Karin Herzog: Kate Middleton"s favourite moisturiser put to the test

Rise of the wrinkle busters: The Duchess of Cambridge's favourite anti-ageing cream is put to the test… with incredible results (and at around 50 it won't break the bank)

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UPDATED:

00:01 GMT, 30 July 2012


Radiant: The Duchess is said to be a big fan of the Karin Herzog range

Radiant: The Duchess is said to be a big fan of the Karin Herzog range

As a beauty writer I am acutely aware that much pseudo-science is spouted by manufacturers in a bid to tempt the public to buy their latest wonder cream. And once, this was largely marketing guff.

All moisturisers are essentially an emulsion of oil and water. The way to works is simple: putting it on the skin traps moisture to the surface, and stops the uppermost layers from becoming dry. But can using one really stop the ageing process – or even make us look younger

Today, the answer is yes. Anti-ageing products available on the High Street are increasingly high-tech, created using techniques borrowed from advanced medical research. And they actually work – as I discovered when I put one famous Royal’s favourite face cream to the test.

For a month, I used The Duchess of Cambridge’s moisturiser of choice – from Karin Herzog range – which you can pick up in most department stores at around 50 for a 50ml pot. And scientists analysing my skin told me there was irrefutable evidence that my wrinkles had been reduced by 27 per cent. So how is this possible

Experts call this ‘the age of the cosmeceutical’. That’s a term coined to cover high-tech skincare that falls into the gap between cosmetics, which by law should make only a very temporary change to the skin, and pharmaceutical products, which can be provided only with a doctor’s prescription, and bring about lasting changes.

Although it’s not a term recognised in law by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), which licenses medicines in the UK, it is a useful description as the lines between cosmetics and medicines are becoming increasingly blurred.

Technically, any potion that makes a physiological change to the skin – reducing wrinkles and uneven pigmentation, and reversing sun damage and other dermatological problems – should be classed as a medicine.

Kate's moisturiser of choice - which costs around 50 for a 50ml pot from the Karin Herzog range - was tested over the course of a month

Kate's moisturiser of choice – which costs around 50 for a 50ml pot from the Karin Herzog range – was tested over the course of a month

But to put a product through medical drug-testing is a lengthy process costing millions, and not something that even the major cosmetics companies would want to do, not least because at the end of it you would have a product that could be sold only on prescription rather than over the counter.

However, it is beyond dispute that today’s cosmetics can make significant changes to the skin. In the past decade, skincare companies have been falling over themselves to provide credible proof of how well their products work to persuade us to buy them.

And this is not just the ‘surveys-show-that-nine-out-of-ten-women-thought-their-skin-looked-better’ type of proof, but clinical trials, where the product has been properly tested against a placebo under controlled conditions.

No 7’s Protect And Perfect line famously began to sell out repeatedly in 2007 after clinical trials on the product, which showed that it genuinely reduced wrinkles, were judged to be scientifically sound.

Olay’s Regenerist 3-point Treatment Cream caused a stampede the following year after trials confirmed it made skin firmer within 21 days. Two years ago, Clinique conducted trials to demonstrate that its Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector (a bit of a mouthful, but one heck of a product) produced comparable results in reducing skin pigmentation to hydroquinone, the standard prescription treatment for skin pigmentation.

And in the past few weeks, L’Oreal’s new Revitalift Laser Renew serum has been shown by a clinical trial to produce skin benefits comparable to treatment with a skin-resurfacing laser. You’d expect these new wonder-potions to cost a small fortune, but all the above are between 20 and 40.

Because technically these creams are doing more than they ought, it has led to a bizarre situation where companies don’t always want to let on just how extensive the effects of their products may be in case of calls for them to be recategorised as medicines.

It’s time the categories were redrawn, if you ask Dr Chris Flower, director general of the cosmetics trade body, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA).

Skin deep: Beauty writer Alice Hart-Davis looks beyond the pseudo-science of wonder creams and discovers one worthy of the hype

Skin deep: Beauty writer Alice Hart-Davis looks beyond the pseudo-science of wonder creams and discovers one worthy of the hype

‘We now understand better the physiology of the skin and its responses to ingredients and can see that where the borderline [between cosmetics and medicines] has been drawn is not necessarily the best dividing line,’ he says. ‘Cosmetics aren’t watered-down drugs any more than they are beefed-up shoe polish. The key thing is that they are safe, effective and high-quality.

‘We are now trying to work out the best legal way of saying “medicine takes ill people and makes them better and cosmetics take ordinary, healthy people and make them better”. Ageing isn’t a disease but we can do things to improve it.

‘Cosmetics used to be purely decorative. But now we understand that even a simple moisturiser changes the way cells express genes and enzymes, so it’s interacting with the skin – but no one would seriously think that Vaseline should be labelled a medicine. Rather than arguing over the interpretation of legislation, we should take a commonsense approach and look at whether a product is aimed at sick people or healthy people.’

In the interests of research (and, yes, of vanity) I make a point of trying interesting new skincare lines and using them diligently for a month – the length of time it takes for any beneficial changes in the skin to show up – just to see what they are like.

Alice before and after

Last year, the selection ranged from
Elizabeth Arden (lovely – its Prevage serum and SPF-fortified day cream
suited my skin very well) to No 7’s Lift & Luminate (not ideal for
me), though the product that made my skin look best of all – glowing,
vibrant, neither dry nor overly oiled – was Environ, a range created by a
South African cosmetic surgeon and based on the benefits to the skin of
high-strength Vitamin C.

But then I was persuaded to try Karin
Herzog, a Swiss range of handmade products that have trapped oxygen
within the cream (much harder to do than it sounds).

The
creams claim to infuse the skin with healing oxygen by a process that I
didn’t quite understand so I’ll spare you the details.

