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Anti-aging creams are like the “free luxury trip for two” of the beauty world: on one hand, they’re highly sought after by droves of people who hope that the claims are true. On the other hand ….they’re probably not.
The problem? It’s pretty easy - and tempting, we suppose - for companies to go overboard with claims like “99% of customers saw an improvement in just two weeks” or “proven to reduce wrinkles in just 5 days,” without having the science to back those claims up (and there aren’t any laws to prevent them from doing that).
This means that you have to be able to read through the BS and understand for yourself what really works. Let’s dive in.
What it does: Reduces brown spots, prevents melanin production, reduces inflammation
Vitamin C is probably one of the most efficacious, low-risk ingredients on this list. Its anti-aging benefits are threefold:
This efficacy comes, in part, from the fact that vitamin C molecules - unlike many skincare favorites - are small enough to penetrate deep into the skin, where they can actually make a difference.
There are a few things to keep in mind here, though. First, many forms of vitamin C are rendered ineffective when they’re exposed to sun and air, so if you buy one of those formulas you’ll want to look for products in a dark bottle and store them in a cool, dry place.
Alternatively, you can look for a form called Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP). This is the most stable form of vitamin C, meaning that it will never oxidize or decrease in effectiveness with time. It also easily penetrates the skin, unlike ascorbic acid, which is not easily absorbed.
Look for:Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP), the most stable and easily absorbed form of vitamin C.
What it does: Protects and strengthens the skin
So here’s the science. Collagen is a proteinthat’s abundant in our skin when we’re under 30 (and decidedly less abundant as we age - ugh). Proteins - taking it back to high school bio - are long chains of amino acids. Peptides are small links in those chains.
Collagen → Protein → Amino acids → Peptides
In other words, peptides are the building blocks to youthful, plump, wrinkle-free skin.
As such, they can:
To be clear, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. Different peptides have different functions. We use Matrixyl 30000, a super-peptide that’s made by combining two peptides, palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7, and palmitoyl oligopeptide. It specializes in tackling wrinkles, increasing elasticity, and replenishing dwindling collagen levels - and it works. One study even found that it can double the amount of collagen produced by our cells - which is no easy feat.
The great thing about peptides is that they work with your skin to boost the production of your natural anti-aging compounds. In this way, they can help repair your skin without causing any reactions, breakouts, or dryness.
Look for:Matrixyl 30000, a super-peptide that specializes in tackling wrinkles, increasing elasticity, and replenishing dwindling collagen levels
What it does: Gradually lightens pigment, calms inflammation, balances oil production
Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3. Vitamin B3 helps support the skin, brain, nervous system, and blood cells. As niacinamide, there’s significant evidence that this vitamin can reduce signs of aging and fade dark spots while calming inflamed skin.
It’s easily absorbed by the skin, and it works by gradually lightening pigment over a few months.
It’s also one of the few ingredients that can reduce inflammation and sebum (oil) production, which can balance oily complexion and minimize acne.
Look for:2%-5% niacinamide concentration. This means, in general, that it should be the fourth or fifth ingredient on a product label.
Use it:Daily (and feel free to use it withvitamin C to get maximum benefits from both of these powerhouse ingredients).
What it does: Increases skin thickness, stimulates collagen and elastin, decreases collagen and elastin breakdown.
In skincare, the term vitamin A refers to a group of compounds that include retinol, retinal, retinalic acid, and several pro-vitamin A carotenoids like beta-carotene. The body converts these retinols into retinoic acid, which is a really powerful hormone.
Overall, vitamin A is known to prevent sun damage by interrupting the process that breaks down collagen. It may also:
Like peptides, collagen, and hyaluronic acid, vitamin A is something that our skin produces naturally - and this production slows as we begin to age. Which is when topical retinol may be appropriate.
That said, while it works, this isn’t an ingredient that we recommend. Topical vitamin A can cause skin irritation in some people, so it’s generally only available via prescription. Plus, retinol products have been found to have the opposite effect,damaging DNA and speeding the growth of tumors when applied topically and exposed to sunlight.
That’s no joke, and it’s just not a skincare deal we’re prepared to make.
Look for:Less risky substitutes like vitamin C and peptides
What it does: Dissolves the bonds between dead skin cells to slough away dead skin and reveal supple, healthier skin.
AHA'swork by dissolving the bonds that hold dead skin cells to the surface of your skin. That exfoliates the skin evenly, encourages cell turnover, increases skin repair, and helps nutrients reach the inner layers of the skin. This comes with lots of visible benefits, including:
BHAs, or beta-hydroxy acids, also “unglue” the bonds that hold dead skin to the face, helping to gently exfoliate over time. Like AHA's, they offer these benefits:
BHA's specialize in unclogging pores to maintain oil balance, prevent ingrown hairs, and fight underlying congestion.
Our favorite? Glycolic acid.Glycolic acid is generally considered to be the most effective AHA because it’s the smallest molecule of the bunch and therefore the most easily absorbed. Plus, and at the concentrations available over-the-counter (usually below 3%), it’s not likely to irritate or over-dry the skin. You can find an effective, hydrating glycolic acid exfoliator here.
Look for:AHA’s should appear in the first half of the ingredient list to be effective in your skincare products. Conversely, BHA’s are typically more beneficial when present in lower concentrations. That means you should see salicylic acid listed toward the middle or end of the ingredients list.
Use it:3 times a week to start. Daily if your skin responds well.
What it does: Draws moisture into the skin as a powerful humectant.
Hyaluronic acid is a glycosaminoglycan - a powerful substance found naturally in your skin. It acts as a humectant, meaning that it draws moisture from its surrounding environment. In other words, it moisturizes using the water that’s already in your body, drawing up moisture from the deep layers of the skin. And it’s extremely effective: just one gram (0.03oz) of hyaluronic acid can hold up to six liters of water, and it’s capable of binding 1,800 times its weight in water - whoa!
This makes it extremely effective at providing the skin with the moisture it needs to combat lines and premature signs of aging.
Plus, since we naturally produce it ourselves, it’s highlyunlikely to cause any irritation or complications. Remember, though, that this requires some existing moisture to work - so try to apply it when you’re fresh out of the shower or in combination with another moisturizer.
Use it:Twice a day
What it does: Protect against UV rays and sun damage, the primary cause of skin aging.
Sun exposure is scientifically proven to be one of the primary causes of all signs of aging. Sunscreen helps protect against UV rays, one of the most significant causes of free radical damage and aging, tired skin. There are two primary types of sunscreen:Chemical Sunscreens
Chemical sunscreens - which use active ingredients like avobenzone, oxybenzone, octinoxate, and Helioplex - work by absorbing UV rays. They’re usually more popular because they feel lighter and look and smell less noticeable on the skin.Physical Sunscreens
Physical sunscreens, otherwise known as mineral sunscreens, contain active ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. They reflect or scatter UV radiation and they’re considered to be more resistant to sweating and swimming. That said, they can feel heavier and look more noticeable on the skin.
Both types of sunscreen work - just make sure that you find one that’s at least SPF 30
Look for:SPF 30 and broad-spectrum protection. Also, avoid the ingredients oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, and retinyl palmitate - they can cause hormone disruption, skin irritation, and harm coral reefs.
Use it:At least daily