Skeptical of the claims of anti-ageing creams? So were we, which is why we asked Katie Hawkins, 32, to test out a new serum and have 3D skin scans before and after. Editor Anna Magee reports
When it comes to the effectiveness of beauty products, much of what we’re told – and then sold – often seems more like smoke and mirrors than real, measurable results.
‘Smooths fine lines.’ ‘Reduces wrinkles.’ ‘Rejuvenates.’ ‘Penetrates the skin’s barrier.’ They’re all claims made by beauty product manufacturers that don’t always come with cold hard evidence.
When Healthista first heard about a new £79 miracle serum, NeoStrata’s Skin Active Tri-therapy Lifting Serum – which claimed to volumize slack skin, renew tone and smooth the skin’s surface – we wondered how we could put its claims to the test with measurable results.
On paper, the serum has a great pedigree. It comes from Neostrata, a leading practitioner-lead cosmeceutical brand that has been responsible for some of the world’s biggest breakthroughs in anti-ageing ingredients, including the first ever product formulated with alpha-hydroxy acids, now a staple in many skin-smoothing creams and serums.
In trials on 38 volunteers aged 40-60, 79 per cent saw an improvement in wrinkles, 90 per cent noticed their skin brightness got better and a staggering 97 per cent saw a reduced appearance of fine lines.
Impressive results, but 38 volunteers is hardly a big number – and £79 for a single beauty product is a lot of money.
That’s why we teamed up with leading cosmetic medic, Dr Sophie Shotter and make-up artist Katie Hawkins, to put its claims to the test.
Getting a true ‘before’ picture
Before pictures are one thing, but when it comes to getting a true picture of skin, dermatologists and skin doctors rely on a Visia machine.
‘A Visia machine is much more accurate than the naked eye because it provides a 3D measure of skin’s health, not only in the way it looks, but also on what is going on underneath the surface that the naked eye can’t see,’ says Dr Shotter.
Indeed, talk to any cutting edge skin specialist and you’ll probably find them talking a lot about skin ‘health’ right now.
‘As skin doctors, we’re focusing less on one problem, be that wrinkles or sun spots and are now looking at how products perform on skin health as a whole,’ Dr Shotter asserts. ‘This can include its effect on skin surface brightness, the texture or feel of the skin, along with sun spots and UV damage,’ says Dr Shotter.
The Visia measures all these areas, and can give a much more accurate picture of a product’s performance than before and after pictures alone.
A product with potential
TheSkin Active Tri Therapy Lifting Serum is a great product on paper, according to Dr Shotter. It contains 8% gluconolactone, a gentle moisturiser which is a polyhydroxy acid, one of the latest generation of gentle skin smoothers to help promote a more even skin tone.
‘These new-gen polyhydroxy acids are mildly resurfacing, not aggressive at all, making them great for sensitive skin,’ says Dr Shotter.
‘It also contains Aminofil, a Neostrata proprietary ingredient, which targets the skin’s own hyaluronic acid, helping collagen stimulation, claiming to help improve skin quality and texture.’
Dr Shotter also liked the idea that according to the company, the serum was gentle enough to be used all over the face.
‘If this product could be used around the eyes as well as everywhere else, which is what NeoStrata claimed, it would be a great option for budget conscious patients who really want results, but can only afford one product – it was an appealing prospect.’
Looking older than her true age
Katie Hawkins has been conscious of her skin her entire life. ‘I had severe acne growing up and suffered terribly with outbreaks and spots as a teenager,’ the 31 year old remembers.
‘My skin has always been something I have been insecure about, and ever since I could, I have been trying to mask it with make-up, experimenting with different brands and products.’
I wasn’t using the right products at the time to combat the specific damage I had
As Katie has gotten older, her acne has subsided, but her skin confidence hasn’t improved.
‘The acne has left behind scarring and redness, and I also have pigmentation and discolouration around my eye and on my upper cheek area, which meant I was never completely comfortable going make-up free,’ says Katie, who lives in with her husband Simon, a photographer and daughter Felicity, four.
The texture of her skin was also a cause of concern for Katie, ‘When I touched my face, it wasn’t completely soft, but felt rough.
‘To look at, it was dull and unless I put make-up on I just didn’t look radiant or awake.
‘But I wasn’t educated about my skin, and as a result, I wasn’t using the right products at the time to combat the specific damage I had, I kept trying to mask it with make-up and it even influenced my choice of career,’ explains Katie, who runs her own wedding make up business Pretty Please by Katie.
When Dr Shotter first met Katie, she was struck how much older Katie’s skin looked than her 32 years.
