With as many different skin care products on the market as there are, it can be difficult to navigate the beauty aisle with confidence. There are so many anti-aging ingredients—some of which are just as hard to pronounce (e.g. hyaluronic acid) as they are to decipher—that it’s hard to know which ones are right for your skin type. We asked dermatologists, skin care educators and estheticians to help us understand how 20 of the most popular ingredients in skin care products help prevent aging skin.
1. Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid helps to prevent the signs of aging in the skin while soothing it at the same time.“Also known as thioctic acid, alpha-lipoic acid improves cellular energy production and reduces inflammation, a major cause of aging,” according to Lisamarie Gargulio, Director of Education at Luzern Laboratories. “It also provides your skin with superior antioxidant protection, further activating antioxidants such as coenzyme Q10.”
“Vitamin H, more commonly known as biotin, is part of the B-complex group of vitamins,” according to a study at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “Symptoms [of biotin deficiency] include hair loss, dry scaly skin and cracking in the corners of the mouth.” Biotin helps cells reach their full growth cycle, promoting stronger hair, skin and nails. Natural sources of biotin include nuts, soybeans, eggs, avocado and cauliflower.
Shop products with biotin.
Many believe caffeine reduces the appearance of cellulite by constricting the blood vessels, giving skin a firmer appearance. According to a study in the Skin Pharmacol Physiol journal, “Caffeine has potent antioxidant properties. It helps protects against UV radiation and slows down the process of photoaging in the skin.”
Shop products with caffeine.
Ceramides help your skin to maintain its moisture levels, preventing dry or irritated skin. "Ceramides are natural lipids that your skin produces," says Gargulio. "They are crucial components of the epidermis and play a key role in barrier protection of the skin, allowing it to capture and bind water to stay hydrated." Because ceramides naturally decline as we age, you may want to use a ceramide skin care product to prevent redness or itchiness.
Shop products with ceramides.
5. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 deficiency can result in an inability to properly produce collagen and elastin, two of the main building blocks of healthy skin. Unfortunately, most people over the age of 30 are deficient if they don’t take a supplement with the enzyme. “Also known as ubiquinone, coenzyme Q10 is present in every cell of the body,” according to Gargiulo. “It provides powerful antioxidant protections and collagen-boosting capabilities.”
6. Glycolic Acid
Glycolic acid, a popular chemical exfoliant, is a derivative of sugarcane and is found naturally in foods. It’s been known to boost the production of collagen and elastin in the body, reducing the signs of aging in the skin. “It is an alpha hydroxy acid that’s used as an exfoliator to remove dead skin cells and smoothes skin texture,” says Gargulio. “Glycolic acid can reduce the look of fine lines and aging.”
7. Green Tea
“Green tea has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The anti-aging benefits of green tea are attributed to polyphenols, a type of flavonoids found in plants,” says Dr. Harold Lancer of Lancer Dermatology and Skincare. “Early studies have shown that green tea can reduce sun damage, protect skin from cancer and decrease collagen breakdown. The polyphenols are thought to influence biochemical pathways that lead to cell regeneration."
Shop products with green tea.
8. Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid is a powerful moisturizer and is one of the main contributors to keeping your skin supple and hydrated. It can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, is naturally found throughout your entire body and can be used as a natural alternative to synthetic fillers. “Compared to other polymers, hyaluronic has the greatest ability to hold water,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Fayne Frey. For maximum anti-aging effects, Dr. Frey recommends the use of topical hyaluronic acid twice per day (day and night).
Hydroquinone is a lightening agent for skin that’s widely used for its fast results.“Monitored use of hydroquinone quickly lightens tough age spots on the skin,” according to skin care therapist Paula Mauter. “Hydroquinone is especially helpful for discoloration related to a disorder called melasma caused by hormone fluctuations leftover from pregnancy or birth control use.”
10. Jojoba Oil
Jojoba oil is a vegetable wax extracted from jojoba plants in the desert. It’s rich in vitamin E, zinc and B-complex vitamins to help sensitive skin fight the signs of aging. According to skin care expert Zondra Wilson, jojoba oil can “control acne when used regularly, help lighten dark circles underneath the eye and help minimize puffiness under the eye.”
