According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there isn’t sufficient evidence to show any of creams and lotions that promise to banish wrinkles or slow down the aging process actually work.
However, there are in fact four commonly listed active ingredients to look out for in their role in decreasing signs of aging – including peptides, alpha-hydroxy acids, retinol, and some antioxidants.
Dr. Elizabeth Hale, a dermatologist at New York University Medical Center, told ABC News: “It can be overwhelming for patients and doctors – it’s hard to know which works, and which doesn’t. There’s definitely an overabundance of products and ingredients that promise to deliver.”
As we age, our skin produces less collagen and elastin, becoming thinner; causing it to sag and develop fine lines.
Peptides are a protein that can stimulate new cells to grow and help skin cells to heal, and are found in dozens of products currently on the market.
Dr. Ivona Percec, a plastic surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “The jury is still out on how beneficial they are.
“If they work, they do so by stimulating the replacement of collagen, elastin, and other components that suffer during aging.
“The concern is that peptides are large molecules, and depending on their formulation and the skin surface, they may not be able to penetrate deeply enough to achieve their effect.”
Instead, Dr. Elizabeth Hale likes to think of peptides as good hydrating skin when they are found in moisturizers, which, in turn, “can make lines less noticeable”.
Alpha-hydroxy acids, on the other hand, are natural ingredients that come from fruits and milk sugars commonly used as exfoliants.
Dr. Elizabeth Hale said: “They are commonly used [for] getting rid of dead skin cells, allowing new cells to grow.
“It allows the deeper layer of the skin to come to surface faster — which speeds up the cycle of skin turnover.”
There are three acids – lactic acids, glycolic acids and citric acids – with each having different effects on the skin.
Lactic acid, which comes from sour milk, helps remove dead skin cells, subsequently adding a certain brightness to the skin.
Glycolic acid, from sugar cane, can slightly help to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, which ultimately makes the skin appear smoother and tighter.
Meanwhile retinol, a natural form of vitamin A found in a number of over-the-counter skin creams, boosts the thickness and elasticity of the skin and is seen as reliable method for decreasing signs of aging.
Dr. Elizabeth Hale said: “There is ample evidence that shows retinol improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”
However, pregnant women should avoid using retinol, or any form of vitamin A, because it may increase the risk of birth defects.
Antioxidants, widely known to fight internal cell damage from free radicals that can injure cells, increase inflammation, and the risk of cancer, have been found to have anti-aging benefits – but only in the right formulation.
Substances with antioxidant properties include beta-carotene, lycopene, selenium, and vitamins A, C and E, according to the National Institutes of Health.
These and other antioxidants are found in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and some meats, with many supplements also available.
Dr. Ivona Percec said: “There are antioxidants that are effective, however, it’s the formulation of the antioxidants that is critical. But Vitamins C and E are the most commonly used, and the most time-tested.”
Although some vitamin skin care formulations may claim to be “natural” anti-aging products, Dr. Ivona Percec said that they may not be effective.