Dr. Denese New York

FirmaTone RetinolMax Neurotrophic Night Cream

1.70 fl. oz. for $ 199.00
Expert Rating

Expert Reviews

Community Reviews



Brand Overview

This emollient moisturizer for dry skin is exceedingly expensive, and although you don’t need to spend anywhere near this much for a good moisturizer, at least this formula contains several intriguing ingredients. Antioxidant vitamins (including a good amount of retinol) are paired with cell-communicating peptides and skin-repairing ingredients to help your skin look and act younger while stimulating collagen production. All of that is great, but again, these benefits are available from many other moisturizers that cost significantly less.

You may be wondering what “neurotrophic” in this product’s name means. The term refers to how nerves in the body influence tissue (think skin) nutrition. It sounds medicinal and scientific until you realize that, in one way or another, most beneficial ingredients in skin-care products have some sort of effect on nerves in our skin. That stands to reason because nerves influence many processes skin uses to defend itself from problems. For example, if you touch a hot stove with your bare hand, nerves in your skin receive a message from your brain to remove your hand from the heat source. Even the act of massaging a moisturizer over skin involves nerves, because they’re what provides the sensation you associate with applying skin-care products. In the end, the term doesn’t really convey anything special about this product.

This moisturizer also contains the ingredient telomerase. That’s a first, as this ingredient isn’t listed in any of the cosmetic ingredient databases we consult when we review products. Telomerase is an enzyme made of proteins and bits of RNA that influence chromosomes in the body. It plays a powerful role in the body because it regulates the lifespan of cells. In babies, telomerase is quite active as it influences development; however, in adults, telomerase mostly lies dormant because, left unchecked, it can lead to uncontrolled cell division, which is the blueprint for cancer.

Telomerase is tied to anti-aging studies because we know that as telomerase diminishes or becomes inactive, cells stop replicating and eventually lose the ability to divide and multiply. This leads to a cascading series of events that ultimately end in death (without viable cells, our bodily systems cannot function to keep us alive).

The simplified explanation above doesn’t explain whether or not telomerase in skin-care products is helpful for skin in any way (or whether or not that would be a good thing or bad thing), but given that this enzyme could potentially influence cellular division and lifespan, it isn’t something you want to find in your moisturizer if it does work. Do you really want to apply an untested ingredient that may negatively influence cell division and longevity? Interestingly, the active component in green tea (known as EGCG) has been shown to interrupt the influence of telomerase on tumor cells, thus reducing the growth of cancer and having amazing benefits, both when applied topically and taken orally (Sources: Biochemical Pharmacology, December 2011, pages 1807–1821; and www.treatment-skincare.com/Telomerase/Structure.html).

The good news is that no research has shown topical application of telomerase has a negative impact on skin. However, there isn’t any research proving it’s helpful, either. Knowing this, the question of whether or not to use a product with telomerase comes down to erring on the side of caution.

  • Very good mix of ingredients for dry skin showing signs of aging.
  • Creamy texture provides substantial hydration.
  • Fragrance-free.
  • Packaged to keep light- and air-sensitive ingredients stable during use.
  • Expensive.
  • Use of telomerase in skin-care products is controversial and may be risky.

Jar Packaging: No
Tested on animals: No

Overnight sensation. Make this night cream the last thing you put on before you climb into bed. Formulated with RetinolMax technology to address skin's most difficult challenges such as lack of firmness, lines, and wrinkles, this night cream helps return skin's youthful appearance while you sleep.

Water, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, C10-30 Cholesterol/Lanosterol Esters, Cetyl Ricinoleate, Dimethicone, Polysorbate 60, Retinol (Vitamin A), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Ascorbyl Palmitate, Acetyl Hexapeptide-10, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Telomerase, Stearic Acid, Bisabolol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, BHT, Dimethacrylate Crosspolymer, Disodium EDTA, Benzyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol, Methyl Methacrylate/Glycol, Cetyl Alcohol, C13-14 Isoparaffin, PEG-10 Soy Sterol, Polyacrylamide, Polysorbate-20, Cyclohexasiloxane, Propyl Gallate

Dr. Denese New York At-A-Glance

Strengths: Several well-formulated serums and moisturizers that are reasonably priced; a very good matte-finish, tinted sunscreen with zinc oxide; uses well-researched, proven ingredients that truly benefit skin, and uses them in higher concentrations than most skin-care lines.

Weaknesses: Problematic toner; inclusion of unnecessary irritants such as lavender oil and menthol; limited options for sun protection; a few gimmicky, multi-step kits and specialty productsthat are easily replaced by other products in her line.

This doctor-designed skin-care line was, without question, the one most requested for review byour readers, primarily due to its prominence on QVC's Web site and home shopping program.

A graduate of New York's Cornell Medical College, Dr. Adrienne Denese opened an anti-aging clinic in Manhattan shortly after completing her studies. It has become extremely successful, to the point where she felt it necessary to create her own products to make sure her skin-care advice was being taken.

