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The Secret Of Great Skin
No, it isn't rubbing yak urine on your wrinkles, or even a $110 jar of Creme de Mer (that's for the 1 oz. size). Read the hooha about it on their site:

Even now, it is not entirely clear how Crème de la Mer works. For us schooled in logic, it is something of a jolt to the imagination.

For $110 for an oz, I don't just want a jolt to my imagination; I want full-scale teledildonics.

Now, I don't know how great my skin is or isn't, but people always comment on it...I look younger than my age, blah, blah, blah.

Skin care costs me less than $20 a month and it's only that much because my sunblock, with Mexoryl, is the best there is, and until recently, it's been banned in the U.S., so I've gotten tubes of it by the dozen in France.

The sunblock is Anthelios #50+ creme pour visage (a little over 9 eu for 50 ml at my favorite little pharmacy in the Marais), and I wash with Cetaphil at night ($11.49 for a vat of the stuff that lasts me months and months), and St. Ives Apricot Facial Scrub (about $3) in the shower in the morning. Period. No fancy schmancy lotions and crap. Maybe just a little vaseline if my lips are feeling chapped. Here's my entire lotion and face-wash lineup:


Oh yeah, and I don't spend any time in the sun unless I'm wearing a hat or holding an umbrella. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. At least one of us won't have the skin of a 100-year-old leather ottoman at 50.

Hope in a jar, $60 and up? Ha. Try focus group in a jar. Here are a few results of some testing, reported in this New York Times piece, which pretty much recommended all the cheap face crap I use. Here's a key quote:

A study of wrinkle creams published last month by Consumer Reports concluded that there was no correlation between price and effectiveness. The study, which tested nine brands of wrinkle creams over 12 weeks, also concluded that none of the products reduced the depth of wrinkles by more than 10 percent, an amount “barely visible to the naked eye.”

The Consumer Reports study found, for example, that a three-step regimen of Olay Regenerist products costing $57 was slightly more effective at reducing the appearance of wrinkles than a $135 tube of StriVectin-SD or a $335 combination of two La Prairie Cellular lotions.

Note: Anthelios is considerably pricier if you buy it in this country, where our wonderful FDA has spent over a decade protecting us from protecting ourselves from the results of too much sun -- despite the fact that people in France and elsewhere have been using it without ill effect since 1993.

Also, a lady wrote me that, now that the FDA has approved Mexoryl, she was able to buy the Anthelios SPF 15 somewhere in the USA. To me, SPF 15 is practically worthless. They aren't selling #60 anymore in France, but 50+. Make sure that's what you get. I mean, if you don't want melanoma or a face like an old ottoman. Or an old Ottoman, come to think of it.

Posted by aalkon at January 5, 2007 11:51 AM

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Amy, I hate that I have to tell you this, but there is an immense conspiracy in progress.

Look at the difference between the sexes as age plays a factor. What do we see in older men? "Distinguished", "respectable", etc., are the terms used. Guys get better-looking with time, especially if they have had a tough time; "craggy" is about the worst you'll see. Damn, Jack Palance had his admirers at 80+, and that's one ugly guy!

When the ladies age, though, there are few examples of "classic beauty" held up for us to admire. Women who are in the 50-plus bracket have their fans, but these exceptions are carefully tracked, and the perception is fueled by adolescent memory. Think Dawn Wells, Barbara Eden, Jane Seymour. Otherwise, we say a lady is "past her prime", if we say anything at all; Thumper's advice is well heeded.

Well, I'm here to tell you that the difference is also being engineered, by the conspirators. What do we see?

We see an older guy with a siren on his arm. Ad campaigns then kick in for the ladies: "If you use our tint, dye, cream, lotion, ointment, oil, essence, solution, abrasive, gel, applique, mixture, plan, etc., you can look just like {name of celebrity actress}!" Actually, all those fancy cosmetics do is age you while taking your money to make "craggy" men rich - as they court sweet young things who hiss at each other.

Meanwhile, if you got a look in the shower stall of a famous "distinguished" man, like Tom Selleck or Sean Connery, what will you find?

Dishwashing liquid and a razor.

Sure, there are tints, dyes, creams, lotions, ointments, oils, essences, solutions, abrasives, gels, appliques, mixtures and plans for men, too...

...but not real men.

Posted by: Radwaste at January 5, 2007 6:55 AM

Rad, it's not a conspiracy, it's 1.8 million years of human adaptation at work. What we consider beautiful are signs of fertility: Clear skin, full lips, .7 waist-to-hip ratio, etc.

