Top Five Scientific Beauty Breakthroughs of 2011

Today’s beauty industry is rife with claims of science and technology – but what’s really revolutionizing the way we look and feel, and what’s just marketing hype?

We asked leading experts to help us cut through the cacophony and highlight the five most promising and possibly even industry-changing discoveries made in beauty this past year.

1Xeomin – ‘Naked Botox’

When the F.D.A. approved Xeomin for the temporary improvement of wrinkles this past July, Botox (2002) saw its first major competitor since Dysport (2009) enter the market. However, several points of distinction distance Xeomin from its predecessors, poising it to potentially dominate when it becomes available to the public in Spring 2012.

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Termed “naked Botox” because it’s free of the extraneous proteins in both Botox and Dysport, Xeomin could theoretically work in the seven percent of the population who are immune to the wrinkle-relaxing effects of Botox, since it’s those extra proteins that the body builds immunity against, says YouBeauty Plastic Surgery Expert, Arthur Perry, M.D. And unlike Botox, Xeomin doesn’t require refrigeration, which comes as a significant cost-savings and convenience to physicians—many of whom keep in-office refrigeration systems just to store Botox.

VIDEO: Is Botox Worth It?

Yet the factor that may leapfrog the wrinkle-fighter to the fore front is it’s more affordable cost. Experts say increased competition could not only make Xeomin launch at a more budget-savvy price, but could even drive down the price tag of Botox. Most cleverly, Xeomin converts in exactly the same units as Botox, so the dosage you use for one would be identical to the other. Critics contend that Dysport never enjoyed as much popularity because physicians had to experiment in order to find the magic number of units that would give a patient the same effect as they had with Botox.

“Xeomin is the next generation Botox,” says Perry. “I’m definitely going to try it. We’ll eventually decide whether to use Botox or Xeomin in my office, based on patient results and cost.”

Enjoy the spotlight while you can, Xeomin. Johnson and Johnson’s version of “naked Botox”—the aptly-named Purtox—is expected to gain F.D.A. approval next year.

Let the wrinkle wars begin.

2Fat Freezing

While you can heat fat, liposuction fat and calorically burn off fat (perhaps the least fun of all), you can now add freezing fat to the list of ways to obliterate that all-too-common love handle. However, while experts say the fat-freezing process termed Zeltiq shows incredible promise, most agree that the technology is still in the nascent stage, and not yet effective enough to recommend to most patients.

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In a Zeltiq treatment, suction is administered via cooling plates placed directly on the fat you want to target. In about an hour, the fat is frozen to a temperature that kills fat cells without affecting the exterior skin layers. Over the next several weeks, those fat cells shrink, are digested by the body’s metabolism, and are naturally disposed of through urine. There are no needles or recovery time involved, but results are subtle, and are best suited to in-shape people who are looking for gentle body contouring.

QUIZ: What’s Your BMI?

While Perry says he doesn’t recommend Zeltiq to patients because he feels the cost and inconvenience outweigh the subtle benefits, he says new products are already in the works based on the fat freezing science, which he terms “aesthetic cryotherapy.”  “It’s a breakthrough technology because, as plastic surgeons and scientists tinker with the technique, perhaps cooling fat cells for longer time periods, this one may well pay off big,” says Perry.

3Clarisonic Deep Pore Cleanser

Hand-held devices have become all the rage among skin aficionados hungry for instant results, and Nebraska dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, M.D., says his online skincare shop——has seen a particular passion reflected in top sales for Clarisonic. The device itself is not new, but earlier this year the brand launched a patent-pending Deep Pore Cleansing brush head, which is touted to relax and purge skin in clogged pore-prone areas of the face, like the crevasses around the nose.

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Dermatologists and plastic surgeons we consulted agreed that the brush head’s cleansing action lives up to the company’s claim of multiple times better efficacy than manual cleansing, and can loosen and remove dirt caught in pores that are otherwise nearly impossible to clean without the use of a professional extraction tool.

Clarisonic brush bases and heads are sold separately, allowing you the flexibility to rotate out a regular cleansing head with say a deep pore version when you need it, so you don’t have to purchase an entire base. While the traditional Clarisonic system retails at around a steep $195, we recommend you go for the travel-sized and slightly lower-priced Mia set for $119. The Mia functions exactly the same way as the traditional Clarisonic, with just a smaller base. Brush heads are $25 each, and are recommended to be replaced every three to four months for best results.

4Gold Collagenine – Anti-Aging Super Technology

The value of gold climbed steadily in the stock market this year—and it has in beauty, too. But to be clear: this is not to be confused with the cosmetic world’s use of gold flakes for shimmer and sheen, or the skincare industry’s claim that gold in and of itself contains anti-aging properties. Instead, gold has proven innovative in cosmetic chemistry by aiding the movement of ingredients to their intended receptors, a formulation that scientists call a “delivery system.”

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In the process, colloidal gold—a nanoparticle—is used as a protective mechanism to keep the body’s enzymes from breaking apart an ingredient package before it has the chance to get to cells.

“Gold is inert and doesn’t interact with tissues and proteins in the body,” explains YouBeauty cosmetic chemistry expert Ni’Kita Wilson. In the collagenine formation, each peptide is bound to two gold atoms, a bond that is purposely created because it takes time for an enzyme to recognize that there is something else to be broken down – and by the time it does, the peptides have already reached their destination, says Wilson.

While the technology is so new that brands are just beginning to formulate with it now, a couple of collagenine-containing products have already surfaced: Deliplus Gold Progress 24K Cream, which is sold in Spain, and 3Lab WW Cream, which carries a price as decadent as the gilded transmitter—$425 for a 2 ounce jar.

MORE: How Healthy Does Your Skin Look?

5Laviv—Collagen Growth for Smile Lines—and Acne Scars?

Fillers have been the go-to temporary solution for nasolabial folds—the name for those pesky lines that develop and run from nose to chin and are caused by repetitive smiling muscle contractions. This past year, the F.D.A. approved the first cell therapy that utilizes your own skin cells to bring back firmness and density to this area of the face—Laviv.

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The process starts with fibroblasts, which are a type of cell that produce the spongy collagen that gives your skin firmness and support. Laviv is created from tens of millions of fibroblasts cells that are harvested from samples of your own skin, and then injected back into the middle dermis layer of skin to stimulate the body’s natural process of rebuilding of skin.

Laviv is injected in three different sessions, spaced at intervals between three and six weeks. Final results can take six months or more to slowly build up, though experts say the benefit is that Laviv could potentially be a long-term solution for the frown lines it was approved to treat.

“It employs great innovation,” says YouBeauty Dermatologist Expert, Amy Wechsler, M.D. “I’m most excited about its prospects for acne scarring and smile lines.”

While Laviv for pitted acne scars remains an off-label use that has not yet been approved by the F.D.A., experts see great promise in current clinical testing to treat the indented acne scarring that can often be resistant to all other current treatments on the market. By injecting fibroblasts into these types of scars, doctors hope to one day smooth skin and allieve patients of the emotional duress and social stigma that often comes with deep acne scarring.

MORE: Get to the Bottom of Your Acne