Assessing cosmetic treatments for aging skin, from Harvard's Skin Care and Repair Special Health Report

In recent years, dermatologists have developed an array of procedures that claim to remove fine lines, fill in deeper ones, and lighten unsightly pigmented areas or spots caused by age and sun exposure with few side effects and far less recovery time than that required for surgical techniques such as facelifts. While many of these procedures are safe and effective, they can be expensive and some are of dubious value. Skin Care and Repair, a newly updated Special Health Report form Harvard Medical School, provides guidance on which non-surgical cosmetic solutions are most effective for each skin problem.

Harvard dermatologists recommend starting with an evaluation to determine which skin problems you would like to treat and choosing the procedure accordingly. You will need to evaluate the choices based on effectiveness, cost, recovery time, safety, and other factors. Repeat treatments are necessary for most of procedures in order to attain the desired effect or to maintain the results over the long term. Here is a list of the most common cosmetic skin problems followed by a brief evaluation of available treatments, as found in the Skin Care and Repair Special Health Report:

Treatments for brown spots

  • Bleaching creams: Inexpensive; require no recovery time; only mildly effective.
  • Retinoid creams. Moderately effective; Moderately expensive. Lightens but will not fully remove brown spots. Can cause skin irritation. May be combined with bleaching creams.
  • Chemical peel: Effective; Expensive. Recovery time depends on strength of peel solution.

Fine lines or fine wrinkles

  • Lotions containing alpha hydroxy acids or beta hydroxy acids. Moderately effective; Inexpensive products are available without prescription.
  • Retinoid creams. Moderately effective; Lower strength products available without prescription. More expensive, stronger products available with prescription.
  • Growth factors. Moderately effective; Expensive; Short recovery time.
  • Chemical peel. Effective; Expensive; Recovery time depends on strength of peel solution.

The Skin Care and Repair Special Health Report contains an in-depth discussion of the problems of aging skin including common skin conditions, and treatments as well cosmetic products and procedures. Topics in this report include:

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