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Decoding the 'magic' of skin care: Part 3

Dateline takes hidden cameras into the modern world of high-end cosmetics, where companies claim that cutting edge science has created a "revolution" in skin care. Some creams are very expensive. If they work, you might think they're worth it. The question is, are they?
/ Source: Dateline NBC

We, however, were paying attention to the two products our Dateline staffer had been using dutifully for three months. First, the SK2 side, treated with more than $500 worth of lotions and moisturizers. The dermatologist who monitored our staffer took a look.

Ingleton: "What do you notice of the left side? Is there anything you've appreciated?"

Dateline: "I don't notice anything on the left side."

Ingleton: "I am not seeing any change on the left side of your face."

Not good news. We went back to the SK2 counter to see what the beauty imaging system would show now ...

Clerk: "The pores are a little bit clogged. This is dehydration. The texture is uneven."

So after seeing the poor results, what did she suggest? That we buy more SK2 products. We said no thanks. And we wondered what exactly is the ingredient that makes SK2 so special. The clerk called it "pietera." Dr. Antzak says pitera is nothing special. He says it's a yeast extract."

Antczak: "There's nothing remarkable about yeast extract in cosmetics. They are found in all types of cosmetics, including cheap drug store brands."

And what did the makers of SK2 have to say about our staffer's experience? Procter and Gamble said individual's response to skin care products can vary and told us SK2 is Japan's number one selling prestige skin care brand, with a loyal following of happy consumers. And the company sent us several studies it conducted or sponsored that it says show SK2 works.

Senior skin care researcher for the company, Dawn French says the main ingredient, pitera, is not a yeast extract common in many cosmetics. She says SK2 uses a unique yeast only found in one place in Japan, and thru a special process, the yeast is turned into something else entirely.

Dawn French: "Pitera is the broth that's made by the yeast. It is rich in amino acids, proteins, organics, acids."

And that broth, she says, helps exfoliate and restore the skin's radiance.

French: "It does help bind moisture to the skin, so that your skin looks more moist, plum. It feels more soft and supple."

But none of that happened for our staffer. After three months of cleansing, purifying, moisturizing, and after shelling out more than $500.

Did she have better results with the other product line, Lab 21. She says she's seen improvement in her skin, that it seemed softer and plumper. The dermatologist agreed.

Ingleton: "I think perhaps that side is more moisturized, it does look plumper."

After reviewing the ingredients, Dr. Antzak wasn't surprised.

Antczak: "At the end of the day, it will do nothing but moisturize the skin. And that in itself, will improve the appearance. But only as long as you're wearing the moisturizer."

Corderi: "I can get that from a drug store."

Antczak: "You certainly could, a lot cheaper."

And what about the DNA test to analyze skin health and skin aging?

Antczak: "You don’t need a DNA test to do that, you simply have to look at your parents. If your parents are wrinkly, then it's likely that you will be."

We asked Lab 21 for scientific data on the DNA test used to formulate its products. The company said it couldn't provide that information because it is confidential. But we spoke with several dermatologists and geneticists they expressed skepticism that such technology exists.

Lab 21 declined Dateline's request for an on-camera interview. But the company did send a letter citing scientific journal articles that it says supports the link between genetics and skin health, and it said "no conclusion about Lab 21'S products could be drawn based on one person's experience." The company says it "has never claimed its ingredients are especially exotic. What's unique is Lab 21's method for testing customers and customizing..." its products.

But according to Dr. Antzak, who reviewed the ingredients of the Lab 21, the SK2 and the other products we bought, pricey skin creams don't do much more than cheaper drug store brands. They moisturize. And if you really want to save money, he says he knows a product that will do the same thing for only a fraction of the price."

Antczak: "If you're happy to smear lard on your face, that would work just as well."

Corderi: "So lard could work just as well as a $150 face cream?"

Antczak: "The principle is exactly the same. You simply put a water proof barrier on your skin."

Lab 21 told us its products are no longer available in department stores. They will now be sold only on the Internet and through dermatologists' offices.