Monday, March 22, 2010

Blackbird is unhappy with her neck, or, the tale of the anti-aging drugstore products

Blackbird tagged me the other day with a long, pitiful list of complexion flaws--flaws that I've never noticed, but am apparently wise enough to advise her about. She uploaded lots of ads with pictures of Sarah Jessica Parker rolling deodorant all over her face and said "help me, Poppy Wan Kenobe!"

Now, that's gratifying ... flattering, even. Also, I'm enjoying the mental image of Blackbird in a flowing white robe and a double honey bun hairdo.

But I don't pretend to be able to judge whether such recently-released products are effective. (I mean, sure they sound great, but that's what advertising copywriting is for.) So I'm going to stick to products that have been out for a while.

So anyway, bird mentioned two problems:

  • saggy jawline and neck
  • puffy eyes in the morning

She also mentioned that she was out of cleanser.

And she wanted her problems solved at the drugstore. No $500 a jar Clé de Peau La Creme for bird. And she reacts to something in Olay.

Here's where I mention that I've always been completely happy with drugstore skincare. Neutrogena, RoC, Olay, and Garnier have some of the best and brightest people on earth working for them. Also, with very few exceptions, (Clinique, for example) I find most department store skincare intolerably perfume-y, and my skin doesn't like perfume.

However, I deeply suspect that department store brand pack more of the expensive and effective ingredients into their formulations. Take serums, for example. Department store serums are always very thin, and two drops will literally spread all over your face. Drugstore serums are bulked up with lots of silicones. They feel less like a wonderfully slippery potion, and more like a regular moisturizer. They leave your skin feeling very smooth, but when it comes to anti-aging, silicones are filler.

The solution is to maximize the number and concentration of active ingredients in the anti-aging creams and serums we use. The active ingredients fight free-radical damage and increase collagen production. I'm not going to pretend to know a lot about science, but I can explain it thus: Free radicals bad! Collagen good!

Look for products that include:

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) because it moisturizes and exfoliates
  • Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) because it's an anti-irritant, superb exfoliant, improves skin thickness, and increases collagen production
  • coenzyme Q10 for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and because sun exposure reduces the skin's supply of it, so why not add more?
  • Copper gluconate for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, plus the fact that its small particles may be able to penetrate the skin at the cellular level
  • Retinol because it increases cellular turnover and improves skin structure
  • Vitamin C because it is an antioxidant that protects against photo-damage and neutralizes free radical damage
Unfortunately, copper peptides and Vitamin C cancel each other out, so don't use them on your face at the same time. Use copper peptides at night. During the day, use a good moisturizing high-SPF sunscreen with as many antioxidants as will fit in a pump bottle. (You want to use a pump bottle because antioxidants like Vitamin C aren't stable when they're exposed to air.)

Blackbird's new regimen

  1. treat eye puffiness, if any
  2. cleanse
  3. (optional) apply antioxidant serum
  4. (optional) apply eye cream
  5. apply moisturizer with antioxidants and a high SPF


  1. cleanse
  2. (optional) apply serum--use one with retinol
  3. apply copper peptide night cream
  4. (optional) apply anti-puff eye cream

My Recommendations

For puffy eyes

First of all, make sure you're not using too heavy a moisturizer around your eyes in the evening. Watch your sodium/alcohol intake. Make sure the head of your bed is high enough. Then:

1. Try cold compresses made with green tea. You don't need to put a tea bag on each eye: just make a cup of super strong tea, decant it into a clean glass bottle, and leave it in the refrigerator. In the morning, saturate a couple of cotton pads with the solution and sit upright for 10 minutes with your head elevated and the compresses over your eyes. (By the way, cold green tea makes a wonderful toner when your skin is irritated from waxing, sun burn, or over-zealous exfoliation.)

2. Cold spoons, ice cubes wrapped in a washcloth, cold gel packs, or a bag of frozen peas all have their fans.

3. Preparation H. The American version no longer contains the ingredient that made it a makeup artist favorite, but it's still available in Canada. If you don't have a Canadian reader who'll send you a tube, you can buy it on eBay for about $12 a tube. Dab a little over the puffy areas and leave it there for 10 minutes, then wipe if off.

Product Recommendations

Drugstore cleanser


Aveeno Active Naturals Positively Ageless Daily Exfoliating Cleanser, available at drugstores for 9.99. This has mild exfoliating beads in it, but is gentle enough to use every day.

An antioxidant-rich daytime moisturizer with a high SPF


Garnier Nutritioniste Skin Renew Anti-Sun Damage Daily Moisture Lotion SPF 28 has Vitamin C, Lycopene, and Magnesium. This is an extremely light, 99 percent oil-free moisturizer that contains effective UVA/UVB protection, but doesn't clog pores. I'm on my third bottle.

An optional serum to wear under the daytime moisturizer


Neutrogena Ageless Restoratives Antioxidant Booster (I liked Garnier Nutritioniste Ultra-Lift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Serum, but it was discontinued, although it's available at Overstock Drugstore.)

An (optional) evening serum (with a formula won't counteract your night cream)


Boots No. 7 Protect and Perfect Intense Beauty Serum with antioxidants and retinol.

