Rita Hodges

Extension service

Consumers are confused about over-the-counter products touted to fight aging.

The labels on the products are laced with words only a chemist can understand. The commercials feature women who donít look over 35.

According to Dr. Carol Rice, Extension Health Specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, donít believe every commercial claim. The evidence for the use of over-the-counter cosmetic products that claim anti-aging effects is not yet clearly substantiated.

The place to begin clearing the confusion is the doctorís office. Because of the contradicting information and the often unsubstantiated claims by the cosmetic industry, it is important to be a wise consumer. See you doctor or dermatologist if at all possible. They can often help you assess your skin type and give advice about products based on credible research and years of experience.

After that, the first true anti-aging item on your shopping list should be sunscreen, because exposure to the sun is the No. 1 preventable cause of skin damage. This kind of skin damage, called photo-aging, includes premature wrinkling, damage to natural pigmentation and loss of quality in the skin. It can also lead to skin cancer.

Sunscreen qualifies as a cosmetic and a drug and is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as such. You should use sunscreen on a daily basis, either as part of a cosmetic or on the skin underneath other cosmetic products, unless advised otherwise by your doctor. It is also recommended to use waterproof sunscreen and lip balm, both with at least 15 SPF.

Ordinary skin creams and lotions arenít designed to reduce the damage caused by the sun. This requires stronger medicine.

Retinoids are the only products approved by the FDA as safe and effective in reducing the signs of photo-aging. Retinoids are defined as natural or synthetic derivatives of vitamin A. These products are only available by prescription. Over-the-counter products containing retinol or retinal have not proven to be effective.

Antioxidants may help slow down aging in the skin, but not usually when administered through skin creams. The best way to get antioxidants is through diet.

As natural components in the body and when consumed in food sources, antioxidants have been shown to act as scavengers of free radicals-unstable oxygen molecules that contribute to accelerated aging of the skin. Vitamins A, C and E are all antioxidants. It is recommended that we consume these vitamins through food sources, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, some oils, nuts, dairy products and meats.

Topical antioxidants, other than retinoids, however, are yet to be substantiated as a benefit to the skin.

Some ingredients may be useful in skin creams, but the research isnít yet complete. Both Vitamin E and C show promise as protectorates against ultra-violet radiation damage from the sun; however, there have not been enough studies on human subjects to substantiate claims for topical use.

Always choose products with ingredients that are FDA-approved for safety. As with any topical cosmetic or drug, always follow directions listed on the package and heed any warnings about its usage.

When you go in the cosmetic aisle, be wary of products that make claims to reverse aging skin, especially those that claim to do it fast. Always consider the safety of the product first. Check for and heed, warning labels and safety precautions.

For more information, contact Rita M. Hodges, county extension agent for family and consumer sciences, 701 S. Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie; call 972-825-5175; or email rmhodges@ag.tamu.edu.