‘Katie has young eyes and her demeanour in general is youthful and full of vitality,’ says Dr Shotter. ‘But when I first saw Katie’s skin it looked dry and dull and she wore very, very heavy make-up, underneath the surface was uneven, with pigmentation and sun damage – I really wanted to get my hands on her skin as I could see she had no confidence about it; having struggled with skin issues her whole life’.
Testing out the serum claims
As part of the experiment, Katie would undergo scanning with the Visia machine before, and four weeks after using the Skin Active Tri Therapy Lifting Serum.
One of the ‘rules’ for the experiment was that Katie would keep her current skincare regime using products from The Ordinary.
It was a wake-up call, seeing all the sun damage and the below average scores on texture
The only change she would make was to use the serum day and night on clean skin. This way, Dr Shotter could get an accurate reading of the serum’s effects after four week’s use.
Four weeks later, Katie would have another Visia scan to see what difference the serum could really make to her skin’s overall health.
What did Katie think of the initial images of the first Visia scan? ‘It showed that my skin was older than my age, and it was such an education, something I would recommend everyone do to get a true picture of the state of their skin,’ says Katie.
‘It was a wake-up call, seeing all the sun damage and the below average scores on texture, and brightness made me more aware of what sort of damage I would be facing in the future if I didn’t take steps to improve it now.’
The results of using NeoStrata’s Skin Active Tri Therapy Lifting Serum for four weeks
After only two weeks using the serum, Katie’s husband Simon noticed a change in her skin. ‘He is one of the few people that see me without make up and he knows how uncomfortable I am without it and he commented on how even and ‘glowing’ it looked after only a couple of weeks using the serum,’ says Katie. ‘That spurred me on to keep going.’
What the Visia scan said
The Visia gives skin a percentage out of a 100 for each area – from brightness to UV damage and texture – by comparing the person’s results to 100 other people of their age,’ says Dr Shotter.
‘So, if you get a 33% score in texture, it means your skin’s texture scores 33 out of 100. The higher your score, the better the result. Our aim is always to get the percentages of each area as high as possible to indicate an improvement in the skin.’
People often think this refers to actual spots or pimple says Dr Shotter, but in fact it refers to regularities in colour.
‘Katie’s score of 27% means her skin was very patchy looking beforehand and afterwards, the improved score of 53% means its brightness and evenness doubled, making the skin appear a lot smoother.‘
Most of us want brighter, more even skin, so what was it about this product that achieved such results?
‘There are a lot of women out there using expensive skincare that doesn’t contain the right ingredients to penetrate the skin’s surface,’ says Dr Shotter.
‘They’re not exfoliating the skin’s surface in a gentle enough way to achieve an effective enough result to get active ingredients to penetrate – and, this shouldn’t be done with skin scrubs as its too harsh.
‘The polyhydroxy acids in the product exfoliated the surface gently, allowing active ingredients in the serum to penetrate the top layer of the skin and do their work, evening out the skin’s surface, which I think is why we got such a dramatic result.’
‘Texture on the Visia refers to the tactile evenness of the skin,’ says Dr Shotter. ‘When you feel a baby’s skin, it’s perfectly smooth, whereas most adult skin has a slight roughness to it which is just a build up of dead cells and the skin not exfoliating and turning over as quickly as it used to.
‘This is made worse because skin may be clogged full of layered product and make-up – we’re in an era where the fashionable look is heavy, multi-layered thick foundation and contouring which is terribly bad for skin.
‘In Katie’s case, her texture issues were made worse by the presence of acne scarring, a hangover from her teenage years. That, along with her over-use of heavy make-up meant Kate’s original score for texture was low, at 33%.
‘I think the dramatic improvement Katie experienced in her results, which saw the smoothness of her skin almost triple, was down to the fact that the product contains a high concentration (8%) of gluconolactone whose exfoliating action resulted in the silkier skin.’
‘When I touched my skin before it didn’t feel soft at all,’ remembers Katie. ‘Probably the biggest difference I found from the serum was that it made the skin feel better and that really increased my level of confidence in general. After about three weeks using it, as I applied my skin care and make up, the skin felt so much better.
‘As we age, collagen production slows down and that can result in pores loosening and becoming emptier as they have less collagen, making them appear more visible to the naked eye,’ Dr Shotter points out. ‘This is why people complain of more open pores as they get older.
‘We start losing collagen from about 25 onwards at the rate of 1 – 1.5% a year and there are some people that lose it a bit quicker, which is what happened in Katie’s case – especially if they are sun-worshippers or have smoked, which can be terribly damaging for collagen production.