We value men for their abilities as providers/protectors, so an older man actually can have more value than a younger one. I wrote a column about this topic for this week's deadline. I'll post it in a few weeks.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 5, 2007 7:16 AM

St. Ives Apricot Scrub is my favorite skin product! I used it almost daily and have even had facialists tell me my skin looks great. I did succumb to some expensive skin lotions last year, but once it's all gone, back to the O of O for me. Glad to hear the Anthelios is available here now, though my dermatologist (family history of melanoma, so I go visit every 6 months) swears by the Neutrogena SPF 45.

Posted by: deja pseu at January 5, 2007 7:21 AM

I too have strong opinions to share about feminine skin care products!

Just kidding!

> if we say anything at all;

Raddy's right, feminine beauty is a back-loaded mutual fund. So to speak. The sweet stuff happens early.

Beauty & weight & health ads often have people who are attractive on them, but they *always* have people who are young.

Posted by: Crid at January 5, 2007 7:49 AM

I have been using the strongest sunblocks I could buy for the last 32 years. I was pale before it was cool. I'm 47 and my neck doesn't look like a turkeys. St. Ives is great-I use the stuff with salycilic acid-best stuff for preventing blackheads.

Young women will get attention with their looks, but most lose appeal with their inane conversation. My husband likes that I still look good and can quote Clausewitz.

Posted by: Ruth at January 5, 2007 7:53 AM

Beauty & weight & health ads often have people who are attractive on them, but they *always* have people who are young.

One thing I see in France that I'd like to see more of here is beautiful, well-put-together older women who remain a normal body weight. These women know something about men. As does Ruth -- something I know as well.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 5, 2007 8:03 AM

"Rad, it's not a conspiracy..."

Hey, you, I knew that. My delivery sounds a lot funnier than it reads.

Smart women are a bunch better, in every way (I'm repeating myself).

Maybe you saw Lauren Bacall on Letterman a while back. There's an amazing exception: she makes most men look like boys. I doubt she agonizes over what blend of cat urine and opossum fat to smear on her face. (Gee, I love that line...)

Posted by: Radwaste at January 5, 2007 8:29 AM

One thing I see in France that I'd like to see more of here is beautiful, well-put-together older women who remain a normal body weight.

I'm working on it, Amy, I'm working on it!

From what I've seen of "older" French women(having not yet been to France, a lifelong problem which I plan to rectify in May!) they also don't feel the compulsion to dress like teenagers or flash a lot of skin to look younger. Go to Saks in BH on a Sunday afternoon and see all of the 50-something, sun-baked, shrivelled, collagen-lipped, bleached blondes in belly shirts or dressed like the Olson twins.

Posted by: deja pseu at January 5, 2007 9:24 AM

That's especially frightening!

And you see older French women looking older, but sexy. Maybe a low-cut blouse and a necklace hanging down into her cleavage, and a pretty scarf, but you don't see the same violent age-inappropriateness you do in BH.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 5, 2007 9:33 AM

A great resource for what cosmetics ingredients actually do, what has been tested properly, and what is just marketing (i.e. completely useless or actually does more harm than good) is Paula Begoun ( She does sell her own products but she also reviews everything else on the market and I have always found her recommendations to be spot on. If you haven't seen her website, her product reviews are worth a look.

Posted by: Lynley at January 5, 2007 11:46 AM

Actually, I like The Beauty Brains, who aren't selling anything:

Who are they?

Who are the Brains? There are two halves of the Beauty Brains responsible for answering your beauty questions and generating content on this blog. We are professional cosmetic chemists with over 30 years experience creating cosmetics and personal care products. While we both have a love of science and cosmetics you’ll find that their approaches to the subjects are a bit different.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 5, 2007 11:57 AM

I have been allergic to the sun since my early 20's. SkinCeuticals makes a sunblock that completely blocks out sun/UV rays. It sells for about $34.00 per tube and it works for me. No more rash/pimples, sunburn, etc.

Posted by: Miss Mary at January 5, 2007 12:35 PM

Anthelios SPF 15 is at CVS and frankly, if you apply it often enough, it's fine.

Posted by: KateCoe at January 5, 2007 3:45 PM

I'd wear #15 -- at night.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 5, 2007 3:52 PM

And the bad news use cosmetics with petroleum by products. Can't wait to see what ya look like in 10 years.

MY ADIVCE: go organic.

Posted by: Morgan Farmer at January 5, 2007 4:19 PM

My advice: Don't believe everything you believe.

Here's the Beauty Brains on the topic:

Is it safe? After combing through the published medical evidence over at PubMed we could find no studies that linked petroleum jelly to any cancers whatsoever. If someone is claiming such a link, it is not being done by a reputable scientific research organization. If you are curious, read this safety data that manufacturers of petroleum jelly must provide to users.

