4 Natural Anti-Aging Alternatives

A fresh wave of alterna-treatments promises firmer, younger-looking skin. Do they really work?

March 12, 2012

The Treatment Ayurvedic Medicine

What is it? This system of traditional Indian healing relies on techniques such as diet changes, breathing exercises, and botanical medicine to treat patients based on their dosha, or "body type."

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Does it work? "The doshas seem to line up with skin types we're familiar with," says Jasmina Aganovic, an MIT-trained chemical and biological engineer and founder of the Stages of Beauty skin-care line. "The Vata dosha typically coincides with dry skin; Pitta coincides with sensitive; and Kapha, with oily or combination skin." Even so, there's no scientific evidence that treating your skin based on your dosha is beneficial, says Susan Stuart, MD, a dermatologist in San Diego.

However, there is proof that many of the plant-based ingredients used topically in Ayurvedic medicine can help you look younger. For example, "research shows that turmeric and ginger, both used frequently in Ayurvedic medicine, can reduce wrinkles," says Shyam Gupta, PhD, a chemist and founder of Bioderm Research, a cosmetic research company in Scottsdale, AZ. And several studies show that grapeseed extract, another Ayurvedic ingredient, protects against photodamage.

Bottom Line Try products with Ayurvedic ingredients like turmeric and ginger, but don't overhaul your beauty regimen based on your dosha just yet.

The Treatment Alkaline Diet

What is it? A few studies have shown acidity can be damaging to the body, so it's thought by some that eating mostly alkaline-forming (acid-lowering) foods like fruits and vegetables may slow skin aging.

Does it work?
There's no research proving this theory. (Our bodies do a good job of regulating acidity regardless of diet.) But there is anecdotal support: "My clients who eat 80% alkaline-forming foods notice fewer lines and more hydrated skin in weeks," says nutritionist Kimberly Snyder.

Bottom Line The diet won't erase wrinkles, but eating more fruits and veggies improves overall healthand that can only be good for skin.

The Treatment Skin Needling

What is it? In this painless procedure, you roll a needle-covered device over your face to create tiny, temporary pricks in your skin, which may trigger a healing response (similar to what occurs after a cut), leading to a smoother complexion. The Rodan + Fields AMP MD System ($200; rodanandfields.com) uses this kind of skin-needling device (shown here) with a peptide-and retinol-based serum.

Does it work? San Francisco dermatologist Kathy Fields, MD, who helped develop a home needling device for Rodan + Fields, says her company's analysis shows using it can induce skin's collagen-building process and improve penetration of anti-aging ingredients applied afterward. But there aren't peer-reviewed studies of at-home devices, and Dr. Stuart believes needling is safer and more effective done in a derm's office with a pro version of the tool.

Bottom Line Used before a retinol-based product, an at-home skin-needling tool can smooth skin, but it's likely the retinol doing most of the work.

The Treatment A Cleanse

What is it? Some experts think that temporarily restricting your diet (whether with a cleanse, a juice fast, or a similar detox plan) can clarify your complexion and make your skin glow.

Does it work? "Most people's skin improves when they do a cleanse because they're removing foods that have a proinflammatory effectand inflammation is the root of many skin issues, including rosacea, acne, and premature aging," says Frank Lipman, MD, an integrative physician and founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness in New York City. Although it's best to have an integrative medicine expert guide you in the cleansing process, it's possible to see benefits on your own. Dr. Lipman says avoiding caffeine, sugar, dairy, gluten, and meat for a few weeks can offer a short-term boost to your complexion. Research supports this theory to some extent (gluten intolerances have been linked to skin issues for some people, and several studies have shown a correlation between dairy consumption and acne). However, Mary Lupo, MD, a dermatologist and member of Prevention's advisory board, says there are no studies showing that a temporary cleanseno matter what types of food are restrictedcan reduce cellular inflammation or provide long-term skin benefits.

Bottom Line A cleanse won't turn back the clock, but eating less sugar and fewer starchy carbohydrates could be beneficial in the long run. "These foods can spike blood glucose levels, and that accelerates aging of all organs, including the skin, says Dr. Lupo.