Tested on animals:Yes
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 “breakthrough claims” and the technology behind this product, you need to know that this product is merely a lightweight daytime moisturizer with an in-part avobenzone sunscreen (the avobenzone is stabilized by octocrylene, which is great). L’Oreal got the critical UVA protection issue right this time, something they often leave out of their formulas here in the United States. Other than that, this product, which is best for normal to slightly dry or slightly oily skin, doesn’t break any new ground. In fact, the overall formula is average when compared with the other options you’ll find on our Best Moisturizers with Sunscreen list.
The crux of Youth Code is the claim that it stimulates genes in your skin that supposedly are responsible for its regenerating power.
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—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. You’d think that after 10 years of research, L’Oreal would publish their findings, but they haven’t. Of course, there’s also the issue that treating aging skin depends on more than a single ingredient or even one group of ingredients.
Getting back to the bifida ferment lysate, there is limited research showing that yeast ferment filtrate (a compound different from bifida ferment lysate) reduces 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).
In the end, despite all the gene-stimulating and youth-regenerating claims, this isn’t a must-have product for skin of any age, although the sunscreen is certainly capable of providing broad-spectrum protection.