For an (optional) evening eye cream


Garnier Nutritioniste Ultra-Lift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Eye Cream (Don't let the name fool you; it's just a nice, light moisturizing eye cream with a few antioxidants, but it moisturizes, feels cool and light, and doesn't give me milia. I'm on my third jar of this.)

For a night cream


Neutrogena Visibly Firm Night Cream, Active Copper although I've heard a rumor that it has been discontinued. If that's true, I'd go for Neutrogena's Energy Renewal Hydrating Night Cream. Both have copper gluconate to firm the skin.

Sorry this was so long! Please feel free to recommend products in the comments. (Badger, I'm talking to YOU.)


  1. You are what I am reading every damn day.

    Thanks for the HELP!! Now send me a tube of Pr.H RIGHT NOW.

  2. i love the boots no.7 line. i bring back loads of it when i come back to the states. you can't always find it target.

  3. Was about to buy some Canadian PrepH on ebay, and decided to quickly check my drug store first. My pharmacist said that it's the phenylephrine in PrepH which is the magic ingredient. Fortunately, (and contrary to what I had read in makeupalley), the cream formula in the green/white box still contains this.
    I wonder if he knows what he's talking about. Would love to get some experienced ladies opinions on this.
    Have been using it for a few days and so far so good.

    (By the way, I am addicted to your blog!!!!)

  4. I am a big fan of anything Aveeno, but that Garnier looks like something I will try. And I didn't know about the pump bottle. I'll stop my hunt for open jars! Also, I find that those department store brands cost three times as much, but last three times as long, so if you can avoid the perfumes, it can be a worthwhile thing.

  5. This is from our old friend Wikipedia:
    "The Canadian formulation of Preparation H includes a yeast extract called BioDyne which has been removed from the formulation previously sold in the United States in 1995. This yeast extract is believed by many to remove wrinkles from skin and heal dry, cracked, and irritated skin. Thus the Canadian formulation has acquired a market in the United States as a skin cream."

  6. And blackbird thinks I know what I'm talking about? You guys are awesome--thanks!

    Pigtown-Design--I bought some Boots serum when I was in England last summer. I was so excited to see it, I forgot about the exchange rate. I think it ended up costing me $38. Whoops. At least I got a really cute GWP. Why don't American drugstores have GWPs? How cool would that be?

    Martha: Thanks for the info on PrepH. Under-eye puffiness is not something I have to deal with, so I depend on knowledgeable people like you to set me straight. Isn't it hilarious that there's an underground economy in butt cream?

    MAW: I agree about department store quality, actually. I have to watch out for the fragrances in French lines like Guerlain and Chanel, but I'd love to have been able to recommend an Estee Lauder serum. Clinique has some really nice-sounding stuff, too, as does Osmotics with their Blue Copper line. But bird wanted drugstore. And I want Canadian butt cream.

  7. Wow Poppy ... you know a whole lot about products. No wonder Bb turned to you. The detail is kind of freaking my out actually.
    PreparationH on your eyes ... who the heck knew ... what's the secret ingredient? Maybe it's here!
    Thanks though!

  8. What about Philosphy products? Yes, no, maybe?

  9. Paola: I know--this is crazy long! But what can I say? She's a little bird with a lot of questions.

    Keetha: A lot of Philosophy products are great, it's just that blackbird specified drugstore brands. Re Philosophy products: I'd steer clear of Hope in a Jar. It's a clever name, but it's not ironic enough--because it's not one of their best products. However, Save Me is an excellent Vitamin C serum, and the booster retinol caps are great and perfect for travel.

  10. I can highly recommend Purpose cleaner. My dermatologist recommended it to me, because it's very very gentle. And it's foaming, which I prefer. She also suggested Cetaphil moisturizer with SPF 50. Cetaphil is also very pure and gentle and she told me that anything less than 30 spf is not enough.

  11. I lovelovelove you!
    AND I'm orderingorderingordering!

  12. I am just LOVING the image of blackbird with cold compresses on her eyes for ten minutes every morning. Maybe during the commute to make the most of her time?

  13. So here's my question oh wise Poppy- is it ever too early to start doing this??

    So let's say I am not yet experiencing these issues- but I know I will eventually-

  14. Hi Julie,

    OK, here's the short answer: yes, it can be too early to use these products. I've seen far too many very young women creating all kinds of problems by using too many products designed for older skin. They use too many peels/retinol/BHA/Vitamin C products that dry out and irritate their skin; use heavy creams to add the moisture that they've stripped out; break out from the moisturizer--it's a mess.

    Basically, until you're at least 30, I'd keep things clean and hydrated, use sunscreen, don't smoke, and skip the fancy serums. At that age you already have excellent cellular renewal--enjoy it while it lasts!

    p.s. Hey, do you know how you made it so I can email you from your comment when it was in my emailbox? So often I get What's the deal? Is there a blogger expert in the house?

  15. Ooooo - just found your blog today and I am HOOKED. Found you via Jennsylvania, so thank you, Jen Lancaster.

    I love this post and as soon as the children are up from their naps, I'm taking my tired face to the drugstore and stocking up on new products!


Gentle Readers:

For the time being, I have turned off comment moderation. Please don't spam; it's not nice.

xxx, Poppy.