Do Anti-Aging Creams Work? A Potentially Weird-Looking Experiment

Please allow me to present my first official beauty experiment! Each week or month (depending on the challenge) I'll be doing a different beauty experiment. These will range from the external and product-oriented (finally, an excuse to, say, wear turquoise eyeliner!) to the internal and self-oriented (going for a week without looking in a mirror) to everything in between. If there's anything to report during the experiment, I'll keep you updated; if it's more about the end result, I'll just post the results at the experiment's end.

First up: I'm going to start using anti-aging cream...on half my face.

Which half of my face will be the lucky recipient of anti-aging cream?
Will the other half be sent home with a dinette set?

We've heard ad nauseam that anti-agers don't really work. In fact, it's hard to think of another product category that's such an object of skepticism but still manages to make incredible sales—with mascara your lashes are either darker or they're not, but with anti-aging creams, who's to say whether you actually look younger? Still, even skeptics say that retinols might do something—prescription-strength retinols in particular, but even over-the-counter stuff has a decent reputation among dermatologists. Beauty editor Ali has faith in retinols, but I thought that her explanation of why expensive skin creams might "work" better applied to anti-aging: "If you just shelled out $300 for a cream, your brain is in this mode of, This is going to work. You have that optimism that can actually make you radiant."

Now, companies have access to all sorts of weird measuring tools that can actually measure whether or not their snake oils reduce wrinkles. But I don't give a shit if my wrinkles are reduced 50%; what I do give a shit about is if I look better, you know? Fifty percent might mean jack squat on my face. What I want to know is: Does this retinol actually have an effect on my appearance? The optimism won't really come into play, and I'll be posting pictures after the fact so you can guess which half me looks 34 and which half of me looks 34 with reduced wrinkles.

Caveats: I have "fine lines," not wrinkles—I am, after all, only 34 and have been pretty careful about not over-sunning myself. Plus, my parents have fewer wrinkles than most people their age, so I'm pretty well set up. Still: I see the lines that weren't there before, and while I'm not freaked out about them I also know that the worry lines that have popped up in the last year or so make me look, well, worried. Not older, but worried—and nobody looks their best when they appear stressed out. (What's that you say? Try stress reduction instead of anti-wrinkle cream? Yeah, sister, it's on my to-do list.)

The product I'm using is Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer, which promises "Noticeable results in just one week!" I'm going to be generous with them and give them a whole month to turn one half of my face into a glowing, porcelain version of its current state. It's on.