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.
After 10 years of research, L’Oréal scientists unlock the code of skin’s youth by discovering a specific set of genes that are responsible for skin’s natural power of regeneration. With L’Oréal’s breakthrough GenActiv Technology, this powerful daily moisturizer can increase skin’s power of regeneration so it regains the qualities of young skin. See smoother, youthfully luminous and rested skin emerge. This luxurious, unique cream is fresh on application, leaving a light, smooth and velvety soft finish on your skin.
Water, Glycerin, Isohexadecane, Cyclohexasiloxane, Dimethicone, Alcohol Denatured, Dipropylene Glycol, Synthetic Wax, PEG-10, Dimethicone, Dimethicone/PEG-10/15 Crosspolymer, Dimethicone/Polyglycerin-3 Crosspolymer, Caffeine, Sodium Acrylates Copolymer, Sodium Hydroxide, Bifida Ferment Lysate, Adenosine, Ascorbyl Glucoside, Nylon-12, Limonene, Disodium EDTA, Propylene Carbonate, Hydroxyethylpiperazine Ethane Sulfonic Acid, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Ethylhexylglycerin, Polysilicone-8, Tocopheryl Acetate, Methylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Parfum, Sodium Benzoate.
Just like its sister company Lancome, L'Oreal doesn't have its act together when it comes to skin-care products. For all their talk of advanced formulas, fancy double-page ads in fashion magazines, and impressive-sounding quotes from scientists at their research and development facilities, most of what L'Oreal offers for skin care is a whole lot of nothing—or at least nothing tremendously helpful for helping skin look and feel its best.
An ongoing issue with L'Oreal (at least in the United States) is the lack of sufficient UVA-protecting ingredients in their daytime moisturizers with sunscreen. Very few of them contain the actives that provide as much UVA protection as you can get from a sunscreen. Yet this major oversight (and it’s not just with the older products—several newer sunscreens launched with this deficiency) didn't stop L'Oreal from heralding the FDA's approval of their patented ecamsule (Mexoryl SX) sunscreen for use in the United States. (Mexoryl SX has been approved for years in Europe, and L'Oreal routinely uses it in the sunscreens they sell there.) The attention-getting headline was that Mexoryl SX provides "the best" and "most stable" UVA protection, but that's not entirely true; there are other options. Why didn't anyone in the media point out to L'Oreal that while Mexoryl SX may be great, that doesn't explain why the majority of their other sunscreens leave the consumers who use them vulnerable to UVA damage… Sigh… Inadequate UVA protection is not only unhealthy for your skin, it severely damages L'Oreal's credibility as an international skin-care authority.
Aside from the sunscreen frustrations, L'Oreal's moisturizers are a yawn-inducing, fairly repetitive bunch. A cursory review of their formulas demonstrates that L'Oreal is simply not keeping pace with the competition, just as Lancome isn't at the department-store level. When it comes to moisturizers or serums, just about anything from Dove, Olay, Neutrogena, or Aveeno is preferred. L'Oreal does well with most of their cleansers, along with scrubs and self-tanning products, but given the widespread availability and financial resources of this line they could be doing so much more. (You have to wonder if they're more interested in advertising and public relations than in advancing skin-care expertise.) The makeup has made major strides and now ranks as the best overall color collection at the drugstore—imagine the results if their skin care followed suit!
Note: Unless mentioned otherwise, all L'Oreal skin-care products contain fragrance.
For more information about L'Oreal, call (800) 322-2036 or visit www.loreal.com or www.lorealparisusa.com.
L’Oreal Paris Makeup
L'Oreal's extensive makeup collection retains its stature as the overall best at the drugstore, though they have stiff competition from Revlon and, in some cases, sister company Maybelline New York. In recent years L'Oreal has made significant strides with foundation shades, powder textures, concealers, and, of course, superlative mascaras that rarely fail to impress. Their lipsticks are excellent and you will find many L'Oreal makeup products have a Lancome counterpart, and that the differences are minor, if they exist at all.
L'Oreal's displays in many drugstores have been updated to reflect better-organized products and shade categories (though testers are still scarce). Given the number of lipsticks they sell, it only makes sense to put them in color families so consumers have a better shopping experience. Their True Match products are also sensibly laid out, but the rest of the foundations aren't as organized, likely due to the smaller selection of shades. Speaking of foundations, L'Oreal has made further strides by offering more that provide sufficient UVA protection. Revlon still has the edge for consistently launching impressive foundations with sunscreen, but at least L'Oreal is (finally) catching up. The bottom line is that every category of L'Oreal’s makeup has some winning (and in some cases, benchmark-setting) products. They fall short with their powder eyeshadows, but not enough to warrant avoiding them, especially if you prefer sheer eye makeup. Still, with only minor tweaking and consistent adherence to the importance of UVA protection in their cosmetic products with sunscreen, L'Oreal could pull ahead to be the hands-down winner when it comes to shopping for makeup at the drugstore.