In Europe (EU) the only restriction on the use of this material is that you have to have a certification from the producer of petroleum jelly that it is free of carcinogens. This is required because SOME methods of production can result in petroleum jelly mixtures that have known cancer causing ingredients in them.

Beauty Brain’s bottom line.
Petroleum jelly will not cause cancer. It is perfectly safe and is an excellent ingredient for skin and hair care products. If someone’s telling you different ask them what they are trying to sell. No doubt, some “natural” alternative. Nonsense.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 5, 2007 4:49 PM

Say, I'd like to see a product that "completely" block the sun and UV radiation. I suspect it's called, "house paint". Sorry about the allergy, though. I wouldn't wish that on you.

Posted by: Radwaste at January 5, 2007 8:27 PM

Rad, people do occasionally have to go outdoors. I do ride my bike after dusk, with a light, and I generally avoid the sun. I would imagine Miss Mary does similiarly. Still, it's hard to patronize some businesses or to make a lunch date after dark.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 6, 2007 6:44 AM

Rad, I wish to offer my dissenting opinion on this point:

If you got a look in the shower stall of a famous "distinguished" man, like Tom Selleck or Sean Connery, what will you find? Dishwashing liquid and a razor.

Here's the problem with that argument: most men are not Tom Selleck or Sean Connery.

Since I started taking a high level of concern with my appearance -- including using some of these facial care products -- I've noticed a huge difference in how people perceive me. Not just women, but professionally, too. I'm getting opportunities in life that I didn't get when I was just another skilled but unkempt techie slob. Does that make me unmanly?

If using L'Oreal For Men levels the playing field against men who did better in the genetic lottery than I did, then by God, I'm going to use L'Oreal For Men.

Posted by: Gary S. at January 7, 2007 7:47 PM

What, exactly, are you doing Gary?

Not wearing makeup, I hope.

There's a balance between what Rad said and lining up for a free makep application at the M.A.C. store. For heterosexuals, anyway.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 7, 2007 8:02 PM

Oh good, another fan of the Cetaphil/St. Ives combo (medicated, of course, medicated!). I find that the Neutrogena Dry-Touch sunscreen with helioplex (or whatever it's called) that blocks UVB works fine for me. Of course, I stay out of the sun whenever possible, and wear sunglasses pretty much 24/7 because of light sensitivity, but still, one worries.

Amy, am I correct in assuming that you don't use moisterizer? Have I really found the only other American woman besides my mother and me who doesn't use moisterizer? Or am I missing something?

(Note for guys: St. Ives medicated apricot scrub is great for reducing razor burn, as is Neutrogena's anti-bump cream. Exfoliating the face with a Buf-Puf or something similar can also help make shaving easier. No, I don't work for any of these companies, I promise - I just have skin that is ultra-sensitive AND prone to both acne and redness, so I'm very specific about which products I use.)

Posted by: marion at January 7, 2007 9:01 PM

I don't use moisturizer. And I'd check out the ingredients in Neutrogena if I were you. It used to have Parsol, which is photounstable -- ie, sunlight breaks it down. I haven't been interested in doing it since I wear Anthelios.

I'd like to get my money back, and then some -- money for any sun damage incurred during all the years I wore Neutrogena. Is it possible they didn't know about Parsol's reaction to sun?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 7, 2007 10:17 PM

I know it's been a few days since anyone commented here, but I want to mention that I don't think you'd get much money out of Neutrogena for that, Amy. Avobenzone/Parsol is good. See here for example, about the problems the study suggesting that Parsol is photounstable (with lots of references to evidence to the contrary if you want to follow up): Your Beauty Brains point out that chemical sunscreens may not last as long as physical ones, but that includes Mexoryl ( Those are the best choice for someone like me, who breaks out horribly when titanium or zinc oxide is put on her skin.

Posted by: Lynley at January 13, 2007 5:09 PM

the cool stuff about this anthelios Sx, available in the US ,is that you can find it at CVS; and also in the US, it is the only one that protects you from the super vicious rays: the ones that cross windows and clouds. and to be honest if you're not going to the beach or playing tennis, you don't need a SPF50... what does matter is that ingredient Mexoryl SX. Well... my dermatologist told me the story so I believe in it.

Posted by: Cedric at January 13, 2007 8:50 PM

Sun isn't always as bad as people make it out to be, it actually can help problem skin, such as acne, blemish, texture, and tanned skin also allows for less makeup. Dermatologists have even suggested tanning as treatment for these skin problems, whether on or off the record I don't know! Anyways when I tan my skin is more beautiful than ever, and tanned people don't always age faster, I guess it depends on how much. Tanned or sun kissed faces are almost always more beautiful than not.

Posted by: April at January 19, 2007 10:03 PM

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