Ask Karla: Can I Remove Wrinkles Without Going Broke?

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I’m 29 and have lived in sunny South Florida for most of those years. So I suppose I should feel lucky that my only wrinkles are one or two deep-set lines under my eyes – souvenirs I picked up while running my college newspaper.

But I’m also busy monitoring the barely perceptive fine lines that have begun to populate the outside of my eyes. It doesn’t help that I’m dating a younger guy who enjoys teasing me about turning 40 next year.

So I could relate when reader Kathe G. asked about wrinkle products…

I would like to know if there are any reasonably priced products that really work on removing/lessening wrinkles.

I’ve already thoroughly researched wrinkle treatments and preventions in fear of the day that my faint lines become full-fledged crow’s feet. The truth is that no over-the-counter wrinkle product will remove wrinkles. A few might reduce them, but not by much.

The best way to become wrinkle-free is to prevent lines before they appear. Unfortunately, most of us don’t worry about wrinkles till they’ve already settled in. At that point, effective wrinkle products are hard to find – but they do technically exist.

An ounce of prevention

Cosmetics expert Paula Begoun has identified seven primary causes of wrinkles, like genetics and time. We can control only one of those causes: sun damage.

“Repeated exposure to the deadly, carcinogenic rays of the sun or tanning beds destroys collagen, elastin, and produces abnormal skin cells that cannot behave like young skin,” Begoun says. “It is the major cause of wrinkling.”

Sun protection is therefore considered the No. 1 way to prevent wrinkles – or to prevent them from worsening or multiplying. “Use sunscreen 365 days a year,” as the American Academy of Dermatology plainly puts it in Skin Care on a Budget. “This helps prevent sun damage that could lead to wrinkles, age spots, or even skin cancer.” (But don’t overpay for sunscreen. Check out How to Save Money While Saving Your Skin.)

For more wrinkle prevention tips, I highly recommend…

Slim pickings

Earlier this year, Consumers Union’s ShopSmart magazine tested seven anti-wrinkle creams. None worked for everyone, and all but one worked “not very well.” Even the winner – Garnier’s Ultra-Lift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Moisturizer SPF 15 – was only marginally more effective: “The results weren’t dramatic, but after 12 weeks of use, this cream slightly reduced fine lines and wrinkles on more testers than other products.”

Last year, Consumer Reports Health tested nine anti-wrinkle serums. Once again, no product worked for everyone, and all results were “slight at best.” DermaSilk’s 5 Minute Face Lift and Neutrogena’s Ageless Intensives Deep Wrinkle proved slightly better than the rest, and Burt’s Bees’ Naturally Ageless Intensive Repairing proved slightly worse.

Do your homework

So, if even the experts have a tough time finding an effective anti-wrinkle product, what are the rest of us supposed to do?

What not to do…

Manufacturers routinely make inflated, if not false, promises. They get away with it because, as I spelled out in How to Read Beauty Product Labels, the FDA does not oversee product claims. So never judge a wrinkle product by its container’s claims.

This leaves two options…

1. Educate yourself. Product ingredient lists are the only part of product packaging that requires FDA approval, so they constitute the most (if not only) useful information a consumer can find on a product container. So if you want to buy an effective product, learn which ingredients are most effective. The experts explain these details best, so I’ll leave it to them. I highly recommend:

2. Research ratings and reviews. In addition to publications like WebMD and Consumer Reports – especially their report on the best wrinkle products – I swear by Beautypedia. This extensive database of personal care product reviews by Paula Begoun’s team is free and allows you to search all the reviews or jump right to the best products in every category.

You could also consult customer reviews on sites like Amazon and MakeupAlley, but I don’t advise it. No one wrinkle product works equally well for everyone, and Jane D. Consumer may not have followed the product directions correctly.

3. Save what you can. Any money spent on an ineffective product is a waste, and no effective wrinkle product is cheap. Penny-pinchers seeking to reduce wrinkles are actually better off worrying about wrinkle reduction first and price reduction second. Here’s how I do it…

  1. Using what you learned from steps 1 and 2 above, narrow down all the relevant products out there to the well-reviewed options with quality ingredients.
  2. Narrow those options down again by tossing out any products that aren’t drugstore brands.
  3. From the remaining options, pick the cheapest.
  4. Buy it wherever and however you can get it for the least, making sure to compare the prices of brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers. Drugstore brands offer more coupons and go on sale more often than higher-end brands, so keep an eye out for coupons and sales like you’ll find on our Deals page. For example, I use an Olay serum at night, and as I pointed out to readers in my Oct. 28 Today’s Deals post, all Olay products were recently on sale for 25 percent off at CVS.
  5. When you find your wrinkle product of choice for less than retail, buy more than one. That way, it will last you until the next time it goes on sale or the manufacturer puts out a coupon.

For more ways to find affordable products, check out 6 Tips to Save on Beauty Products.

Karla Bowsher runs our Deals page; writes “Today’s Deals” posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; and covers consumer and retail issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

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