First a bit of background: Neutrogena, Aveeno, and RoC are all owned by Johnson & Johnson. Each brand sells a group of 2-product kits based on J&J’s new technology that’s supposedly capable of generating electricity to “trigger” elastin production.
Here are the basics (albeit confusing, but then this is the crazy world of cosmetics marketing):
-All three brands claim that their duos reduce wrinkles and firm skin by increasing elastin production.
-All three brands have 3 duo sets sold together: one set for the eyes; one for daytime that includes sunscreen and one for nighttime use (this contains a moisturizer with no sunscreen).
-All three sets come with a serum meant to be applied before the coordinating product (eye cream, daytime moisturizer, night cream)
-The minerals in each serum (the ones that are supposed to generate an electrical charge of some kind) from all the brands are identical (copper and zinc); the products paired with them, eye cream, sunscreen, night cream, differ slightly between the brands.
-Neutrogena Clinical and RoC Brilliance have the most similarities, but the RoC sets cost $10 more than Neutrogena Clinical, likely due to RoC’s prestige positioning.
-Strangely, Neutrogena and Roc make claims about the serum needing to be paired with each product to cause an electric charge or pulse while Aveeno's version does NOT make claims of an electric pulse, despite having the same serum and method of application. Instead, they state that the "active naturals" (dill and blackberry) stimulate elastin production in skin.
Obviously, the only real differences are each company’s marketing direction. Neutrogena has the dermatologist-recommended connection, Aveeno plays up their natural ingredients, and RoC has the European allure and professional stance against wrinkles. Aside from this marketing sleight of hand, and the emphasis on a different mix of ingredients, there is no independent research showing the micro-current triggering ingredients can have a visible effect on skin or that other ingredients can’t function the same or even better. The only certainty about these products is you will be seeing lots and lots of ads and press for them!
As referred to above, all of the Neutrogena Clinical products are sold with the same special serum, which contains the “essential ion-mineral conductors” said to generate a tiny micro-current in skin when mixed with a water-based product. We’ll explain why the concept of generating micro-currents in skin may or may not be helpful, but before we do, consider this: Not even Neutrogena believes their ion-mineral conductors are “essential.” If they did, why didn’t they include this allegedly special serum in all of their products? Wouldn’t the Ageless Intensives or Healthy Skin products also benefit from this supposedly breakthrough technology? As it turns out, Neutrogena Clinical is but one more choice for consumers when they shop for skin-care products to combat wrinkles and other signs of aging.
Here’s how this duo is supposed to work: You apply a tiny amount of the company’s gray-tinted ion2complex Gel Serum to facial skin each morning and immediately follow with the SPF 30 Activating Cream. When combined, the products are said to generate a 10-millivolt electric charge that’s supposed to stimulate collagen and elastin production in the skin’s lower layers. You won’t feel the electricity, but within a few weeks, the daily charge is supposed to increase skin’s firmness and elasticity while reducing wrinkles. And Neutrogena’s before-and-after pictures are impressive, which is further temptation to try this duo.
The concept behind this product is cell communication. The micro-current is supposed to “tell” damaged cells to stop behaving badly and start doing what they were designed for before the damage (think sun damage) occurred. However, it’s a stretch to believe that this micro-current technology is useful for aging skin. First, a 10-millivolt charge is 1/1000th of 1 volt. Using a standard light bulb wattage for comparison (although some conversion is needed because wattage is a measurement of power produced from voltage), 1 volt equals approximately 1 watt, assuming 1 ampere of power is generated. That should give you a better idea of how weak 1/1000th of 1 volt really is. Still, for the sake of argument, let’s assume this charge did have an effect on skin. How do we know the energy it generates is helping rather than harming cells? For example, what if the charge doesn’t trigger malfunctioning cells to improve, but instead stimulates destructive behavior? Neutrogena hasn’t published any research proving the minerals in their ion complex work exactly as intended. In contrast, there is a huge body of research proving that cell-communicating ingredients such as retinol and niacinamide do benefit skin because there are receptor sites on skin cells for these ingredients, but what about for “bio-electricity”? There’s also the fact that cell-to-cell communication is an incredibly complex process. There are innumerable factors involved in controlling cellular performance, so it’s silly to think that a very small amount of micro-current is going to make a positive difference. Besides, no cell-communicating ingredient can undo the age-related changes that bother many consumers, such as muscle laxity along the jaw line (causing sagging skin), the effects of gravity, or the biological fact that skin keeps growing as we age but due to bone loss it has less support scaffolding to hold it in place. Neutrogena Clinical isn’t a compelling alternative to cosmetic corrective procedures; it isn’t even great skin care.
As for the products themselves, the ion2complex Gel Serum is just silicones with zinc, film-forming agent, vitamin E, and copper. There is research pertaining to copper and its dual role in skin: wound healing and altering the matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) that contribute to collagen depletion. Applying ingredients that work against this damage is helpful, but this is not the only way to improve aging skin. Zinc is believed to play a co-factor role with copper when it comes to repairing damaged elastin in skin, but again, it’s not the only game in town (Sources: Connective Tissue Research, January 2010, Epublication; Experimental Dermatology, March 2009, pages 205–211; and Veterinary Dermatology, December 2006, pages 417–423).
The SPF 30 Activating Cream is a very basic moisturizer with an in-part avobenzone sunscreen. It’s an OK lightweight option for normal to slightly dry skin, but a lot is missing here. There are no skin-identical ingredients, antioxidants, or, surprisingly, proven cell-communicating ingredients. Moreover, the Clinical name is just marketing wordplay used to justify this product’s steep price. The formulas don’t reflect what most consumers think of when they come across the word “clinical” as it pertains to skin-care products.
One last comment: A main ingredient in the SPF 30 Activating Cream is the chelating agent tetrahydroxypropyl ethylenediamine. Guess what chelating agents do? They deactivate metal ions by making them a part of their complex ring structure. In other words, the presence of a chelating agent in the Night Activating Cream prevents the copper and zinc from exerting their ion-based energy. What a joke, right? It may be a joke, but consumers who buy into this won’t be laughing, and believe me, I understand their disappointment.