The Cosmetics Restriction Diet - New York Time


Mar 19, 2006
The Cosmetics Restriction Diet
New York Times
January 4, 2007

DR. FRAN E. COOK-BOLDEN, a dermatologist in Manhattan, is an advocate of skin-care minimalism. When a patient recently arrived for an appointment toting 20 different products she was using regularly — including an eye cream, a vitamin C cream, a wrinkle serum, a pigmentation cream, a mask, a peel, a scrub and “some sort of special oxygen detoxifying cream” — Dr. Cook-Bolden said she confiscated all but three.

“It gave me a headache just to look at all of those products,” Dr. Cook-Bolden said. “Just two products, a gentle cleanser and a good sunscreen, are enough daily skin care for most people, and you can buy those at a drugstore or a grocery store.”

Dr. Cook-Bolden is part of a back-to-basics movement among dermatologists. At a time when beauty companies are introducing an increasing number of products marketed for specific body parts —including necks, creases around the mouth and eyelids — or for apocryphal maladies like visible pores or cellulite, these doctors are putting their patients on cosmetics restriction diets.

They are prescribing simplified skin-care routines requiring at most three steps: soap; sunscreen every day, no matter the weather or the season; and, if necessary, a product tailored to specific skin needs, whether a cream for pimples or pigmented spots, or a vitamin-enriched moisturizer for aging skin. Each product, they say, can be bought at drugstores for $30 or less.

Among those doctors who have become experts at uncluttering their patients’ vanity tables and medicine cabinets is Dr. Sarah Boyce Sawyer, an assistant professor of dermatology at the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“My New Year’s beauty resolution for patients is: cut down on skin-care products and cut your skin-care budget,” Dr. Sawyer said. “Cut down on those $100 potions.”

For some doctors, simplifying skin-care routines is a way to make patients follow a regimen or a means to soothe irritated skin. But some dermatologists are also suggesting patients use fewer, less expensive products because they believe there is little scientific research to justify buying an armload of pricey cosmetics, Dr. Sawyer said.

“We have good medical evidence on prescription products,” she said. “But the science is fuzzy with a lot of cosmetics.”

Unlike drugs, cosmetics are not required to prove their efficacy.

Prescription medications like Accutane for acne and over-the-counter drugs such as sunscreen ingredients must undergo rigorous clinical testing before they gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration. But cosmetics are not subject to the agency’s scrutiny before they go on sale. The F.D.A. defines cosmetics as topical products that do not alter the structure or function of the skin.

Dr. William P. Coleman III, the vice president of the American Academy of Dermatology, said consumers should view moisturizers and wrinkle creams as no more than superficial treatments.

“You have to think of cosmetics as decorative and hygienic, not as things that are going to change your skin,” said Dr. Coleman, who is a clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. “A $200 cream may have better perfume or packaging, but as far as it moisturizing your skin better than a $10 cream, it probably won’t.”

According to F.D.A. regulations, beauty manufacturers are responsible for the safety of their cosmetics and for their own marketing claims. Although many beauty companies perform studies on their products, they are not required to conduct clinical trials on the level of medical research or to make their proprietary research available to the public.

Dr. Mary Ellen Brademas, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center, said the paucity of rigorous published science on cosmetics makes it difficult to determine how well creams work, whether they cost $10, $100 or $1,000.

“People are spending $450 on a jar of cream just because it is made out of something exotic like salmon eggs or cocoons,” Dr. Brademas said. “But the cheapest products work just as well as the more expensive ones.”

A study of wrinkle creams published last month by Consumer Reports concluded that there was no correlation between price and effectiveness. The study, which tested nine brands of wrinkle creams over 12 weeks, also concluded that none of the products reduced the depth of wrinkles by more than 10 percent, an amount “barely visible to the naked eye.”

The Consumer Reports study found, for example, that a three-step regimen of Olay Regenerist products costing $57 was slightly more effective at reducing the appearance of wrinkles than a $135 tube of StriVectin-SD or a $335 combination of two La Prairie Cellular lotions.

“I am seduced by fancy packaging as much as the next person,” Dr. Brademas said. “But I have a theory that all these skin-care things come out of the same vat in New Jersey.”

John Bailey, the executive vice president for science of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, an industry trade group in Washington, said that skin care varies widely in price because of amounts spent on research and development of ingredients and product formulas, and the cost of manufacturing and packaging.

But, he said, it is difficult to measure performance differences among products.

“Cosmetics don’t have the same quantitative analysis as drugs, so you don’t have a set gauge you can use to determine perceived and actual benefits,” said Dr. Bailey, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry. “Ultimately, consumers will have to try products out and find what works best for them.”

THE back-to-basics skin-care regimen is based on practicality rather than marketing claims. It does not rely on exotic ingredients grown on far-flung islands hand-picked by natives only under a full moon.

