MOVE OVER Strivectin, LiftFusion and Hylexin - the latest buzz in the beauty world is idebenone, an antioxidant that promises instant, dramatic results. Its marketers say it's 'a miracle' and 'the new wonder potion', but do such treatments live up to their hype in Hong Kong, where skin is assaulted daily by pollution, ultra-violet rays, stress and second-hand cigarette smoke? And can antioxidants such as vitamins C and E or ferulic acid really halt the ageing of our faces?
Skincare manufacturers and local experts say they can. Properly formulated topical antioxidant preparations act as free-radical scavengers, protecting and correcting skin damage, they say.
'Everyone has a built-in antioxidant system, but sometimes it needs a boost.' says Hong Kong dermatologist Tinny Ho. 'We know there are certain ingredients or chemicals in skincare products that can produce this antioxidant effect - in fact, there's a huge range, including vitamins C, E, idebenone, selenium, green tea extract and ginkgo.
But Ho says she has doubts about the efficacy of some products. 'The question is, do they penetrate and work from within the skin?' she says. 'If they have only been proven to have an antioxidant effect in a test tube, that's not good enough. We need to see 'in-vivo' effects - whether the antioxidants work within. There's no use rubbing green tea leaves on your skin if it doesn't help.'
Skincare products containing idebenone aren't yet available in Hong Kong, but two brands, Prevage and Idebenol, are selling well overseas.
Sovage Dermatologic Laboratories, makers of Idebenol, claim that in a clinical trial conducted on women with an average age of 67, the speed at which new skin cells replaced old matched that of a 29-year-old.
Prevage, a collaboration between Elizabeth Arden and Allergan, the makers of Botox, claims positive results. Its studies showed a 36 per cent improvement in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and a 47 per cent improvement in skin tone (although these clinical tests were based on a sample of only 17 women).
Michelle Lin, 38, from Stanley, who travels frequently on business, bought a bottle of Prevage on a flight from Singapore last month. 'I was initially taken aback because the colour is very unappealing - a kind of sludgy brown - and it smells revolting,' says Lin.
'But I can see an immediate difference to my skin when I put it on. It's smoother and more radiant. It reminds me of how my skin used to look after using another balm when I was younger. It's an instant pick-me-up.
'I'm not convinced about the long-term results yet. I haven't been using it long enough to say for sure but I'm definitely going to carry on using it.'
Skinceuticals, a self-described skin health company. makes CE Ferulic Acid preparation, a combination of 15 per cent pure vitamin C, 1 per cent vitamin E and 0.5 per cent ferulic acid.
Kathleen Brown, says she can see an improvement after eight months' use. 'I've been told by four independent people in the past two months that I look younger,' the 40-year-old says. 'I've been using antioxidants for a while now, so perhaps that's it.'
Ho says she's used vitamin C on her patients for years, with positive results. 'It's been proven to work pretty well on the skin,' she says. 'If you combine antioxidants like vitamin C and E, it will double the benefits, and there's solid data to back this up.
Ho says she's 'not that keen' on idebenone, however. 'It's just another topical antioxidant,' she says. 'It probably is a very good antioxidant, but does it work best? I have doubts. Before I switch my patients, I need more proof.'
General practitioner Lauren Bramley also advocates using antioxidants, especially topical vitamin C, which she says is 'very potent'.
'It significantly improves photo-protection and reduces the risk of skin cancer,' she says. 'It has potent anti-ageing properties, which improve the appearance of existing sun damage: wrinkles, large pores, pigmentation and solar keratosis.'
Research shows that topical vitamin C promotes the synthesis of collagen, 'which is crucial to healthy, younger looking skin', Bramley says.
Ho says that the protection antioxidants offer against UVA and UVB rays is especially important in Hong Kong's heat.
'Antioxidants are like a safety net within the skin,' she says. 'Although we regularly use sunscreen on our faces - especially when we go outdoors - we often don't apply enough, or if we play sport, we might find we're rubbing or sweating the sunscreen off.'