Face Care

How does Oil of Olay Compare to Retin a



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Out of the many topical facial treatments on sale throughout the world, Olay is a market leader in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the People's Republic of China, and is one of the best-known over-the-counter facial cream brands worldwide.

Consumer Reports has found that Olay’s Regenerist works better than other wrinkle creams, even those that cost hundreds of dollars (the Regenerist product retailed at $19 at the time of the CR test). Olay also has product lines that contain ingredients proven to treat acne. How well do all these over-the-counter products compare to Retin-A, a well-known prescription medicine used for both rejuvenating facial treatments and for acne?

♦ The products:  Olay

Olay has been around since 1949, when a South African chemist invented Oil of Olay and sold it locally. This lanolin-based pink fluid in heavy glass bottle was very different from any of today’s Olay products, but it proved popular, even though the company marketed it with vaguely worded descriptions of "beauty secrets" that sounded more interesting than plain old “lanolin.” It was first sold internationally in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Australia, and some European countries under different names that were designed to sound pleasing to local ears.

After the chemist sold the business in the 1970s to early 1980s, a night cream and a beauty cleanser product line were marketed for the first time. In 1985, Proctor & Gamble took over and greatly expanded the product lines to provide skin care products for users of all ages and skin types. In 1999, all the different names were consolidated into Olay, except in German-speaking parts of Europe, as well as the Netherlands, where it is known as Olaz today.

Olay’s Total Effects was the first formal “anti-aging” skin care line when it first appeared in 1999. It's still around today, along with the Definity, Pro-X, and Regenerist lines. Acne treatment products include Total Effects Cream Cleanser + Blemish Control, as well as Regenerist Micro-Purifying Foaming Cleanser, and Regenerist Detoxifying Pore Scrub.

♦ The products:  Retin-A

Retin-A is one of the commercial names for the drug tretinoin.

A member of the class of substances called retinoids, that are chemically related to vitamin A, tretinoin is the most common form of acne treatment. When found naturally in the body, retinoids have several functions, including a role in the regulation of cell growth. Applied topically to the skin, first-generation retinoids like tretinoin use this regulating function to normalize how your skin grows and sheds.

This not only treats acne, it also rejuvenates skin appearance. Since retinoids also boost the production of collagen—a protein that provides a support structure for skin and becomes less abundant with age, leading to wrinkles and loss of skin firmness— they are popular anti-aging treatments, as well.

Generally speaking, Retin-A gel and Retin-A Micro are commercial forms of tretinoin that are used to treat acne, while Retin-A cream is used for anti-aging treatments.

♦ Effectiveness

Retin-A definitely works for both acne and facial rejuvenation, and so is classified as a medication that is only available by prescription in the United States.

None of the Olay products mentioned above contains tretinoin. However, they have other ingredients that also have been proven to work on acne and/or in facial rejuvenation.

Total Effects Cream Cleanser + Blemish Control contains salicylic acid, an ingredient found in many acne medications that corrects the abnormal shedding of skin cells and unclogs pores. Olay’s Regenerist Micro-Purifying Foaming Cleanser contains citric acid. Fruit acids are widely used in skin care treatment; they cause shedding of the upper layers of the skin and increase collagen production. Regenerist Detoxifying Pore Scrub has both salicylic acid and citric acid.  

Most of the products in Olay’s anti-aging lines contain pentapeptides, a type of amino acid that first came to prominence as a treatment for wound healing when found capable of increasing collagen production in the skin. Not everyone agrees with claims that these peptides, applied topically to the face, can stimulate collagen production to firm up aging skin and reduce wrinkles, but some users swear by them.

♦ Pros and cons

Retin-A can clear up even moderate to severe acne. It also increases collagen deposits in the skin, making it a good facial rejuvenation treatment. However, it is expensive, requires a prescription, and has some side effects. Most notably, it will make a user’s skin more vulnerable to severe sunburn and must be used with sunscreen. It also can leave skin red, dry and so badly irritated that some individuals can’t use it. Also, women who are pregnant or might get pregnant shouldn’t use it.

The Olay anti-acne and skin rejuvenation products mentioned above are available over the counter, not extremely expensive, and are much gentler on the skin. They are also less effective than Retin-A, although they do contain ingredients that have been shown to work in mild cases of acne. These products keep skin pores open, but they have to be used regularly in order to be effective.

Some experts doubt that peptides can pass through the skin when applied topically, but in 2007, Consumer Reports and Consumer Union’s French counterpart conducted a 12-week test  of mass-market and high-end anti-aging creams in Europe and found the Olay product tested, which was Regenerist, to be the “top performer by a small margin” and noted that these top-rated products did slightly smooth out fine lines and wrinkles in the skin.

An unscientific sampling of comments at Amazon from users of the above over-the-counter Olay products found no clear consistency about their effectiveness. They work very well for some people and not at all for others. The bottom line for the anti-aging treatments is that people who have been taking care of their skin all their lives will not notice much of a difference, although it will be apparent for someone who is using a skin care product for the first time.

In sum, Retin-A is the more effective anti-acne and anti-aging medication, but Olay products are at the top of the list of over-the-counter products for people who aren’t yet ready for a major dermatological treatment of their skin problem or who can’t use Retin-A because of its side effects or cost.

More information:

Tretinoin.  Wikipedia (n.d.)  at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tretinoin

Olay.  Wikipedia (n.d.) at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_of_olay

“Hope in a Jar:  Do Skin Creams Work?”  Colette Bouchez (2004), at http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/guide/hope-in-jar-do-skin-creams-work

“Consumer Reports Tests Wrinkle Creams for the First Time.”  Consumer’s Union (January 1, 2007), at http://pressroom.consumerreports.org/pressroom/2007/01/consumer-reports-tests-wrinkle-creams-for-first-time.html

“Understanding Acne Treatment.”  WebMd.com (2010), at http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/understanding-acne-treatment

More about this author: B. J. Deming

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