I am a 73-year-old woman. I would like to find out if all the fantastic claims
in advertisements for facial creams and serums really can make mature skin look
younger by removing wrinkles. Also, what is the professional opinion of
dermatologists about using products that contain Retin-A or retinol? – E.T.,
Veteran Jerusalem dermatologist Dr. Julian Schamroth replies:
Aging of the skin – which manifests itself as wrinkles, pigmentation, loss of
elasticity and thinning of the skin – is due to many factors, including
genetics, many years of sun exposure, the effects of gravity, and
Although there is often some overlap, cosmetic products
generally fall into one of five distinct groups: cleansers, makeup,
moisturizers, protection and “antiaging.”
Here I will deal only with the
last category – that of anti-aging products, which is probably the most
lucrative area for cosmetic companies.
The cosmetics houses all produce
sunblocking creams, which obviously play an important part in reducing skin
However, over the last two decades, many of them have been making
claims about the efficacy of new “anti-aging” chemicals. I can’t deal with all
these chemicals here, but some principles need to be stressed.
is a very effective barrier and will not let large molecules pass through it.
For example, many “anti-aging” creams contain substances such as collagen,
elastin or hyaluronic acid. These chemicals do not penetrate the skin and
clearly have no biological effect on the skin. These creams do nothing! Many
dermatologists and plastic surgeons do use such chemicals, but they need to be
injected into the skin for them to have any effect.
widely found in cosmetic products is the alpha-hydroxy acids. These chemicals
are also unable to penetrate the skin, but act by peeling off the most
superficial layers of skin, thereby causing a “fresher” look. They are of some
benefit, but they are not true “antiaging” compounds.
Finally, there are
some “anti-aging” chemicals that do actually penetrate the skin when applied in
cream form. Retinol and tretinoin (the commercial name is Retin-A) are both
derivatives of vitamin A, and – because of their similar sounding names – often
lead to confusion. Retinol is basically vitamin A and is found in many cosmetic
creams. It has some antioxidant properties, but very few antiaging properties,
On the other hand, tretinoin is a potent agent that is available
only by prescription and is primarily used to treat acne.
But it has been
found that long-term use of tretinoin actually repairs degenerating elastic
fibers in the skin and thus reverses the aging process. In addition, tretinoin
tends to remove mild pigmentation, mild wrinkles and small superficial blood
The bottom line is that consumers should be aware of the wild
and ridiculous claims (not to mention the outrageous prices) that many
manufacturers use in marketing their “anti-aging” products.
would be better off simply applying a sunscreen and a moisturizer, if necessary.
They should also discuss the long-term use of tretinoin with their
I am a longtime Israeli midwife. A US colleague told me
something that shocked me – that in her country, there is a growing trend among
women to eat their placentas after giving birth. I looked it up on the Internet
and found that the general press, such as The Washington Post, has written about
the phenomenon. It is called “placental encapsulation” and thought to be good
for women’s health, based on the fact that animals do it. Aside from the kashrut
aspect, is there anything to this practice, which sounds quite disgusting?
Wendy Blumfield, veteran childbirth educator, lactation
counselor and president of the Israel Childbirth Education Center, replies:
eating of the placenta is called placentophagy. I have often heard of
“placenta parties” given under the supervision of midwives at “alternative birth
centers” in the US. We can learn a lot from animals. Cats, for example clean up
the placenta, umbilical cord and every drop of blood while licking their kittens
and stimulating their breathing and sucking reflexes. Anyone who lives with cats
can observe that they don’t suffer from postnatal depression unless they are
separated from their kittens or a human interferes with the birthing process.
The only cat I knew that did suffer from postnatal depression had a cesarean and
did not have the opportunity to eat her placenta or enjoy the experience of the
first physical contact with the kittens.
But we have to remember that
animals live in a very different environment from humans and that their immune
system works differently. One of the reasons for their scrupulous clearing up
after birth, including eating the placenta, is to hide the remnants of birth
Until controlled studies are done on human mothers, at
home births, birth centers and hospital labor wards, we cannot rule out the
possible hazards or disadvantages such as infection or effect on the woman’s
In addition, although I often work with Orthodox women
and couples, I have not been able to establish whether in fact the placenta is
Rx for Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical
problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx for
Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy
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initials, age and place of residence.