Dr. Diane C. Madfes, a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said that basic skin care requires washing one’s face to remove dirt, sweat and bacteria, and using sunscreen to impede sun damage. People who worry about wrinkles, pimples, dry spots or pores may want to add one or two treatment products, she said.

Dr. Cook-Bolden, who has been a paid consultant for several mass-market cosmetics brands, suggested a mild liquid cleanser for the face. Instead of using toners, which may strip skin, or gritty exfoliation beads and microdermabrasion systems, which may irritate skin, she recommended using a washcloth to slough off dead skin cells.

“If you have dry, sensitive skin, you just pat the washcloth on your face gently in a circular motion,” she said. “If you don’t have irritated skin, you can put more speed and pressure on the washcloth.”

Dermatologists disagree whether a moisturizer is then needed. Dr. Brademas said it is superfluous.

“Moisturizer is optional unless you are in the Arctic,” said Dr. Brademas, who favors Vaseline petroleum jelly for dry hands, feet, knees and elbows. “I’m not sure moisturizers do very much except for creating a smooth surface so that makeup can go on without drag.”

Dr. Cook-Bolden took a more agnostic position.

“If you need a moisturizer, moisturize,” she said. “If you want less moisture, use a lotion. If you want more, use a cream. And if you have acne-prone skin, use a gel or a spray.”

Although the dermatologists interviewed for this article disagreed about moisturizer, they agreed on one point: the importance of sun protection, including hats, avoidance of midday sun and the use of an effective sunscreen. They recommended that consumers look for formulas that include ingredients — like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or Mexoryl SX — that impede damage from the sun’s longer wavelength UVA rays, a protective effect that is not indicated by a product’s SPF rating.

Beyond soap and sunscreen, Dr. Madfes said that one or two additional products might be added to personalize a skin-care routine.

“People who see wrinkles around their eyes are going to reach for an eye cream,” Dr. Madfes said. “Someone who looks in the mirror and sees large pores may want to use a cleanser with salicylic acid, which can reduce clogged pores.”

She is also a proponent of night creams that combine retinol, a form of vitamin A that may help speed up the turnover of skin cells, and antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E or lycopene that may help thwart environmental damage to the skin. People with skin conditions like severe acne or people interested in topical anti-wrinkle drugs should consult their doctors about prescription medications, she said.

On an expedition last week to a CVS Pharmacy at Columbus Circle with a reporter, Dr. Madfes examined the product labels on skin-care items from a variety of mass-market brands and recommended a few basic products, including Cetaphil cleanser and La Roche-Posay Anthelios SX sunscreen.

“Higher end, more expensive products may look better in the box and feel better on your face, but they don’t necessarily work better than less expensive products as long as you look for ingredients that are known for efficacy,” Dr. Madfes said.

But she did see one benefit to splurging.

“The thing is, when someone buys a $200 cream, they are going to use that cream,” Dr. Madfes said. “So, in the end, their skin may benefit.”


Mar 23, 2006
Interesting. :yes: Thanks for posting! :biggrin:

I think, as with most things, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Very cheap products probably do the job, but are unrefined and may feel less comfortable on your skin and impede make-up application. Whereas, very expensive products may well have more than a touch of the snake oil about them!

My Father's best friend is a doctor and he says that moisturising too regularly, when you don't need to, makes your skin dependent on the moisturiser (by reducing the production of its own natural oils); which, obviously, isn't a good thing.

I think that prevention is better than cure and the three main things to avoid are sun (or sunbed) overexposure, smoking and drinking too much alcohol.


Nov 19, 2006
I was purchasing Yonka from This woman also has her own spas, books and has been on the news. Her book pretty much says the same things. A very simple skincare system, staying away from sun and there is a portion of the book in weaning from foundation. She was very helpful and had sent me tons of samples. It does make sense. I think we want the fountain of youth in a bottle and its just not gonna happen. We are going to get wrinkles sooner or later, right?


May 8, 2006
Great article and refreshing to read the collective "voices of reasoning." I agree with them too.

They should pass around the Blissworld catalogue (with all of the claims on the various skincare products) to the physicians mentioned in the article...just for grins and lots of laughter.:smile:


Nov 19, 2006
Funny you should say that as I have it here in my lap now! I received it today and was reviewing some of their products! I guess I'm just as bad looking for the fountain of youth. I'll never give up:supacool:


Jul 20, 2006
very informative, thanks for posting!

i've never really worn much makeup nor used that many skin care products on a daily basis... i've experimented and tried stuff out in the past, but i find that much of it is a waste of money.

Miss 2 A

Dec 12, 2006
Interesting article. Basically all I need is a moisturizing cream for my face (something gentle and organic) and a body lotion.. I'm really low maintinance, it's funny because when I visited my dad in the summer he commented on how tired I looked and then had my step mom give me some of his creams, everything from eye cream, night cream, day cream. He's actually really high maintenance and you should see his bathroom!!!! lol


Oct 12, 2006
The F.D.A. defines cosmetics as topical products that do not alter the structure or function of the skin.
And therein lies the money line, the caveat emptor. Any product that really did reduce or eliminate wrinkles (beyond the effect of minimizing the appearance of very fine lines that can be achieved by moisturizing or wetting the skin with just about anything, including water and vegetable oil from the pantry) or perform any of the other various miracles claimed by the various companies, would in fact, be altering the structure and function of the skin, and would therefore not be cosmetics, but medicines, and thus subject to regulation.

