Other researchers are probing the connection between the skin and the circadian cycle (body clock), to figure out whether there's an optimum time to apply certain creams.
The circadian cycle coordinates the repair of damaged cells and DNA in the body, which mainly occurs during rest periods. Research has shown that as people age, the genes that affect the circadian cycle get out of synch, slowing cell repair. Mary Matsui, Estée Lauder's executive director of external research, says that scientists there are probing the molecular pathways that skin cells use to communicate with the body clock in an attempt to keep the process running smoothly. Women's Wear Daily reports that Estée Lauder is set to release a product line dubbed Chronolux Technology this summer that contains an amino acid sequence that helps to maintain a healthy cell repair schedule.
"Dermatologists have lived under the impression that once you have wrinkles and damaged collagen, that's it," Yarosh says. Research has shown, however, that new collagen can be generated—and Estée Lauder and others say they are developing products that may stimulate such production.
P&G, for instance, has developed Pal-KT, a trademark name for a kind of peptides (short strands of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins) that it uses in its Olay Pro-X line, introduced earlier this year. Hillebrand says that during studies these peptides tricked skin cells called fibroblasts that produce collagen into upping their output of the firming protein. The reason: when collagen breaks down it produces peptides, which the fibroblasts sense, triggering them to begin making new collagen.
Other key active ingredients that P&G has pinpointed as important weapons in the battle against wrinkles (and has included in its Pro-X line) include:
• Retinyl propionate, a patented and less irritating form of retinol (a form of vitamin A) and propionic acid (a liquid fatty acid). It "has multiple effects on the skin," Hillebrand says. "It's been studied for effects on collagen synthesis and barrier protection."
• Niacinamide, a form of Vitamin B3, which Hillebrand says improves moisture retention, fine lines and hyperpigmentation.
• Hexamidine, a chemical also used in diaper lining, helps lock in moisture; studies show it also helps to improve the pathways for lipids (fats) to travel through the skin layers, thereby improving thickness.
Despite the time and money that companies pour into anti-aging research and consumers pour into their products, the condition of your skin largely comes down to your genes—and how well you protect it. The P&G scientists liken inherited skin traits to those for being tall and having nice teeth. They set you out on the right track, but you will probably only reach your full height potential with proper nutrition and have strong teeth with good dental hygiene.
"Our skin is sort of a merciless mirror of our inner health," Hillebrand says. To keep that mirror looking its best, he notes, you should get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, eat a balanced diet, wear sunblock—and avoid smoking, excess alcohol and stress.
"It's not all about going anti-aging," Hillebrand says. "It's about aging successfully and gracefully."