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At 45, I'm one of the fortunate people blessed with good genetics and the sense that led me to wear sunscreen faithfully, year round, for at least the past 25 years. Teamed up with large dark sunglasses, big brimmed hats and minimal beach time, I've been able to protect my pale, Celtic skin to such an extent that my age is routinely guessed to be around 32.

But even that cannot completely negate the effects of time, or a childhood spent by the pool as a member of the swim team. Not to mention the fact that I have a horrible habit of raising my eyebrows when I'm working on the computer, and guess where I spend 95% of my workday?

Ever since I first learned of the cosmetic use of Botox almost 7 years ago, I've wanted to get injections to help erase the lines in my forehead. But the cost was prohibitive -- until recently.

In the ensuing years, many companies have come out with skin creams and products which they say will have a similar effect on your face. The problem is determining which ones, if any, are worth the expense, as these products are much more expensive than the average face cream.

Botox itself is made from botulinum toxin type A. This is the same natural toxin that causes botulism, a disease that paralyzes its victims. The toxin is rendered inert -- non-poisonous -- through the extraction process and a tiny amount is delivered directly to the site where it is needed via injection. Once the extract is inside the muscle, it prevents it from contracting, stopping the wrinkling process.

The effect is temporary, lasting 3 to 6 months when Botox is used for cosmetic purposes and less when used for treatment of neck pain and/or headaches.

However, I'm sure you've seen the claims:

“Better than Botox!”“Younger Looking Skin!”“Say Goodbye to Botox”

These products routinely retail for upwards of $50 for a small jar (Strivectin, at approximately $22.50 US per ounce, is the cheapest on the market). And if I'm going to be paying that much for a skin cream, I would like it to be effective.

Are they as good as the manufacturer's claim?

In a word -- NO! The plain fact is that no cream or lotion applied to the outside of your skin is able to penetrate to the underlying muscle to stop it from contracting and causing wrinkles. If the product actually did that, why wouldn't your fingers freeze up too? After all, you're using them to apply the product.

In this context, I am talking about deep lines -- crow's feet from squinting in sunlight, the lines that go from the corners of your mouth to your nose from smiling, the furrows between your brows from scrunching up your eyes when your frown or cry or concentrate. These lines will not respond to creams.

However, a few ingredients have been found to offer some benefit in the treatment of superficial wrinkles and sun damage. The first is vitamin A -- aka Retinol or Tretinoin. Tretinoin is the ONLY topical skin cream approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for treating wrinkles. Due to the concentration of active ingredients, Tretinonoin can cause serious skin irritation and it should not be used by anyone planning to become pregnant due to a grave risk of birth defects. The milder Retinol is not regulated by the FDA and you need to read labels to ensure that there is enough concentration of the product to have the desired effect.

Hydroxy acids -- alpha, beta and poly -- stimulate the production of collagen in skin and you may find small improvements in the thickness of your skin with their use. Again, these products can cause skin irritation and you must wear sunscreen religiously when using products containing hydroxy acids to prevent further sun damage.

Otherwise, you will find minor benefits from products containing the following: alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q-10, copper peptides, kinetin, soy isoflavones, tea extracts, vitamin C and vitamin E.

One ingredient that WILL NOT WORK is collagen. Collagen is a protein that occurs naturally in our skin. Unfortunately, it diminishes as we age and that's how you get the sagging appearance over time. The collagen molecule is large -- too large to penetrate our skin. Collagen in a product can help retain moisture in our skin, which is always a good thing, but it does not have any wrinkle-fighting/treatment benefit whatsoever.

As for me, I stick with my 30 SPF sunscreen from March through October and 15 spf the rest of the year. Olay Regenerist is my skin care product line of choice, though I do try others when I find them on sale including Avon and Neostrata. And, just because I really want to zap those creases across my forehead, I've booked myself for Botox injections next month. I promise a full report on my treatment -- with photos -- in the new year.

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