster’s favorite antioxidants contain ascorbic acid (vitamin C), vitamin E, and ferulic acid, such as SkinCeuticals’ C E Ferulic ($146).

She frequently sees patients who use expensive face creams such as Crème de la Mer ($140 and up), La Prairie’s Skin Caviar ($410 and up), and Clé de Peau ($525 and up). “Whenever I add vitamin C, their skin always looks better in a month than it did from those other lotions alone,” she says. “But if you’re a Crème de la Mer junkie, by all means continue, because it is a great moisturizer. It’s like going designer—you can buy a suit at the Limited or you can get one at Chanel.”

As for snail slime and dragon’s blood, Alster is skeptical: “Honestly, if you put vitamin C on your face, you’ll be better off.”

Day Spas 2013 ››

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