10 Tips: Selecting Age-Fighting Topicals
Dermatologists say it pays to
be an educated consumer
When it comes to skin
care products that can help us look younger, it is difficult to know
what to use. There are so many choices, and promises of instant
results or looking 10 years younger can be alluring. So alluring, in
fact, that Americans spent more than $7 billion on these products in
While alluring claims
sell products, the products do not always deliver. To select
effective age-fighting topicals, dermatologists say, you need to be
an educated consumer. The following tips from dermatologists can
help you become an educated consumer:
Do your homework.
Understanding what products can and cannot do before you buy can
save you a lot of money and minimize disappointment. Your
dermatologist can be your best source of information. A wealth
of information exists, and it often takes expertise to evaluate
this information. Too many patients, dermatologists say, feel
that they have wasted a lot of money on useless products by the
time they ask for product recommendations.
If you want to consult
additional sources, look for sources that provide unbiased
information. These include books, blogs, and Web sites written
by dermatologists and other doctors; Web sites such as this one
(leading dermatologists review all content); and other sources
that do not exist simply to sell products. News releases from
the American Academy of Dermatology offer unbiased information.
Dermatologists are regularly interviewed for these releases, and
some of the releases feature information about treating aging
Pick your #1 concern.
While it can be tempting to go shopping and bring home many
products to sample, this approach generally will not help you
find an effective product. Using several products on your skin,
especially anti-aging products, in a few days or weeks tends to
irritate the skin. When skin becomes irritated, signs of aging
such as wrinkles, age spots, and blotchiness become more
To start, dermatologists
recommend that you pick your #1 concern such as adult acne, age
spots, fine lines, or a blotchy complexion. Then look for a
product that addresses this concern.
Use sunscreen and moisturizer.
Protect by day and repair by night is what dermatologists
recommend. Two products that science has shown can protect the
Dermatologists agree that
sunscreen is by far
the most beneficial age-fighting
product on the market. When applied daily, a
broad-spectrum (offers UVA and UVB protection) sunscreen helps
protect the skin from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays that can
cause age spots, deep wrinkles, and a leathery texture. With
daily use, a broad-spectrum sunscreen also may allow the skin to
repair some of the damage.
Moisturizer is another
essential. A good moisturizer can plump up fine lines and make a
complexion look brighter and younger. In fact, moisturizer is
the secret ingredient in many products that promise visibly
reduced fine lines in 24 to 48 hours.
Some people prefer a
moisturizer that has sunscreen. That’s fine. Just be sure the
product offers UVA/UVB protection and has an SPF of at least 30.
If you will be spending the day outdoors, a broad-spectrum
sunscreen must be re-applied approximately every few hours.
At night, you want to
apply products that repair the skin. Sunlight inactivates many
of these products or causes skin irritation.
How to Evaluate Products as You Shop
Now that you know what you want to treat and what you absolutely
should use (sunscreen and moisturizer), it is time to look for
products. As you shop, the following tips can help you evaluate
A claim that sounds too good to be true generally is.
The saying, “If it sounds too good, it probably is,” applies to
skin care products that promise younger-looking skin. It is not
possible to get the results of a facelift from a jar. Nor it is
possible to look 10 years younger overnight. And a cream cannot
flatten your tummy. Exaggerated claims such as these do sell
It also is important to keep in mind that one product cannot
effectively treat the many signs of aging from age spots to
wrinkles. Be sure to pass on products that make exaggerated
Expensive does not mean better. Consumers often equate more
expensive with more effective, but this is not always the case
with age-fighting products. There are some very effective,
affordable over-the-counter products.
Moisturizer, an essential
in any age-fighting skin care plan, is one such product that
need not be expensive to be effective. The most expensive
components of any facial moisturizer are the fragrance, bottle,
and packaging. None of these makes the moisturizer more
No one product works for everyone. While a friend may
swear by a product, it does not mean you will be as pleased.
People have different skin types and different skin concerns.
Some people’s skin is more sensitive.
As such, one product cannot effectively treat everyone’s
Product should contain a proven active ingredient.
Only a handful of active ingredients have the scientific studies
to prove that they can effectively treat signs of aging. This
does not mean that other ingredients do not work. It just means
that the studies have not been done to back up the claims.
Active ingredients that have some evidence of effectively
treating signs of aging include retinoids (may appear as
retinol, retinyl, or retinoic acid on the label), alpha hydroxy
acids, azelaic acid, growth factors (some), hydroquinone, kojic
acid, peptides (some), and salicylic acid.
As new knowledge emerges, this list will grow. A dermatologist
can tell you which active ingredients have proven effective.
“Clinically proven” does not necessarily mean the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) found the product effective.
If the FDA does not
classify the product as a drug, “clinically proven” usually
means the product was given to a group of people for a
few weeks to try and then report whether or not they saw
improvement. The FDA does not review such reports.
“Preservative free” is a misleading term. All products must
contain preservatives or they could not sit on store shelves
without spoiling. Some preservatives are antioxidants such as
ascorbic acid (vitamin C), tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), and
retinyl palmitate (derived from vitamin A). These prevent the
product from becoming rancid. Preservatives that inhibit
microorganisms such as bacteria include parabens and
“All natural” is another misleading term. People often interpret “all
natural” to mean that a product contains pure plant extracts.
Most plant extracts cannot be added to a skin care product in
their natural form. Even if they could, adding pure plant
extract would make the product cost prohibitive and unappealing.
Imagine a product that contained ground up leaves or chunks of
mushroom. Most plant extracts undergo extensive processing in
which they are modified and chemically synthesized to create a
If these guidelines still leave you yearning for specific product
recommendations, talk with your dermatologist. No one product is
right for everyone. That’s why this site does not recommend
anti-aging products. A dermatologist can examine your skin and
medical history. With this information, a dermatologist can
recommend products that can address your concerns. Keep in mind that
creams, gels, and serums cannot effectively diminish all aging-skin
10 Tips: Getting the Best
Results from Age-Fighting Topicals
Dermatologists Dispel Common Myths About Age-Fighting Topicals
News releases from the American Academy of Dermatology
American Academy of Dermatology. “Cosmeceuticals”
(fact sheet), Issued November 2008. Last accessed May 13, 2009.
Draelos, ZD. (editor) 2005. “Cosmeceuticals.” 1st
ed. China:Elsevier Saunders.
United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Is
it a Drug, a Cosmetic, or Both?” Frequently Requested
Information, issued July 8, 2002. Last accessed May 14, 2009.
All content solely
developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
Over-the-counter products deliver modest improvement.
There is no such thing as a facelift in a jar.