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Story Daniela Lamas Knight Ridder News

One must suffer to be beautiful, say the pinpricks of Botox. But creams with names like Serutox and Wrinkle Relax tout a painless, wrinkle-reducing alternative.

Witness the newest wave in cosmeceuticals - topical creams that claim to borrow the science of the wrinkle-reducing Botox.

Online, in spas and in department stores, these lotions and serums sport multi-syllabic, nearly rhyming names reminiscent of the purified botulinum toxin called Botox. They claim to work like Botox, too - for less than half the price, without doctor visits, shots or loss of facial expression.

It sounds too good to be true - and many dermatologists say it is.

Botox smoothes lines by paralyzing the muscles that cause wrinkles. When injected into a specific muscle, the toxin blocks the release of an enzyme necessary for muscles to contract.

Unlike their namesake, the Botox-type creams don't require Food and Drug Administration testing because they're considered cosmetics. Their alleged secret is peptides, the building blocks of proteins. The peptides are said to travel through skin, fat and into muscle, where they inhibit the same enzyme after six weeks of daily application.

Dr. Elaine Linker, co-founder of the $30 million Doctor's Dermatologic Formula company, said their top seller, Wrinkle Relax, was the first such product and is "the rage" in the United Kingdom.

But Dr. Leslie Baumann, the University of Miami's director of cosmetic dermatology, said she has reviewed research behind similar Botox creams - and they just can't work.

The peptides might look good in the lab, Baumann said, but will get sucked into the blood supply way before reaching the muscle.

"It simply isn't going to happen. It's physically impossible," said dermatologist Barry I. Resnik, a UM assistant clinical professor of dermatology and cutaneous surgery.

But the objections don't worry Linker, who backs her claims with before-and-after photographs, extensive pre-market testing and an on-staff biochemist.

"I'm sure there are a number of people who are skeptical, but they're not the ones buying the product," she said.

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