Point blank: Aging is a part of life. With each passing second, minute, and day, we age a little bit more. While you may not notice the signs of aging right away, there will come a day when you look in the mirror only to notice 11s and crow’s feet staring back at you. Of course, if you implement a quality anti-aging skincare routine before then, it may be years before you notice such things.
Intrigued? We thought you might be. That’s why we tapped some of the industry’s top dermatologists to share their top 10 anti-aging skincare ingredients. By committing these ingredients to memory and adding them into your routine, you’ll be able to pause the clock of visible aging while making way for your bounciest, most beautiful skin yet. You can thank us later.
10 Anti-Aging Ingredients Dermatologists Swear by for Younger-Looking Skin
While there are many anti-aging ingredients on the market, dermatologists share that the following 10 are the most effective for fast-acting results.
1Alpha and Beta Defensins
“Alpha- and beta-defensins are natural immune proteins that have been shown in in vitro studies to activate stem cells in the hair follicle, which typically helps with wound healing of the skin,” says Yunyoung Claire Chang, M.D., a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist. “These defensins have been shown to be effective in a new skincare product, called DefenAge. One multi-center, blinded controlled trial published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology in 2018 evaluated 44 patients using this new skincare product, demonstrating that this product improves brown spots and skin evenness, improves the appearance of wrinkles, and reduces visible pores.” She adds that the product has retinol-like effects without the inflammation associated with retinol.
Bakuchiol is well-known for being a gentle (yet effective) retinol alternative. These findings were confirmed in a 2014 study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, where researchers found that bakuchiol was able to stimulate collagen production in vivo, and found that 12-week application improved texture, tone, photo-damage, and more. While it has many of the same benefits of retinol, Dr. Chang says the most notable quality is that bakuchiol has less of the drying and irritating side effects of retinol, while still being just as effective.
You’ve likely seen ceramides called out on many of the labels on the skincare products already in your routine. That’s because ceramides are intensely hydrating and effective for anti-aging.
“Ceramides are a natural lipid that helps protect our skin barrier and seal in moisture. As we mature, the ceramide levels in our skin decrease, leading to drier, more sensitive skin,” Dr. Chang explains. “Dry skin also worsens the appearance of fine lines and uneven skin texture. Replacing ceramides using topical skincare is important to keep it hydrated, protected, and smooth.”
Ginseng might be considered a Korean superfood, but we’re here to let you in on a little secret: It works wonders topically for your complexion, as well. “Panax ginseng and ginsenosides are promising in preventing skin aging,” Dr. Chang explains. “Ginseng extract has been found in studies to protect against UVB-induced skin aging, reduce wrinkles, and increase moisture in the skin.” However, it’s worth noting that most ginseng skincare studies have been small and need to be corroborated with larger clinical trials.
Take it from someone with sensitive skin who loves a gentle exfoliation: Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) gorgeous skin dreams are made of. Dr. Chang supports this notion, explaining that glycolic acid exfoliates the top layers of the skin to improve texture and tone. “Glycolic acid also has additional anti-aging benefits, including fighting UV-induced inflammation, lightening brown spots, and stimulating collagen,” she adds. “With glycolic acid, the higher the concentration of the product, the stronger its effects (and side effects).” As such, it’s best to leave the higher concentrations of glycolic acid for professional use during in-office facials and treatments.
In some cases, glycolic acid (despite being fairly gentle) can be too irritating for super-sensitive skin. In these cases, you can reach for lactic acid, another AHA that’s effective at resurfacing the skin.
6Green Tea Extract
Green tea might be a super popular beverage, but it’s also a stellar choice for reversing the clock on your complexion. According to Dr. Chang, green tea is an abundant source of polyphenols that can help protect the skin against UV-induced skin aging and skin cancer. “It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-wrinkle properties,” she adds.
“Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, is a water-soluble vitamin that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties,” Dr. Chang explains, noting that it helps calm red, inflamed, or irritated skin. What’s more, the hydrating ingredient helps protect the lipid barrier and keep the moisture barrier intact which helps heal dry skin and prevent seasonal flaking. “It has also been shown to increase collagen production as well as inhibit melanosome transfer from melanocytes to keratinocytes, allowing lightening of dark spots,” Dr. Chang adds. In other words, it’s a multi-tasker that deserves a spot in your anti-aging routine.
Retinoids are a derivative of vitamin A and are one of the longest-studied anti-aging ingredients. “Retinoids have a long track record and clinical studies since the 1980s to back its evidence for preventing and treating skin aging, Dr. Chang explains. “Retinoids increase skin cell turnover, diminish brown spots, and stimulate collagen to prevent fine lines and wrinkles.”
While retinoids are undoubtedly effective, it’s worth noting that some versions can cause dryness and irritation, especially for those with dry or sensitive skin. Therefore, it’s best to start with a low percentage retinol (like 0.025 percent) before working yourself up to a stronger dose, prescription retinoid or Retin-A (like 0.5 to 2 percent).
