If the claims for L’Oreal’s Youth Code products and their GenActiv technology sound familiar, that’s because Lancome (which L’Oreal owns) claimed almost the same thing in 2010 when they launched their Genifique products. No one on the Paula’s Choice Team was surprised when Youth Code was announced, as it isn’t uncommon for L’Oreal and Lancome to offer similar products whose only significant differences are price and retail location.
Before we discuss the science and claims behind this Youth Code product, you need to know that it is not a miracle formula, but in fact an average moisturizer for normal to slightly dry skin whose most intriguing ingredients will break down because of the jar packaging. All plant extracts, vitamins, antioxidants, and other state-of-the-art ingredients break down in the presence of air, so once a jar is opened and lets the air in, these important ingredients begin to deteriorate. Jars also are unsanitary because you’re dipping your fingers into them with each use, adding bacteria, which further deteriorate the beneficial ingredients.
L’Oreal maintains that Youth Code (just like Lancome’s Genifique) took 10 years of research. Although that sounds impressive, what they came up with isn’t in any way a breakthrough or worth considering over any of the moisturizers in our Best Products section.
The crux of Youth Code is that the claim that it stimulates genes in your skin that supposedly are responsible for its regenerating power, which, as L’Oreal correctly states, slows with age and sun damage.
It is absolutely true that there are genes in our skin responsible for generating proteins. These proteins create antioxidant pathways that protect skin from intrinsic (internal) and external signs of aging. As we age (actually, as we accumulate more sun damage from years of exposure), these genes become less able to “express” themselves in a healthy manner. That leads to oxidation within the skin and a decreased ability for the gene-generated proteins and enzymes to handle oxidative stress. The result of these deficiencies is damaged collagen, inflammation, and unwanted changes to skin texture, such as roughness, increased sensitivity, and, yes, wrinkles (Sources: Planta Medica, October 2008, pages 1548–1559; Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, February 2008, pages 79–88; and Free Radical Biology & Medicine, August 2008, pages 385–395).
What is L’Oreal’s solution to this issue? A yeast ingredient known as bifida ferment lysate. The problem is that there’s no research proving that this specific form of yeast has any anti-aging, regenerating, or gene-stimulating activity when applied to skin. There is limited research showing that yeast ferment filtrate (a compound different from bifida ferment lysate) does reduce oxidative skin damage in the presence of UV light, but this research also showed that many other antioxidants have a similar effect (Sources: Archives of Dermatological Research, April 2008, pages S51–S56; and Journal of Dermatological Science, June 2006, pages 249–257). Plus, one ingredient is never enough for skin. Skin is a complex organ that needs a cocktail of ingredients to be healthy and really look and act younger.
It’s critical to note that L’Oreal couches every cosmeceutical and drug-like claim for this product in cosmetic-lingo disclaimers. For example, they follow their statement “L’Oreal invents our first skincare that boosts the activity of genes” with a tiny footnote suggesting it just makes you look more youthful. So they aren’t really saying anything about your genes, mainly because that would be a medical claim and would get them in trouble with the FDA.
Outside of the bifida ferment lysate, you’re getting a mix of silicones with alcohol, wax, and tiny amounts of a cell-communicating ingredient and a form of vitamin C. The rest of the formula is mostly preservatives, fragrance, and fragrance chemicals.
The fragrance ingredients can cause irritation and inflammation on their own, which breaks down collagen and is counterproductive to the claims. Irritation will diminish any youth-giving qualities this formula has (which is to say, zero). The same is true for the amount of alcohol present, which is listed on the ingredient label before any of the teeny amounts of beneficial ingredients. Alcohol causes free-radical damage and causes collagen to break down.