Do Anti-Aging Creams Actually Work?

The answer to this age-old question is more complicated than you think
Anti-Aging Cream

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Most pharmacies and beauty stores dedicate an entire section to anti-aging products, which claim to keep your skin looking fresh and youthful by preventing wrinkles and blemishes. But before you spend $100 on a fancy bottle of cream, you should know what dermatologists have to say. So, do anti-aging creams actually work? Unfortunately, this question does not seem to have a clear answer.


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Skin professionals have varying opinions on the efficacy of these products. While some ingredients, such as Vitamin C and retinol, seem to counteract the anti-aging process, creams do not work miracles and may come with some unwanted side effects.

If you’re looking to avoid wrinkles, many dermatologists recommend that you choose a retinoid, which is a vitamin A-based drug that increases the production of collagen and blood vessels in the skin, according to Harvard Health Publishing. As you get older, collagen production decreases and your skin loses its elasticity, resulting in wrinkles. A retinoid may help counter this natural aging process.

There are certain ingredients to look for on the label that may indicate a more effective product. According to Dr. Susan Massick, you should look for hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid, alpha hydroxy acid and peptide serums, all of which can help with the texture of the skin.

Dermatologist Dr. Heidi Prather recommends using a cream with vitamin C. As an antioxidant, this vitamin acts as a barrier between your skin and free radicals, damaging compounds that may come from environmental sources such as pollution and ultra-violet rays.

Retinoid can either be purchased over-the-counter or with a prescription, but both of these options seem to have their drawbacks. Prescription retinoid, like Tretinoin or Adapalene, may be stronger than over-the-counter retinol, therefore giving more noticeable results, but it is important to note the unwanted side effects.

“These medications cannot be used by women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant,” wrote Dr. Amin Esfahani. “Furthermore, they can cause significant irritation of the skin and in some instances increase the risk of sun burns. As such, if you plan to start a retinoid medication, you should consult your dermatologist to discuss the strength that is best suited for you and the proper method of application.”

Given the potential side effects, some dermatologists are less forgiving of anti-aging cream than others. Although over-the-counter products may be safer, Dr. Fayne Frey is still skeptical of the lack of sufficient scientific evidence that these creams have the desired effect.  

The FDA does not recognize these products as drugs — they are classified as cosmetics, which leaves Frey unconvinced that creams will affect your skin in a more significant way than mascara or blush does. She stressed that anti-aging creams are only capable of making short-term differences in your appearance that won’t actually last.  

“Manufacturers have added active ingredients to moisturizers with the intent of improving the signs of aging,” she wrote. “However, there is little scientific evidence that these active ingredients are the direct cause of any improvement in fine lines or wrinkles. As moisturizers, anti-aging creams increase hydration of the skin, temporarily reducing the appearance of fine lines.”

The rest of your skincare routine may influence the efficacy of your anti-aging cream. Dr. Massick stressed that if you are not using sunscreen in conjunction with your anti-aging cream, you will not see results.

“It is the damaging effects of ultraviolet light that can have the highest impact, so no amount of anti-wrinkle cream will prevent aging if you’re not taking other precautions to protect your skin,” she wrote. “If you do not protect yourself from the sun, your skin will suffer the effects.”

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Because sun damage is cumulative, she stressed the need to start protecting your skin early. If you want to do more than just wear sunscreen to protect yourself from wrinkles, try switching up your diet by incorporating foods that will benefit your skin.