AgingSkinNet Article
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 2008.

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:

  1. 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 skin.

  1. 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 noticeable.

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.

  1. Use sunscreen and moisturizer. Protect by day and repair by night is what dermatologists recommend. Two products that science has shown can protect the skin are:

  • Sunscreen (offers UVA and UVB protection and an SPF of 30 or higher)

  • Moisturizer

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 products:  

  1. 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 products though.

    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 claims.

  2. 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 effective.

  1. 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 mature skin.

  2. 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.

  3. “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.

  4. “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 phenoxyethanol.

  5. “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 pleasing form.

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 concerns.

More Information
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

Woman applying anti-aging cream

Over-the-counter products deliver modest improvement. There is no such thing as a facelift in a jar.





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Page last updated 6/17/09

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