Do anti-ageing spa treatments and facials really work? Let's get real, here: unless you are prepared to go under the knife or needle, no cream is going to miraculously knock ten years off you. However, you can embrace your age and gain praise for your glowing, smoother complexion by looking after your skin, making sure it is cleansed, hydrated and protected with a daily routine. A good anti-aging facial or treatment can indeed give you an instant lift and glow for 24 hours or more. Some, such as CACI and machine-led facials, may last longer. More usefully in the long-term, your therapist will be able to give you tips and advice on what works for your skin and which areas need your attention. They may try to sell you their 'miraculous' products, too, but before you hand over your cash, a little knowledge may help you make wiser decisions...
As we age, our bodies produce less collagen (which plumps up our skin) and elastin (which makes skin firm). Products which claim to be anti-ageing usually have two main aims: either to boost the production of collagen and elastin, or to slow down their natural loss.
The only long-term alternative to wrinkles and bags is surgery, or injectables, which won't actually stop you ageing, and should definitely not be lightly undertaken.
However, according to dermatologist Dr Nicholas Lowe, "About 30 per cent of facial ageing is genetic, but a lot of the rest is other hazardous things we expose ourselves to." (1) Added to that are the hormonal effects: you will notice break-outs at certain times of the month and skin changes during and after childbirth and menopause.
So, that means there are things we can do to try to keep young(ish)...
The golden rules for delaying the effects of ageing
So, what can we do?
1. Manage your safe daily exposure to the sun
Too much sun will cause skin damage (read about protecting your skin here); not enough sun can lead to Vitamin D deficiency. A deficiency in Vitamin D causes health problems such as arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes. The sun's rays are at their strongest between 11am and 3pm, so spend 10-15 minutes soaking up the sun outside of these times. As the NHS website points out, vitamin D definciency is more common in the winter months. You can ask your GP for a test, and find ways to up your intake through recommended supplements, diet such as oily fish, red meat and eggs, or light treatments such as Haslauer Reflective Sunlight Therapy at Lucknam Park.
2. Absolutely no sun-bed sessions
Investigate fake tans if you must be bronzed, as the risk of skin cancer, and premature ageing has to make sun-beds a no-no for the smart spa-goer. The Spa Spies tried and tested some gradual tans by some of our favourite spa brands. Read about them here.
3. Don't smoke
Smoking speeds up skin ageing because free radicals are created from the exposure to cigarette smoke. (Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause disease and damage to cell DNA.) Smoke, and you'll get more wrinkles, and sooner than you would have done. (2)
Smoking also, restricts blood flow, preventing oxygen and nutrients reaching your skin, increases the production of an enzyme which breaks down the supply of collagen to the skin's structure, reduces your store of Vitamin A and stops you absorbing Vitamin C.
4. Stay stress-free
Stress goes a long way towards creating lines and wrinkles. A study of 186 identical twins showed that it is possible to "cheat your biological clock" if you avoid certain factors -- and stress is one of them. The study showed that divorced twins looked almost two years older than siblings who were single, married or widowed. (3) Of course, you can't avoid life in order to look younger. You can, however, manage the impact of stressful events by looking after yourself with diet and exercise, regulating your emotions through meditation or breathing exercises and making sure you get enough sleep.
Spas are hugely clued-up these days on ways to de-stress, with Mindfulness massages and facials, as well as meditation classes and walks. Read our feature on how to spa to reduce stress here.
5. Use skin creams with Vitamin A derivatives
According to Professor Chris Griffiths, Hope Hospital, Manchester, creams with the right formulation have been found "to be effective in repairing skin that has aged naturally, as well as photodamaged skin." (4)
What are the best spa solutions to anti-ageing?
We asked expert facialist and owner of Good Spa Guide award-winning spa, The Treatment Rooms, Clare Rogers, for her advice.
"A lot of the top brands have vitamin-based products. Anti-ageing facials which use equipment aim to get those products into your skin. They claim that they can do this because the molecular structure of the cream is designed to pass into your skin.
Ultrasound is used to push products into your skin. Think of a sieve with flour in, the flour doesn't come out until you add movement. Using ultrasound in a facial adds that movement to shake the products through into your skin.
Electrical currents -- on a personal level, I'm not keen on using these. Your body has to create a circuit for this to work, and it worries me that it may interfere with your body's own electrical waves. It is effective as a treatment, though. High-frequency and galvanic currents do get good results and the products will go deeper than with a manual treatment."
How often should you have an anti-ageing facial?
"As always, prevention is better than cure. If you start as early as possible, taking care of your skin, then you'll have a better chance of maintaining good skin throughout your life. That said, it's never too late to start!
"Obviously, a course of treatments will be more effective than a one-off treatment. Monthly facials are great; leave it to the experts, who'll repair any damage to your skin, and then get you into the rhythm of a maintenance facial.
"If you are just getting a one-off facial, I'd recommend having a consultation and probably Microderm and Crystal Clear oxygen treatment. You need to get the surface layer of skin off to get the products in; those treatments are most effective and will give instant results that last for around a week."
What are the best home spa solutions to anti-ageing?
"Body brushing and exfoliating help to maintain a healthy glow. Drink lots of water, too, to keep your skin hydrated."
"A silk pillowcase! Cotton absorbs, silk doesn't. Why spend time and money treating your skin if the products soak into your pillowcase overnight instead? Plus, that extra luxury gives a mental boost."
1 Royal Society of Medicine conference: The Ageing Skin, 2002.
2 Koh, Jae Sook; Kang, Hoon; Choi, Sung Woo; Kim, Hyung Ok: Cigarette smoking associated with premature facial wrinkling. International Journal of Dermatology, January 2002, Volume 41, Number 1, pp 21-27.
3 Guyuron, Bahman MD; Rowe, David J. MS, MD; Weinfeld, Adam Bryce MD; Eshraghi, Yashar MD; Fathi, Amir MD; Iamphongsai, Seree MD: Factors contributing to the facial aging of identical twins. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, April 2009, Volume 123, Issue 4, pp 1321-1331.
4 Royal Society of Medicine conference: The Ageing Skin, 2002.