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.
Among all of the Youth Code products, this serum has the most striking formulary similarity to Lancome’s Genifique. Specifically, it is almost identical to their Genifique Youth Activating Concentrate, which costs three times as much as this Youth Code serum.
Before we discuss the “breakthrough claims” and the technology behind this product, you need to know that it is not preferred to any of the serums on our Best Serums list. It contains some intriguing ingredients and has a silky-soft finish, but there are some problematic ingredients (discussed below) that make this a hindrance for aging skin.
The crux of Youth Code is the claim that it stimulates genes in your skin that are supposedly 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).
L’Oreal’s solution is 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. And what about the dozens of other anti-wrinkle products L'Oreal sells that don't contain this yeast? Do those not work as well even though they make similar claims?
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).
L’Oreal states that this product took 10 years of research, but given the formula they’ve created, that’s hard to believe. Beyond the bifida ferment lysate, you’re getting a mix of slip agents with alcohol and a tiny amount of cell-communicating ingredients, including peptides (Lancome’s Genifique serum omits the peptides, which is odd because the more expensive product should contain these costly ingredients). The rest of the formula is mostly preservatives, stabilizers, and fragrance.
There is more alcohol in this product (you'll smell it as you apply this) than there is beneficial ingredients, and that’s not good for skin. Alcohol in this amount is irritating, causes free-radical damage, and prevents healthy collagen from being formed.
NOTE: Fashion magazine ads for this product list it as "Youth Code Serum Intense" or "Serum Intense". It is the same product.