What
did make me prick up my ears was the quiet aside that these are the
products that the Duchess of Cambridge has been using for years, and to
which she is apparently devoted. If they’re good enough for her
outstandingly beautiful skin .  .  .

The
packaging is old-fashioned and they weren’t particularly nice to use –
the roller-ball that dispensed the facial oil was reluctant to roll, the
serum bottle had a savage squirt, and the peroxide in the main cream
turned my eyebrows ginger.

As
usual, I couldn’t see any difference in my skin but I’d taken the
precaution of getting a professional before-and-after assessment with
Nick Miedzianowski-Sinclair at the 3D Cosmetic Imaging Studio in Wimpole
Street, Central London.

Nick’s
specialist Visia camera took detailed photographs of my face, noting
the exact extent of my wrinkles, pigment patches and so on, and after
five weeks of using Karin Herzog there was a measurable reduction in
wrinkles, age spots and red areas of the face. As Nick put it, ‘there’s
some good evidence of efficacy’; genuine evidence that using this range
will make your skin look younger.

I
could have stuck with Herzog but I’ve been tempted away by Neo Strata,
an ‘advanced anti-ageing regime’ from America – studies showed that
after four weeks, 93 per cent of users saw improvements in wrinkles,
skin texture and forehead lines.

Because the brand contains high levels
of active ingredients such as glycolic acid (which helps plump the
skin), it is sold only through skin clinics, where the staff can keep an
eye on how your skin is responding.

Cutting edge: Cream is applied on the epidermis. Products are becoming increasingly high-tech

Cutting edge: Cream is applied on the epidermis. Products are becoming increasingly high-tech

These
clinics are a halfway house, if you like, between the prescription
skincare that a doctor or dermatologist could provide and
over-the-counter products.

And
more developments will arrive thick and fast. To find out what the
future hold for our faces, I visited the Episkin Predictive Evaluation
Centre centre on the outskirts of Lyon, where scientists have actually
cloned human skin in order to test new face cream formulations.

Episkin
is owned by L’Oreal, the world’s biggest cosmetics company, and this is
where the ingredients, and later the formulations, that will comprise
many of the world’s best-selling skincare products are put through their
paces on the reconstructed human skin – bionic skin, if you like – that
is made in the lab.

The
building itself looks unremarkable. There is no perimeter fence or
security guard at the entrance, just a metal gate set in a high white
wall. Inside, technicians, gloved and covered from top to toe in
blue-hooded suits are hunched over tiny pots containing small, wet,
white, floppy discs. This is Episkin – living, human skin.

I get to handle some of it. As I prod it with my latex-gloved fingers, the scientists regard me with tolerant amusement.

‘It’s quite strong,’ I venture.

‘It’s
a bit like blister skin,’ says Dr Estelle Tinois-Tessonneaud, director
of the Centre and the woman who, as a PhD student 30 years ago, invented
the process by which the skin is created. ‘It is white because it has
no blood supply and this version has no pigment, either.’

A scientist with a batch of cloned skin at the L'Oreal lab in Lyon

A scientist with a batch of cloned skin at the L'Oreal lab in Lyon

It is grown from skin cells taken from off-cuts donated by local plastic surgery clinics – then developed into discs of tissue.

As well as Episkin, which is used as
the epidermis, or outside layer of the skin, the centre makes other skin
models including ‘RealSkin’, which adds a dermis, the lower layer of
skin, to the epidermis. Staff have even developed corneal (eye) and gum
tissue.

Episkin has been authorised by the
European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods to replace
animal testing – something L’Oreal has been working towards, and
investing 25 million a year in, for 20 years.

Of the 130,000 samples of tissue now
made in Lyon, 30 per cent are sold to other cosmetics companies to use
as alternatives to animal testing. (Such experiments have been banned in
the EU since 2009, although some tests, for which alternatives have yet
to be established, are still allowed.)

The rest of the tissue is used by
L’Oreal for testing ingredients and the finished formulae for safety and
effectiveness. Since 2008, some 13,000 formulae have been evaluated in
this way.

And it’s not just L’Oreal that is producing such high-tech products, using the latest science.

At
Boots, you can now find BioEffect, a serum containing a substance
called epidermal growth factor (EGF). The scientists who discovered EGF
won a Nobel prize for their work. Numerous peer reviewed trials have
shown a measurable effect on the skin, reducing the number of wrinkles.

There’s
nanotechnology (the science of using molecules measured in millionths
of a metre) in sunscreens. These microscopic particles of the
sun-blocking ingredient titanium dioxide make sure your face won’t be
left ghostly white.

Stem
cells, both plant and human, have been investigated for their
regenerative power and put to work in serums. Genomics research, the
study of the whole gene, has been used by skincare companies to work out
which ingredients will ‘switch on’ genes within the skin that become
less active with age – and the results are on sale in Olay’s bestselling
Pro-X range and Lancome’s Genifique line.

Avon
ladies will soon be selling a serum containing a new molecule called
A-F33, which helps older skin regenerate itself as quickly as younger
skin does. Again, there’s Nobel prize-winning research behind this
molecule, and Avon has exclusive rights to it for two years.

Such
detailed research is an expensive business, too; L’Oreal’s research and
innovation budget for 2010, for example, was 525 million. But with the
British skincare market set to top 1 billion this year, there is a
vested interest in being at the vanguard.

Rather
than taking the old-fashioned route of mixing up trial formulae and
seeing what they might do for skin, L’Oreal’s scientists at the Episkin
Centre are now doing this virtually, using computerised data from their
previous experiments to evaluate new ingredient molecules and formulae
for safety and for beneficial effects, before mixing up a batch.

Because
the computer models can whizz through this process, it is fair to
assume that the pace of change, and of new advances, is only going to
accelerate in future. Watch this face…

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