When it comes to skincare, I'm not a big proponent of blind faith. There are so many alleged "miracle" serums and elixirs out there that promise to make all of your wrinkles disappear overnight. But the truth is, there are really only a handful of ingredients that are clinically proven to have anti-aging effects. There's no need to shell out abhorrent amounts of money for diamond-infused creams or the essence of a rare flower; your best bet for keeping your skin healthy and beautiful is to listen to board-certified dermatologists and use the well-researched ingredients that they recommend.
So what are those ingredients, exactly? Ahead, we asked board-certified dermatologists Dr. Anthony Rossi Jr, Dr. Dennis Gross, and Dr. Mamima Turegano for their thoughts on the best anti-aging ingredients. Read on for their responses.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Dennis Gross is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare, a leading, evidence-based anti-aging skincare brand.
- Dr. Anthony Rossi Jr. is a board-certified dermatologist recognized internationally as a leading expert on sensitive skin.
- Dr. Mamima Turegano is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist based in Old Metairie, LA.
When it comes to anti-aging skincare, prevention is key. One of the most effective habits you can adopt early on in life (the sooner, the better) is to start wearing. a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher every single day. "Sunscreen is the number [one] studied anti-aging ingredient," says Turegano. "It may not seem glamorous, but without sunscreen, any of the other products you are using will be counteracted by the damage from UV light exposure. Sunscreen not only protects the DNA in your skin from UV damage, but it gives your skin cells a chance to rest and regenerate, which helps diminish the development of wrinkles and uneven skin tone." Studies have found that up to 80 percent of the visible signs of facial aging come from sun exposure, so a daily SPF is crucial to keep skin healthy and more youthful-looking later in life. Rossi recommends going for the physical (also referred to as mineral) sunscreens, which contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
Antioxidants Like Vitamin C and Ferulic Acid
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that has been shown to work well with sunscreen to protect the skin from UV and free-radical damage. "[Vitamin C] also helps build collagen, and can help the superficial skin cells deal with hyperpigmentation," says Turegano. Collagen occurs naturally in the human body and it's an important substance for maintaining the skin's firm, bouncy appearance—but it decreases as you age. So using a daily vitamin C serum is a great way to not only protect your skin from UV-related collagen loss, but also to help stimulate collagen production.
For an even more powerful vitamin C formula, look for vitamin C serums that are formulated with ferulic acid. The presence of ferulic acid not only helps to stabilize vitamin C formulas, but it's also a powerful antioxidant in its own right:
"Ferulic acid works by neutralizing free radicals that eat away at our existing collagen production," says Gross. "This comes from UV damage, blue light damage, etc. Thus, it helps to preserve our existing collagen production and maintain a more youthful appearance.
" In addition, it soothes the skin when combined with retinol formulas," he adds. Try Dr. Gross's Advanced Retinol + Ferulic range.
"Retinoids are considered to be the holy grail anti-aging ingredient," says Turegano. "Retinoids are a vitamin A-derived molecule that work deeper in the collagen to help with collagen remodeling, as well as on the skin surface to increase skin cell turnover and improve discoloration and uneven skin tone." The word "retinoid" is an umbrella term that encompasses a number of more specific ingredients, including over the counter retinol and prescription-strength retinoids like tretinoin.
"Retinol is a powerhouse anti-aging ingredient that works to stimulate cell turnover and increase our skin’s natural collagen production in the epidermis and dermis," Gross concurs. "That said, retinol has acquired a bad reputation over the years for a number of reasons. Many of my clients have feared retinol is too harsh, thins the skin, and so forth. Yet the key with retinol is in the formulation. Rather than searching for the highest percentage on the market, look for a retinol—whether that be an overnight serum, peel, etc.—and gauge which ingredients it’s mixed with. It’s important to find a retinol that incorporates antioxidants and soothing ingredientsthat strengthen the moisture barrier while retinol gets to work," he advises.
And if you're looking for a more natural alternative to retinol, Gross recommends trying Bakuchiol (it also pairs well with retinol as long as both ingredients are in the same formulation). "One of my favorite ingredients to mix with retinol is bakuchiol," He says. "It's a natural derivative of retinol that also stimulates cellular turnover and increases our skin’s existing collagen production. However, what’s key with bakuchiol is it strengthens the skin’s moisture barrier at the same time, preventing potential irritation or moisture loss from occurring."
While retinoids are considered to be one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients we have available to us, retinoids—especially prescription-strength retinoids—can also be extremely effective acne treatments
Epidermal Growth Factor
"Growth factors are large proteins derived from either human cells, animals cells, or plant cells that promote the increase of structural proteins like collagen and elastin," says Turegano. "They also aid in tissue repair after an injury, which makes them an ideal product after in-office procedures, like microneedling and lasers." Turegano recommends the Biopelle Tensage Intensive Serum 40.
"Peptides are building blocks of protein and send signals to help build collagen," says Turegano. "And depending on the peptide, they can also send signals to improve moisturization in the skin." While less-often discussed than ingredients like SPF and retinol, studies have shown peptides to be fairly effective when it comes to anti-aging. A 2019 study conducted on a group of 22 women over the age of 40 found that the topical application of peptides created "significant improvements in skin wrinkles" in just two weeks.
For dry skin in particular, hyaluronic acid can deliver an immediate plumping effect as well as improve the skin over time. "Hyaluronic Acid is one of the best anti-aging ingredients," says Rossi. "It will help hydrate the skin and is pleasing for dry skin and wrinkles." When considering which hyaluronic acid skincare products to add to your routine, Rossi recommends the La-Roche Posay Hyalu Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum and the Skin Medica HA5 Hydrator.
MEP Technology is newer to the market, and an ingredient that's really disrupting the way we approach anti-aging skincare. "MEP Technology is [more] novel, but it's an exciting ingredient called Methyl Estraodiolpropanoate," says Turegano. "It is considered to be a NERA (Non-Hormonal Estrogen Receptor Aide) that works to non-hormonally help stimulate the estrogen receptor pathway in the skin. In a 2019 study, MEP was found to improve sun damage, skin texture, and hydration. According to the study, "younger patients showed significant improvement by about 8 weeks," while, for older patients, "significant improvement was seen by week 20, suggesting MEP's potential ability to reactivate dormant estrogen receptors." FYI, this technology is exclusive to the Emepelle brand of products.
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