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Could a bygone beauty product really cure my worry lines?

Despite the many high-tech innovations in the anti-ageing industry, a product invented in 1889 is still highly popular. Christine Manby tests it out

Age-old problem: Gloria Swanson
Age-old problem: Gloria Swanson

Gwyneth Paltrow recently complained that the ageing process makes her feel like she's losing her identity. It's hard to feel sorry for Gwynnie when it seems that she's been making a mint out of other people's insecurities for quite a while now.

She charged punters £1,000 a pop to attend her London "wellness summit".

But I'll grant the actress-turned-guru that it must be more difficult to face the ravages of time when your USP has always been your good looks.

Despite the token casting of the same three women over 40 in roles other than 'mother' in at least six films now, Hollywood is still no place to grow old.

It's been like this since before the famous white letters went up in Griffith Park.

In the 1950s classic Sunset Boulevard, Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond, a silent film actor refusing to accept that she's past her sell-by date.

Nearly 70 years later, not much has really changed despite the arsenal of anti-ageing injectables at the modern actor's disposal.

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Swanson's Norma Desmond came of 'old' age in an era when botulin was still something you got from improperly tinned peaches. She relied instead on a mode of wrinkle prevention that was already 60 years old.

To be ready for her close-up, she used Frownies.

For the uninitiated, Frownies were invented in 1889. They're little triangles made of stiff brown paper with a sticky backing that you activate with water.

Blast from the past: Frownies are back
Blast from the past: Frownies are back

You slap the wet triangle onto the part of your face you want to smooth out.

It dries hard and, voila, you can no longer frown. How does this work?

Well, we all know that too much sun causes wrinkles, but they're also caused by habitual use of the same facial expressions over many years.

In the same way you can build up a bicep, you can build up the muscles in your face so that they'll hold the expression you pull most often, whether you like it or not.

It's no coincidence that when people describe the recently dead, they often mention how peaceful they look, how strangely youthful. It's because their muscles have stopped working and their face has fallen back into the shape it would have been in if they had not spent years squinting and frowning.

I've dodged the 'lion's wrinkle"' that deep '11' that the terribly serious, grumpy or short-sighted often get between the eyes, but I've got forehead wrinkles like a musical stave. My habitual expression is 'eyebrows raised in fascinated attention'.

They're raised as I stare at my laptop. Well, someone's got to show an interest.

The problem is, when I'm not interested, the residual lines mean I look worried all the time.

After seven weeks in an Aircast to fix a broken metatarsal, the muscles in my right foot and lower leg have definitely lost some definition. Could Frownies work like an Aircast for my face?

Thanks to their cruelty-free, vegan credentials and the fact that they're considerably cheaper than Botox, Frownies are back.

Modern Hollywood beauties Rashida Jones and Rene Russo are both fans.

I decided to track down a box on Amazon and give the old-school method a try.

The Frownies arrived in an elegant package a little larger than a matchbox, into which the brown paper triangles were folded in a long concertinaed strip.

There was also a leaflet with a host of useful illustrations as to how to deploy them for your particular wrinkle-based issue.

For the lines that run right across my forehead, I had to use three triangular segments slotted together to create a trapezium.

If you've got an 11, you're going to want to create a triangle pointing down your nose.

Crow's feet can be cured with a diamond-shaped arrangement.

The configurations are endless. If you loved Tetris, you'll love Frownies.

I applied my Frownies according to the instructions.

I smoothed out my lines as I put the triangles in place. The adhesive on the back looked like envelope glue.

It seemed unlikely it would hold back a muscle, but once they were on my forehead, the Frownies dried quickly and stuck firmly. Worryingly firmly, in fact.

I laughed. Nervously. My forehead didn't move.

You have to wear the Frownies for at least three hours, but overnight application is recommended, so it's a good idea to warn anyone who might be sharing your bed that you're going to do something that looks a little bit strange.

A little bit like you've been playing that game where someone sticks a Post-it with a name on it on your forehead and you have to guess what that name is by asking the other players lots of questions about your identity - "am I a Hollywood superstar desperately clinging to youth?" - only you didn't guess the name, got drunk and forgot to take the Post-it off.

To avoid any awkwardness, I chose a night when I knew I would be alone. I have some mystique left to preserve.

As I waited for sleep to overtake me, I scrolled through Frownie reviews online.

The product has devoted fans, some of whom were convinced that the benefits go beyond eternal beauty.

One suggested that using Frownies had reduced her tension headaches. That made sense. I decided to use that as my excuse if anyone caught me wearing them.

When I first put the Frownies on, I couldn't imagine being able to sleep in them, but I actually got a very good night.

However, upon waking, I wondered whether I'd made a terrible mistake by wearing the things for a whole eight hours.

The Frownies were still exactly where I'd left them the night before, as though they'd been stuck onto my forehead with super glue rather than stamp adhesive.

There was no way on earth that something that clung so firmly was going to come off easily without taking a few layers of skin along with it.

Tentatively, I picked at the corner of the triangle on my right temple. It would not budge.

I had a meeting that morning. I was all but ready to cut myself a fringe when I found the packaging leaflet again and read the instructions properly.

You can't just go ripping Frownies off. You have to soak them loose. Pressing a flannel to my forehead, I still did not trust that my old Hollywood experiment wasn't about to end in disaster.

I remembered the time my friend Elaine stuck one of those suction cups you stick to walls to her face for a jape.

She had a big red bull's-eye in the middle of her forehead for a week. I was going to have a big red stripe for sure.

The Frownies began to slip and slide. I closed my eyes as I peeled them away. It hurt like hell.

The leaflet had warned that the Frownies might take some hair away with them as they came off, but I had no idea my forehead was that fluffy.

Then, I opened my eyes. Yes, there were three pink triangles, but even as I watched they started to fade and beneath them... I peered closely at the mirror. I turned on a better light. My lines! My lines were gone!

Having carefully timed my first Frownie experience for a night when there was no one else in the house, I had no one with whom to share the astonishing results.

I was tempted to run next door and wake up my neighbour Steve.

I needed a witness. I had found the anti-ageing holy grail.

I spared Steve the wake-up call and remained in the bathroom, just staring at my forehead.

I hadn't seen it look so unlined since 1992. But as the pink triangles finally faded away entirely, something else appeared in their place.

Like cracks appearing in drying plaster, the wrinkles were back. No deeper than before but alas no less noticeable either.

So, Frownies. The perfect one-off wrinkle solution only if you can dash from bathroom to set and be ready for your close-up in less than three minutes.

Maybe an effective longer-term solution if you no longer care what your partner sees when they climb into bed beside you and you're prepared to wear them every night for three years like beauty blogger Sissi Over40.

Or you could just accept the wrinkles like Gwyneth is going to and believe her when she says: "I think you get to a point where it's almost like your sort of pulchritude is waning in a way and your inner beauty is, like, really coming out."

Doubtless there will be another expensive wellness seminar to help you find that inner beauty soon.

Belfast Telegraph


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