- Anti-aging ingredients change the skin’s structure to minimize signs of aging.
- The most effective ingredients increase skin cell turnover rate, encourage protein production and restore moisture to damaged, dry skin.
- At-home alternatives may offer some anti-aging benefits but are generally not as effective.
Anti-aging skin care products are formulated to slow or reverse common signs of aging including loose skin, discoloration, dryness, roughness, fine lines and wrinkles. These products contain active ingredients that alter skin structure on a molecular level to appear smoother and firmer.
Do Anti-Aging Ingredients Really Work?
While no skin care ingredient can stop the aging process altogether, anti-aging ingredients can improve the overall appearance of aging skin.
Much of anti-aging skin care is preventative, meaning it is important start regularly using them before the signs of aging develop.
How do they work?
Most anti-aging ingredients work in one of three ways. Some increase skin cell turnover rate to encourage the exfoliation of dead skin cells. Others signal the body to increase elastin and collagen production, two proteins that are essential to skin health.
Finally, some ingredients simply replace lost key molecules to rehydrate and restore aging skin to health.
The most common benefits of anti-aging skin care products are:
- Reducing fine lines and wrinkles
- Lightening dark spots, age spots and other forms of hyperpigmentation
- Reversing sun damage
- Improving the skin moisture barrier
- Firming loose or sagging skin
Best Over-the-Counter Anti-Aging Ingredients for Skin Care
The following ingredients have been proven to generate visible results in your skin. They are found in many types of skin care products including moisturizers, serums, night creams, lotions, cleansers and eye creams.
Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, is considered the most effective anti-aging ingredient available over the counter (OTC). It treats all the major signs of aging including fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and skin laxity or looseness.
Retinol increases skin cell turnover to rapidly exfoliate damaged, aged skin while increasing elastin and collagen production to improve skin firmness.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant, meaning it protects the skin from the free radicals and sun damage that can lead to skin cancer. It also reduces melanin production to prevent recurring hyperpigmentation and promotes collagen production.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a molecule naturally produced by the body that helps skin retain elasticity and moisture. Production of HA drops off steeply after age 30, but applying it topically can restore the skin’s moisture levels and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Ceramides are lipid or fat molecules that maintain the moisture barrier that protects the skin from exterior elements. As with HA, they become less present as the skin ages.
When applied topically, ceramides reduce transepidermal water loss, or the evaporation of moisture through the skin, to prevent and treat dry skin.
Otherwise known as vitamin B3, niacinamide treats many signs of aging including fine lines and wrinkles, blotchiness and sallowness or yellowing. It does so by encouraging ceramide and collagen production and inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase, a molecule necessary for melanin production.
Best At-Home Anti-Aging Ingredients for Skin Care
As inexpensive alternatives to commercial products, several ingredients commonly found in the home can be repurposed as anti-aging DIY remedies.
While these ingredients cannot likely deliver similar results to lab-developed OTC products, they nevertheless do offer some anti-aging benefits.
Milk contains lactic acid, a mild alpha-hydroxy acid that exfoliates to reduce dark spots and brighten the skin’s appearance. It also is fortified with vitamin D, an anti-inflammatory.
Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties, meaning that it causes blood vessels to constrict. Constricted blood vessels can reduce puffiness, especially around the eyes, that contributes to a more aged appearance.
Common sources of caffeine are coffee grounds and black or green tea, the latter of which also has antioxidant properties.
Anti-Aging Skin Care Habits
Anti-aging ingredients are only as effective as your other skin care habits. Certain lifestyle habits are crucial to prevent premature skin aging.
The most important anti-aging habit to develop is incorporating a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 into your skin care routine and reducing sun exposure as much as possible. Not smoking and staying hydrated can also maintain your skin’s health in the long term.
Although the aging process is inevitable, certain skin care ingredients can help maintain your skin’s health to preserve a more youthful appearance. These ingredients can be incorporated into any step of your skin care routine.
For OTC options, retinol is the most powerful and all-encompassing ingredient available. Other effective ingredients include hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, ceramides and niacinamide.
As alternatives to commercial products, at-home options include lemon juice, milk and caffeine. While there is some scientific data pointing to these ingredients’ ability to improve skin quality, they may not be as effective as OTC anti-aging products.
- Bellemère G, Stamatas G, N, Bruère V, Bertin C, Issachar N, Oddos T: Antiaging Action of Retinol: From Molecular to Clinical. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2009;22:200-209. doi:10.1159/000231525
- Ganceviciene, R., Liakou, A. I., Theodoridis, A., Makrantonaki, E., & Zouboulis, C. C. (2012). Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-endocrinology, 4(3), 308–319. doi:10.4161/derm.22804
- Pullar, J. M., Carr, A. C., & Vissers, M. (2017). The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients, 9(8), 866. doi:10.3390/nu9080866
- Pavicic T, Gauglitz GG, Lersch P, Schwach-Abdellaoui K, Malle B, Korting HC, Farwick M. Efficacy of cream-based novel formulations of hyaluronic acid of different molecular weights in anti-wrinkle treatment. J Drugs Dermatol. 2011 Sep;10(9):990-1000. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22052267
- Spada, F., Barnes, T. M., & Greive, K. A. (2018). Skin hydration is significantly increased by a cream formulated to mimic the skin’s own natural moisturizing systems. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 11, 491–497. doi:10.2147/CCID.S177697
- Bissett DL, Oblong JE, Berge CA. Niacinamide: A B vitamin that improves aging facial skin appearance. Dermatol Surg. 2005 Jul;31(7 Pt 2):860-5; discussion 865. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16029679
- Smit, N., Vicanova, J., & Pavel, S. (2009). The hunt for natural skin whitening agents. International journal of molecular sciences, 10(12), 5326–5349. doi:10.3390/ijms10125326
- Matsuura, Ritaro; Ukeda, Hiroyuki; Sawamura, Masayoshi. (2006) Tyrosinase Inhibitory Activity of Citrus Essential Oils. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2006 54 (6), 2309-2313. doi:10.1021/jf051682i
- Cappelletti, S., Piacentino, D., Sani, G., & Aromatario, M. (2015). Caffeine: cognitive and physical performance enhancer or psychoactive drug?. Current neuropharmacology, 13(1), 71–88. doi:10.2174/1570159X13666141210215655