Shop products with jojoba.
11. Kojic Acid
Kojic acid limits melanin production in the skin, which is the substance that gives skin its color. According to esthetician Renee Gilanshah, “Kojic acid lightens pigmented skin, which is usually the result of sun exposure. Kojic acid is also an antioxidant that helps with the premature damage or malfunction of skin cells.”
Shop products with kojic acid.
12. Lactic Acid
Lactic acid provides general exfoliation and skin lightening for skin types too sensitive for glycolic acid. Studies show it can increase firmness and thickness of skin while also reducing the signs of aging. “Lactic acid has the amazing ability to attract and hold moisture since it is a humectant,” according to Gilanshah. “This helps bring additional moisture to dry or dehydrated skin.”
13. Malic Acid
Malic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid naturally found in the body that can boost the immune system and balance pH levels in the body. “Malic acid is excellent to improve the appearance of fine lines, large pores and improve the overall texture of skin,” says Mauter. “Malic acid, usually derived from apples, is glycolic acid's gentle cousin—so it's a better choice for sensitive skin types.”
Shop products with malic acid.
Niacinamide (aka vitamin B3) can help the body perform critical functions, like cell signaling, DNA signaling and converting carbohydrates into fats and proteins. “This vitamin B3 derivative suppresses melanin from reaching the surface of the skin, thus lightening areas of dark spots that plague mature skin,” says Mauter. “Niacinamide is a more 'natural' way of dealing with hyperpigmentation compared to something like hydroquinone.”
15. Plant Stem Cells
Plant stem cells work by replacing, instead of repairing, damaged cells in the skin. “Plant stem cells have the ability to divide and self-renew. This newer technology has a wide range of uses, from increasing collagen production to reducing inflammation,” says Mauter.
Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant essential to neutralizing free radicals, improving the appearance of skin and reducing fine lines and wrinkles. “It’s a natural antioxidant compound found in high amounts amongst the skins of grapes and in red wine,” says esthetician Shelley Birnbaum. “Resveratrol is a potent antioxidant that fights free radical damage (which leads to aging skin).”
Retinol is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals and reduces the signs of aging. “It’s a form of vitamin A that when in concentrations of 0.25 percent or higher can increase cell turnover, helping to improve skin texture, fine lines and brown spots,” says Heather D. Rodgers, MD of Modern Dermatology in Seattle. “You want to apply this to cleansed skin before your moisturizer.”
Shop products with retinol.
18. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects the skin from environmental pollutants, including UV exposure. According to Dr. Eric Braverman, founder of the PATH Medical Center, “Vitamin C increases skin’s collagen, making it appear plumper while reducing signs of wrinkles and fine lines.”
Shop products with vitamin C.
19. Vitamin E
A powerful source of antioxidants, vitamin E helps fight wrinkles and fine lines caused by pollution, UV rays and free radicals by neutralizing the oxidant effect of free radicals. Your body cannot naturally produce it, so it’s vital to get it from a skin or hair care product. “Vitamin E reduces inflammation both within your body and on your skin, helping you to maintain healthy and youthful skin,” says Dr. Braverman.
Shop products with vitamin E.
20. Vitamin K
Vitamin K can help to reverse the appearance of aging in skin because of its role in blood circulation, making it perfect for under-eye creams. “Vitamin K reverses the calcium that is deposited in your skin’s elastin fibers, which harden and lead to wrinkles,” according to Dr. Braverman.
Shop products with vitamin K.
Where Do You Go From Here?
Okay, so you know what ingredients to look for, but does that mean you need to be using all of them, every day? Not necessarily. Though, it could be possible, as many anti-aging products contain many of these ingredients. Instead, we recommend creating a skin care regimen tailored to your skin type, age and skin concerns. For example, skin care experts agree that every anti-aging routine should contain sunscreen, antioxidants and a cleanser.
Once you've got the basics covered, you might want to add in additional serums, treatments and exfoliants. Some of the ingredients above are designed to target specific concerns (e.g. hydroquinone for dark spots), while others are more universally recommended (e.g. vitamin C for environmental protection). And some are ideal for treating more advanced signs of aging, while others fall under preventative care.
Check out our tips for starting a new skin care regimen.