Even when starting off with low percentages, Dr. Chang points out that retinoids tend to be drying and irritating, especially with initial use. “It is important to start slow, using a small pea-size amount over the face,” she says. “I recommend starting two or three times per week at nighttime, and increasing the frequency of use slowly as tolerated.”
Additionally, Dr. Chang says that retinoids and glycolic acid, especially when used together, may cause excessive dryness and irritation. For that reason, it’s best to choose between the two instead of trying to use them simultaneously.
“Sun protection is the most critical part of your anti-aging skincare routine,” Dr. Chang emphasizes. “Sun exposure not only causes skin burning and skin cancer but is the main culprit for accelerated skin aging.” What’s more, she adds that UV exposure forms free radicals, increases brown spots, and breaks down collagen to form fine lines, wrinkles, and skin laxity. “This process, termed ‘photo-aging,’ is absolutely preventable with the appropriate use of sun protection and broad-spectrum sunscreen,” she explains, noting that she recommends mineral sunscreens with SPF 30 or greater, including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. “Mineral sunscreens sit on the surface of the skin and act as a barrier to both UVA and UVB rays rather than being absorbed into the skin,” she explains. “Because it isn’t absorbed into the skin, there is a lower risk of allergic reactions and it is safe in pregnant females.”
And remember: Regardless of the sun protection you opt for, reapplication every few hours is key.
Vitamin C renowned for its powerful antioxidant properties and the ability to affect so many aspects of aging. For starters, adding vitamin C into your skincare routine can lead to a brighter complexion. What’s more, Dr. Chang points out that the potent ingredient can “act as a free radical scavenger to neutralize oxidative damage to the skin and stimulate collagen for fine line prevention.”
The biggest thing to remember when adding vitamin C to your anti-aging routine is that the ingredient is very unstable. As a result, it’s important to look for stabilized formulations found in opaque, air-tight bottles.
Dr. Chang also notes that some formulations of antioxidant serums containing vitamin C may irritate or cause acne for some people, so it is important to find which products work best for your skin. This may take some trial and error (or, better yet, the advice of a derm), but it will be well worth it in the long run.
Great! So now that you know which skincare ingredients to keep on your radar, here’s what else you need to know about how to use them.
The anti-aging skin type debate:
After reading about these anti-aging ingredients, you might be wondering which will be best for your skin type. While some are better tolerated by some specific skin types (as mentioned above), it’s important to remember that skincare is subjective based on your skin type and the products already in your routine.
At the end of the day, she says it’s not so much the skin type as what you are trying to address. “For example, retinoids help to rejuvenate at the cellular layer,” she begins. “Glycolic acids helps to increase cell turnover and exfoliation.”
When to add anti-aging ingredients into your skincare routine:
As much as we’d like to tell you exact dates down to the day as to when to incorporate these ingredients into your routine, that’s simply not realistic given that skin aging is subjective and varies from person to person. However, considering all of these ingredients are preventative, Dr. Chang says that it’s best to start incorporating them before or shortly after you start to notice signs of skin aging. “I recommend starting anti-aging skincare in your 20s or early 30s,” she adds. “Some of these ingredients can be started even earlier (i.e. retinoids in teenagers with acne).”
How to add anti-aging ingredients into your skincare routine:
Now, we know what you’re thinking: “How hard could it be?” Well, if you try to add all 10 of these ingredients into your routine at once, you’ll see—and it won’t be pretty. Since these ingredients are active, it’s important to ease them into your routine to avoid any sort of adverse effects.
“I always recommend starting anti-aging ingredients one by one, to avoid any skin reactions or excessive irritation,” Dr. Chang says. “Start with a test spot before applying new products over your whole face. If one anti-aging product is tolerated, you can slowly add another one into the regimen.” Additionally, she notes that not every person needs to use all of these ingredients, as many of the benefits overlap and using too many products can sometimes do more harm than good. “I recommend consulting your board-certified dermatologist to develop a skincare plan tailored to your skin needs,” she says.
Head-to-toe anti-aging treatments:
If you, like us, are a big believer in the beauty of cosmetic anti-aging treatments, like lasers and injectables, you might be wondering if you should supplement your anti-aging skincare routine with these in-office offerings. Considering most topicals can only penetrate the top-most layers of skin (unless, of course, it’s an epigenetic formulation), opting for treatments geared towards underlying causes of expression can lead to more noticeable results. For example, board-certified dermatologist Jennifer MacGregor, M.D., says that Botox can smooth crepey texture in addition to lines (on the chest, for example) and can also smooth neck bands (hi, tech neck)—something a cream alone may not be able to do.
“As we mature, we lose fat and collagen in our face, leading to loose, sagging or hollowed skin,” says Chang. “Filler injections can help replace this volume and collagen in areas where topical anti-aging products would have little to no efficacy.” Additionally, she points out that brown spots and photo-aging are often due to deeper pigment deposits which topicals cannot reach. “Laser treatments can more effectively lighten or eliminate brown spots and signs of photo-aging,” she explains. “Resurfacing laser treatments, like Fraxel dual, and skin tightening treatments, like Ultherapy, can go deeper than any topical can to stimulate collagen, making these treatments essential in the anti-aging process [from head to toe].”