I am inclined to agree, at least in part, with chloehandbags in that certain of the fancy creams do indeed have a creamier or smoother texture, so that they feel good to the touch, and there is no question that the high-priced stuff almost invariably comes in more beautiful packaging, and is almost always scented with more costly perfumes. (Though whether these perfumes smell any better than simple sandalwood or jasmine oil is a very subjective question!) :smile:

However, the principal factor in ease of makeup application is, in my experience, the texture of the skin itself, and plain old white sugar will make your skin as smooth or smoother than anything that comes out of a beautiful jar and smells like the latest fragrance offering of a high end "designer" brand.

The article does make a very good point that people are more likely to use a cream or lotion that they enjoy, but stops short of mentioning the single most important factor in the marketing of miracle/luxury creams, and that is the very real psychological benefit that some consumers need, and this need is very aptly met with everything from the advertisements of the product to the beautiful packaging to the famous name whose use is purchased for the purposes of that marketing.

So while it is true that plain old cane sugar cannot be beat as an exfoliant, and that Vaseline will do as good a job as the costliest and elegantly packaged product, especially those whose main ingredient is white petroleum jelly, mineral oil, shea butter, or similar effective and inexpensive emollient, and there are millions of women, myself included, who have for years and decades happily enjoyed the benefits of this "new" notion of minimalist skin care, there are also millions of women who sincerely need the packaging, advertising etc as much or more than they need the essential function of the product, which brings us once again to that old and simple truth - if you feel pretty, you will look prettier, and if the $200 product makes you feel prettier, whether that be because of the beauty of the jar, the appeal of the advertisements in the glossy magazines, its scent, or the name of the famous designer who sells the manufacturer the licensing rights to put his or her name on the cream, then the fact that Vaseline will work just as well is irrelevant.

And that fact is the traditional basis of all cosmetic marketing, and has always been so.

Women who purchase these creams may know intellectually that Vaseline or even Crisco will do the same thing, but emotionally they have a real need to become the beautiful girl in the ad, or to feel themselves a part of that famous designer's body of work, or simply to enjoy the aesthetics of opening a beautiful jar and smelling the sweet fragrance, and no, they would not be as satisfied by adding a bit of essential oil to their Vaseline and putting it in a beautiful jar they bought at the dollar store, because what they are purchasing - what they need is not simply, maybe not even at all, a product that does a job, or even a nice-smelling, good-feeling product in a pretty jar (and remember Vaseline does come in a feel-good "creamy" flavor now) but an idea, a dream, that indefinable something, that cachet, whatever you want to call it, that is the essence of most marketing, not just of cosmetics, but everything from underwear to automobiles to blue jeans!


older, not wiser
Dec 16, 2005
I printed this off to share with friends and family who like myself "buy" the hype.

Regardless of the article though, I am convinced that some of my creams are doing something!!! :shame:


Oct 23, 2011
A friend of mine brought something to my attention. She said: "Do you notice how a lot of men never use any special skin care products on their face, hands, lips ect.." and yet everything is so smooth, soft and nice looking?

Why is it that my lips and other womens lips get so dry that we have to use chapstick every hour but none of the men Ive been in a relationship with have ever suffered from dry lips and they used nothing? Theres so many things in these products we pay money for, that make us keep going back to those products. I almost wish I never started with chapstick or a lot of other products!

Its rediculous how much money people spend on items.. and believe they work. I bought a $80 eyecream once (hey got a good deal) and it felt good using it because it cost so much but was it better than something I could have spent $5? No.

Im starting to wean out all my products Ive purchased and go for more natural products and even products I make myself. Its cheaper, healthier and I feel better using it. People dont even know what they are loading onto their skin and hair these days.. all these chemicals that make false promises. Go natural! Im slowly starting to use things like vit e, tea tree oil, a good face wash and a face lotion with spf.

L etoile

tPF addict
Jun 9, 2007
My Father's best friend is a doctor and he says that moisturising too regularly, when you don't need to, makes your skin dependent on the moisturiser (by reducing the production of its own natural oils); which, obviously, isn't a good thing.

This is not true. Sebaceous glands do not produce more or less oil based on anything that you apply. However, products with alcohol in them will dry your skin out over time. Certain alcohols are present in more products than you realize, including ChapStick!

I agree with this article 100%. Dermatologists love Dove, Cetaphil, and CeraVe for a reason... they work and don't irritate the skin! Using gentle products in combination with a prescription retinoid is my favorite regimen for patients.