The Price of Vanity - the Anti-Ageing Dream

Bob Leggitt | Saturday, 20 August 2011 |

I’ve rambled on at length on this blog about how stupid people are, but here's a facet of consumerism which has made a mug of yours truly… Anti-ageing cream.

I suppose one of the greatest causes for suspicion towards the anti-ageing market is the incredibly short duration of the 'efficiency tests'. The focus is almost entirely on short-term results - little more than immediate - and there are no representations at all of true long-term progress. You'd expect a manufacturer professing to offer an anti-ageing solution to show evidence of... well, people not ageing, basically. But they don't. They show pictures of (or take anecdotes from) people who've daubed the cream onto their faces and seen an apparent reduction of wrinkles within a matter of days. That's not anti-ageing, it's just immediately swelling out the skin surface. An insect bite can swell the face and take out the lines in the immediate term, but it doesn't stop you ageing. Ageing takes place over the years, not within 14 days. Efficiency tests do not, for example, show the results of half a face treated with anti-ageing cream, and half not, over two years. Why? Because in the long term, anti-ageing creams do not prevent people from ageing.

And how could they? A wrinkle is a crease in the skin, which appears, over time, because the skin is predisposed to creasing in that spot. As long as the skin can continue to crease in that spot, the wrinkle is going absolutely nowhere. Expecting face cream to remove the line is like expecting shoe care cream to take the instep creases out of a pair of leather shoes, which you’re wearing every day. The shoe cream protects and conditions the leather, but whilst you continue to wear the shoes, it sure as hell ain’t gonna progressively uncrease the instep. The creases are nothing to do with the condition of the leather, and everything to do with the fact you’re constantly wearing, and re-creasing the shoes. Same with face cream and your face. And yet we go out and blow stupid amounts of money on this stuff, which we know deep down doesn’t do anything. There’s nothing it can do.

Think about it. The skin surface renews itself every few weeks. Daubing anti-ageing cream onto a layer of skin which is by nature non-permanent and set to be replaced, is probably the most futile exercise anyone could ever undertake. For the cream to work, it would have to completely reprogram the body’s own intentions and interfere with the way it reproduces matter. If it did that, the implications would stretch far beyond anti-ageing. Any such product would surely find itself at the forefront of the quest to cure cancer. And if a face cream really interfered with the body's reproduction of matter, there would also be huge concerns about its safety. There are no significant safety concerns attached to high street brand anti-ageing creams. Why? Because they don't manipulate cell reproduction. What they do, is moisturise the surface of the face.


In common with the diet business, the anti-ageing industry has a very, very powerful ally. You desperately want your programme to work, and will do everything within your power to make it happen. So the overwhelming likelihood is that you won’t be using the product (whether a diet meal, diet drink, or a bottle of anti-wrinkle cream) as a stand-alone remedy. You’ll be following advice which is given to “aid the product in its effectiveness”. With a diet plan, you’ll be incorporating the product (a diet meal) into a wider calorie-controlled diet, and most probably, taking steps to exercise more too. With an anti-ageing regime you’ll most likely be observing a host of recommended measures, such as eating more healthily, drinking more water, better protecting yourself from the sun, more exercise, regular exfoliation, etc, etc. Of course, the reality is that these ‘additional measures’ don’t aid the skin care – they are the skin care. Your anti-ageing gunk is neither here nor there. The manufacturers are simply taking credit for what the rest of your regime achieves. In reality, your anti-ageing cream didn’t do anything more for you than a regular moisturiser costing £2 or £3 for a big bottle.

In the end, anti-ageing cream is like anything else which “doesn’t work for everyone”. It doesn’t work, full stop. The very concept of something working for some people but not for others should always be cause for great suspicion. When something ‘works’ on one occasion, but not another, then the obvious explanation is that in reality, the task was accomplished by something else. If we were using anti-wrinkle cream on shoes, we’d conclude it didn’t work after one treatment, and never use it again. But so desperate are we to dissolve away the fine lines steadily appearing on our faces, that we willingly suspend our disbelief.

However, we can't seriously blame the manufacturers and advertisers for this collossal rip-off. Realistically, we can only blame ourselves.

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