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Dateline NBC
updated 10/17/2004 6:14:23 PM ET 2004-10-17T22:14:23

Our volunteer faithfully washed and creamed her face for three months. What effect would it have? And what's in these pricey creams anyway? We took them to someone not connected in any way to the cosmetics industry to talk frankly about the products and what's in them. It wasn't easy. We had to go a long way -- to new forest, a hamlet in the English countryside, home to Dr. Stephen Antzark, author of "Cosmetics Unmasked." He wrote the book, he says, because even he, a chemist, could not recognize the mysterious sounding ingredients on many skin care products he came across.

Dr. Stephen Antzark: "The ingredients were written in some kind of code that I didn't understand."

He says the cosmetics industry created that baffling code and that he finally cracked it.

Victoria Corderi: "Were you surprised at what you found?"

Antczak: "Well, absolutely amazed, really, at what goes on."

And what does go on? What are the scientific sounding ingredients in the new generation of anti-aging products? We asked Dr. Antczak to decode some of them. He says, all of the fancy words boil down to one thing

Antczak: There’s nothing magical in them…They're nothing special. Nine times out of 10 they turn out to be simple moisturizers."

The majority of the ingredients are there because they hold on to water and plump the skin only temporarily, he says. For the products to make significant changes they would have to penetrate the skin deeply, and they never do,

Antczak: "The people who create the cosmetics in the first place are using more art than science. They know how to blend the chemicals together to get something that looks good, feels good."

And appeals to the senses. Remember the $1,000 jar of cream made with real pearls for what the manufacturer calls, immediate radiance?

Antczak: "Well, you have to forgive me. Pearls are constructed of mineral, a fairly common one. I could find a hundred minerals in my back garden."

Corderi: "So, having pearls in cream?"

Antczak: "Doesn't impress me."

And another product with something called the Forever Young Plant?

Antczak: "I highly doubt it. Otherwise, there would be a race of people somewhere who are thousands of years old, and look good."

The same goes for the cream that allegedly healed a scientist's burns, with, among other things, deconstructed waters.

Antczak: "No such thing."

La Mer, the maker, says deconstructed water is processed water and told the British Advertising Standards Authority it is a marketing phrase. After investigating a consumer complaint the agency concluded that company had not proved that deconstructed water enhanced the cream.

And what about here in the United States? Just who is monitoring the claims of the cosmetic companies? Well it turns out in the United States, as long as products don’t' actually harm anyone, and as long there aren't a lot of complaints about consumers being misled, the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration don't pay much attention.

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