‘Katie’s pores saw a staggering fourfold improvement in the tightness of her pores, which I think is in part to do with the exfoliation effect but also because the serum contains a low molecule hyaluronic acid (HA), which is different to regular HA on the market because its smaller molecular nature helps it penetrate the skin and stimulate collagen, helping the pores look fuller.’
‘UV spots refers to sun damage that is sitting just below the surface of the skin,’ says Dr Shotter. ‘Brown spots on the other hand are damage that has already appeared, even if it’s not immediately visible to the naked eye, the Visia picks it up.
‘As you get older, sun damage that happened in your teens and 20s will appear as more brown spots, which were Katie’s main concerns,’ says Dr Shotter.
I was absolutely delighted with the results and it’s helped me realise that with the right skincare, I can reverse the effects of all that sun worshipping
‘But the UV damage still under the surface it will appear on the Visia as UV spots. Both are cause for concern and need to be addressed if the score is low for both, which was the case with Katie’.
‘The sun damage in my face was much worse than I expected,’ says Katie. ‘When I was younger, I worked abroad and was always in the sun, without sunscreen – but you don’t worry at the time because you can’t see the actual damage it’s doing. That’s why I recommend everyone do a Visia scan on their 30th birthday – it gives you a wake-up call on the damage in your skin.
‘I was absolutely delighted with the results and it’s helped me realise that with the right skincare, I can reverse the effects of all that sun worshipping.’
‘I really wasn’t expecting such a great improvement in UV damage in Katie’s skin,’ says Dr Shotter. ‘There is nothing in the serum that dramatically resets the skin’s surface, but one of the functions of the gluconolactone is to help even out the skin’s pigmentation.
‘It’s gentle exfoliation function is what helped even out the skin’s tone. This works by sloughing off the dead keratinocytes [cells] on the skin’s surface, also called the epidermis. That then makes the dermis, -which is deeper under the skin’s surface – thicker and that is what makes skin appear more even and healthy overall’.
[please note I have taken out porphyrins as I think it was too much information overload and bit of a red herring]
Crow’s Feet Lines
When Katie first came to see Dr Shotter, it was actually because she wanted to have Botox to address her concerns about the crow’s feet around her eyes. ‘But I didn’t feel she needed it and was confident we could improve the skin with targeted skincare,’ says Dr Shotter.
‘You can programme the Visia to photograph lines anywhere on the face, so because of Katie’s concerns, we programmed it to look at crow’s feet and you can see in the before picture how dense and pronounced they were in Katie originally. The skin around her eyes was also very dry.
‘The eye area often ages quicker in terms of fine lines and wrinkles than the rest of the face, so it’s no surprise that this was a problem area for Katie at only 32.
‘But the upshot is that the eye area responds a lot faster to the right treatment too,’ Dr Shotter asserts.
‘In this instance Katie’s crow’s feet reduced by almost half, which I think is down to the specific hydrating effects of the serum, especially its ability to deliver nutrients like hyaluronic acid deep into the skin, stimulating collagen and increasing the skin’s elasticity and thickness, resulting in the appearance of fewer lines and crow’s feet.
‘We were astounded by the results of the trial, we really were and have since put patients on it who have limited budgets but want one high-performing skincare product. You can’t argue with Visia results and people want cold, hard evidence that it works as it isn’t cheap.’
‘Those scans were like an education in my skin,’ says Katie. ‘There were the facts of my skin, right there in front of me – the sun damage, the texture, the tone, its level of brightness – I couldn’t argue with them.
‘It’s all very well walking into a department store and the sales person saying ‘Oh your skin looks a little dry’ but where’s the evidence? By seeing the scan, I could see not only the problem areas in my face, but also whether the product actually did anything to help them. I was nervous as it meant having to take all my make up off which terrified me, but I’m so glad I did.
‘I didn’t expect the results I got from using one single product. Now, because I have a more even skin tone and an overall more glowing appearance, I use a much lighter make-up and also occasionally go without wearing any at all, which for me is a first. That’s made me so much more confident not only in my skin, but also in myself.
I didn’t expect the results I got from using one single product.
‘Will I keep using it? During the trial I got the serum for free but I worked out that I was using it day and night and it lasted me eight weeks – because you only need a tiny amount. If I was paying £79 for it, it would equate to £1.40 per use which is quite good going given the results. (Depending on days used, based on 56 days)
‘Now I am happy with my skin, Dr Shotter has recommended using it only once a day. It’s not free anymore but I will be investing in it because used only once I day I figure it will last me four months this time. I see that as money well spent because I know I am actually doing something good for my skin’.