Her book, Dr. Denese's Secrets for Ageless Skin: Younger Skin in 8 Weeks, on how to take care of your skin, is much like Dr. Perricone's book The Wrinkle Cure, in that both promise to get rid of (or at least really, really minimize) your wrinkles. Another similarity is the lack of supporting research or studies to back up the claims in either book. Neither Dr. Perricone nor Dr. Denese source their information, and more often than not, there are no research reports or supporting studies to be found. We are just supposed to take their word for everything they say. Denese naturally uses her gender more than Perricone to establish credibility and empathy with female consumers (who, no secret, purchase the vast majority of skin-care products out there), and also routinely appears on QVC to discuss her products.

Ironically, her product line, sold exclusively via QVC and Denese's Web site, makes much more sense than a lot of what she writes in her book. After reading the book and evaluating her namesake line, we noted some interesting and frustrating statements and conflicts that deserve attention. One of her statements that we found most surprising, for a dermatologist keen on anti-aging medicine, was: "If a skin-care product doesn't work, it's not the consumer's fault." This statement is not untrue, it's just incomplete. Dr. Denese contends that no one can afford to throw away money on products that don't work, a point with whichwe truly agree. However, she mentions nothing about carefully establishing a skin-care routine and then following through on it. Unfortunately, many consumers don't follow through, and that's a big reason why they don't get the results they want from products.

For example, using an anti-acne product only occasionally, or not applying sunscreen daily or liberally enough, won't benefit your skin and could easily lead you to believe that the unimpressive results mean the product is faulty.

Moreover, some skin-care problems (like sagging)are beyond what any product can address. (That's why there are dermatologists and plastic surgeons with thriving practices.) All the dermatologistswe have interviewed over the years agree that patient compliance with and adherence to skin-care routines and the regimen of topical medications is an ongoing challenge, and there is research supporting that (Source: Dermatologic Therapy, July-August 2006, pages 224236). Dr. Denese also understands this, as evidenced from her comment about the Dr. Obagi System (for skin discolorations): "The only times I've seen the Obagi System fail is [sic] when patients have skipped steps and ignored instructions."

In another statement Dr. Denese refers to petrolatum and mineral oil as "junk food for skin," stating that "they feel good but they clog your pores." This is not a true statement because neither substance is capable of becoming hard and clogging the lining of the pore. In fact, both of these ingredients have impressive research proving their benefit, mildness, and effectiveness for skin (Sources: Cutis, September 2004, pages 109116; and Dry Skin and Moisturizers: Chemistry and Function, CRC Press, 2000, pages 252254).

Petrolatum and mineral oil have greasy textures, so they're not the best-feeling ingredients for someone with oily or acne-prone skin, but in this case greasiness does not equal clogged pores.

Dr. Denese also refers to blackheads as dirt, which is completely false. Blackheads are composed of sebum, dead skin cells, and other debris (mostly tiny hairs) that make up the follicle lining of the pore. The oxidation that occurs as this mixture of sebum and dead skin cells reaches the pore opening is what causes the blacknessit has nothing to do with cleanliness (Sources: Clinical Dermatology, September-October 2004, pages 367374; Cutis, August 2004, pages 9297; and American Academy of Dermatology, www.aad.org).

According to Dr. Denese, you cannot exfoliate too much. Yet she doesn't warn against the potential for irritation when too much of a good thing becomes a punishment rather than a benefit, which absolutely can occur with over-exfoliation.

Surprisingly, Dr. Denese does not recommend salicylic acid (BHA) for exfoliation. Instead, she prefers AHAs (glycolic and lactic acids) because AHAs may be used at higher concentrations than BHA. However, the difference in concentrations between AHAs and BHA is not about quantity. Rather, it's because they work best at different concentrations, and also perform differently. That is, a higher concentration of AHA is not more effective or better than a lower concentration of BHA. AHAs are most effective at 5% to 10%, while BHA is most effective at 1% to 2%. In the world of skin care, there are many examples where a higher percentage of an ingredient doesn't necessarily equate with superior effects, as is the case with AHA and BHA (Sources: Womens Health in Primary Care, July 2003, pages 333339; Journal of Dermatological Treatment, April 2004, pages 8893; Dermatology, January 1999, pages 5053; and Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, April 1997, pages 589593).

Despite the incomplete information (or in some cases, misinformation) in her book, Denese has crafted some remarkably state-of-the-art products, and the prices, though steep, aren't unreasonable.

As is true for most skin-care lines (including those from dermatologists), there are shortcomings and missteps along with good products here. For those who choose the best of what Dr. Denese has to offer, the rewards will be smiling at them in the mirror each day (but please don't take that to mean your wrinkles will be gone)!

Note: All Dr. Denese products contain fragrance unless otherwise noted.

For more information about Dr. Denese New York, call 866-642-3754 or visit www.drdenese.com.

About the Experts

The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.

Our mission has always been to help you find the best products for your skin, no matter your budget or preferences. Beautypedia’s thorough and insightful reviews cut through the hype and provide reliable recommendations for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our terms of use here.