In our search for the elusive youth elixir, we must have accumulated over a dozen half-finished anti-aging serums in our vanity cupboard. Knowing what works can help us narrow down the selection and zero in on products that’s most effective for our needs. We’ve all heard about active ingredients that can turn back the clock on aging skin — products made with things like acai, alpha-lipoic acid, and alpha-hydroxy acid.
The questions that are left unanswered include: Do they work? And are they suitable for all skin types? What do they actually do— erase wrinkles, repair sun damage, or fade age spots?
Before you rush out to buy the hottest anti-aging serum touted by cosmetic counters, it’s a good idea to learn more about active ingredients that are hype, and those that actually help your skin.
Fans of botanicals rejoice: it’s true that most plants have antioxidants in varying amounts. They can counter “free radicals,” that speed up aging, leading to wrinkles, dry skin, dark circles under eyes, dull skin, and more.
One way to win the aging battle is to stock up nutritionally on foods that count. Foods that are rich in antioxidants are good for your skin and your overall health. That’s why the recommendation remains — to eat a rainbow palette of fresh vegetables and fruits daily. You can also apply products that include these antioxidants. Those with the most antioxidants that have been shown to repair damage and slow the aging process include:
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- Green tea extract
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
Apart from antioxidants, fruit acids such as Alpha-hydroxy acid and Salicylic acid are also useful adjuncts in your anti-aging arsenal.
#1 Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Your body makes Alpha-lipoic acid to help attack free radicals throughout the body. In skin care products, this antioxidant delivers the same free radical protection to minimize fine lines and wrinkles, diminish pores, and give skin a healthy glow.
#2 Green Tea Extract
Tea, especially green tea, rich in polyphenols, have been shown to fight free radicals. Besides consuming green tea as a beverage, green tea extract may hold some promise as a topical ingredient.
Early studies have found the ingredients in tea can ease sun damage and may protect you from skin cancer when you put it on your skin. Tip: Use green tea extract under sunscreen to double your UV protection. Besides its UV defense value, polyphenols found in green tea extracts may also slow signs of aging and reduce sagging skin and wrinkles.
One of the most studied vitamins, retinol is a form of vitamin A. This multi-tasker boosts skin’s collagen, reducing fine lines and wrinkles. It also does double duty to improve skin tone and color and reduces mottled patches.
Retinol’s stronger counterpart is tretinoin. This is a prescription only ingredient and may be prescribed by doctors to slow skin aging, improve irregular coloring, and clear up acne. Over-the-counter products that have retinols may be weaker, but they can still improve how your skin looks.
The key to reaping the benefits from retinol is knowing how to use it. Retinol or tretinoin can make the top layer of your skin dry and flaky. It’s best to apply it at night and wear moisturizer and sunscreen the next morning. If you find that your skin looks flaky with regular use, switch to an alternative day regime or dilute your retinol with some moisturizer in the palms of your hands before application.
#4 Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a popular ingredient in skincare as it not only stimulates collagen production, keeping skin supple and firm, it has also been shown to help with overall complexion colour and skin tone. The key with vitamin C is to find a form that will remain stable over time. A vitamin C salt such as ethyl ascorbic acid tends to be more stable and can be compounded into a water-based formulation for long term use.
Keep your vitamin C serums out of the sun to keep the potency of the product high. For vitamin C to exert visible effects, a concentration of between 8-20% is recommended.
#5 Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10)
This antioxidant is produced by your body naturally. As you age, the production by your body slows, rendering your skin cells more vulnerable to damage. Besides oral supplementation, finding topicals that include Coenzyme Q10 is a smart way to go. One study shows that CoQ10 helps reduce “crow’s feet,” the wrinkles around the eyes. So when looking for your next eye cream, consider one that includes Coenzyme Q10.
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It’s also an antioxidant, but the truth is that even experts don’t know whether it can reverse aging on your skin. Still, companies have added it to lotions and creams based on research that shows caffeine could help prevent the growth of skin cancer and, when applied to the skin, may make wrinkles less defined, especially ”crow’s feet” around the eyes.
#7 Alpha-hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
AHA includes glycolic, lactic, citric, and tartaric acids. They work by exfoliating the skin, reducing fine lines, age spots, acne scars, and uneven skin color. OTC peels or serums containing AHA tend to be limited to low concentrations (5-10%) for safety purposes. If you want a deeper peel, you will have to visit a beauty specialist or your doctor’s office to undergo a procedure called Chemical Peel.
If you are thinking about incorporating peels in your skincare regime, start with a low concentration and apply every other day to avoid irritating your skin. Over time, you can gradually start to use it more often, working up to every day. The advantage of AHAs is that they help to exfoliate your dead skin cells, which will help to brighten your skin, reduce clogged pores and help improve the penetration of other skincare into your skin.
For some people with sensitive skins, even low doses of acids may irritate the skin, making it more sensitive to the sun. Therefore it is always important to test any new product on a small patch of skin on your forearm before starting. If you notice any irritation, stop immediately and moisturize. While using AHA, always use moisturizer and sunscreen as well.
#8 Salicylic Acid
This is a common ingredient in many anti-acne product. It penetrates pores and reduces blackheads and whiteheads with less irritation than what you might get from alpha-hydroxy acids. Like AHAs, salicylic acid exfoliates the skin, which can reduce signs of aging.
You shouldn’t use salicylic acid if you are allergic to aspirin or other products with salicylates. If you’re pregnant or nursing, ask your doctor before you use any product with salicylic acid. For a deeper salicylic acid peel, visit a beauty specialist or your doctor for an in-clinic treatment.
#9 Hyaluronic Acid
Your body makes hyaluronic acid naturally, keeping tissues cushioned and lubricated. Hyaluronic acid is naturally found in skin, joint fluid, and connective tissues! But over time, their levels diminish; this is accelerated by age, smoking, and an unhealthy diet.
Products that have hyaluronic acid may help smooth out skin. They work especially well when you use them with vitamin C products.