One of the number one questions that we get when it comes to skin health is "what can I do to help prevent and treat aging?" There are numerous so called "anti-aging" products on the market and it can be overwhelming to try and decide which ones you should be using. Additionally, many have ingredients without any scientifically proven benefit. To help you in your search, I've narrowed it down to the ingredients that have the most scientific evidence backing up their anti-aging effects.
I also want to mention that what you put on the inside matters every bit as much as what you put on the outside. You can have the best skin care routine in the world, but if you’re not eating healthy foods your skin will show it. Polyphenols, a group of plant molecules that can be found in certain fruits and vegetables as well as in red wine (cheers to that!), tea, coffee, and cocoa, help protect cells from free radical damage, thereby slowing the aging process and preventing the development of numerous different diseases. Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, kiwi, bell peppers, tomatoes, and most other fruits and vegetables, has been linked to better skin appearance, namely less wrinkles, dryness, and thinning (1). This is likely due to the fact that vitamin C participates in collagen synthesis, which is vital for the maintenance of skin integrity. On the contrast, consuming a diet heavy in added sugar, refined carbohydrates, and fried foods (aka the Standard American Diet), is positively associated with skin aging. For more information on the impact of diet on the health of your skin, check out our previous blog titled “Skin Food.”
Now, back to what you can use topically to combat the effects that aging has on your skin. I incorporate all of the ingredients discussed below into my regular skin care routine and have definitely noticed an improvement in the texture and overall condition of my skin since doing so!
Retinols and retinoids are a class of naturally occurring synthetic compounds that are derived from vitamin A. They are probably the most well studied topical anti-aging treatments, and the evidence for their effectiveness is quite robust. They work to increase cellular turnover (the shedding of dead skin cells and production of new skin cells) thereby unclogging pores and boosting collagen production. This helps with both acne prevention/treatment and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. The overall effect is a softer, smoother, and brighter skin.
I do want to mention that you should avoid using sunscreen products that contain retinols and retinoids. This is because they can increase sun sensitivity and the risk of cell damage from UV rays. It is therefore important to use them only at night and to make sure that you are wearing sunscreen during the day!
Even though I routinely prescribe retinoids for acne and fine lines/discoloration, the prescription products are definitely not natural or non-toxic when it comes to their ingredient profiles. They contain a lot of fillers and preservatives that I usually try and avoid in my own skin care products. I will be honest in saying that prescription strength products are more effective, but you can still get good results from over-the-counter formulations. In fact, sensitive skin types may actually do better with them since they tend not to be as harsh. Here is a list of some safer, more natural retinol products that you can try. I would suggest always doing a patch test before applying these to your whole face and to start by applying them every other night until your skin adjusts. And one more thing- avoid using retinoid and retinol-based products if you are pregnant!
Vitamin C is another skin care ingredient that actually has some good anti-aging evidence behind it. It provides antioxidant protection by protecting the skin from free radical damage (molecules in the environment that promote aging), reduces discoloration, boosts collagen production, and reduces inflammation. In other words, it lightens, tightens, and brightens!
The best way to incorporate vitamin C into your skin care routine is to use it as a serum under your daytime moisturizer and sunscreen. When used like this it will give you an extra boost of protection from the skin damaging effects of the sun, pollution, and oxygen-derived free radicals.
Here is a list of natural-based vitamin C products that are safe and contain effective forms of vitamin C. It is important to look for products that are packaged in dark, air restrictive containers since vitamin C become unstable when exposed to air and light.
When it comes to exfoliation, most people think of products with a grainy, rough texture. These are what are called "physical" exfoliants. And while they can be beneficial to use, many are quite harsh and can actually damage to skin and aggravate pre-existing acne. Your skin is not a floor, so don't scrub it like it is one! If you are going to use physical exfoliants, please make sure that the grains are very fine. Grinding hard pieces of almonds and peach pits into your skin is NOT going to help with the appearance and health of your skin. Yes, it makes it feel smooth, but it will irritate the heck out of it and cause it to became inflamed.
A better strategy is to start incorporating "chemical" exfoliants into your routine. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) are the two exfoliants used in skincare products. AHAs include lactic and glycolic acid, while BHAs include salicylic acid. All of these chemical exfoliants act to rid the skin of dead, built up cells, thereby improving skin texture and unclogging pores. This leads to clearer, more glowing skin. AHAs are generally preferred for those with discoloration from sun damage and BHAs are preferred for those with acne and clogged pores.
When using a chemical exfoliant it is best to apply it after cleansing the skin and before any serums and moisturizers. If you find that they irritate your skin, try using them only once or twice a week, or pick up an exfoliating mask that you wash off after a few minutes.
There are plenty of natural sources of acid exfoliants. Pineapple, sugarcane, and sugar beers all contain a natural form of glycolic acid, almonds contain mandelic acid, apples contain malic acid, milk contains lactic acid, and willow bark contains salicylic acid.
Here is a list of some great natural acid-containing skincare products to try-
One more thing. All of the anti-aging skin products in the world will not help if you don't protect your skin from the sun, keep yourself well hydrated, and, as I alluded to at the beginning of this post, eat a healthy diet filled with colorful fruits and vegetables! Exercise is also an important component of aging gracefully and, while there are no studies demonstrating a clear link between physical activity and skin aging, we know that working up a sweat improves circulation, increases oxygenation of the skin layers, and reduces markers associated with degeneration of the skin (2).
I hope this post has been helpful and has armed you with all the tips and tricks for aging naturally and keeping your skin looking youthful. Be sure and reach out to us if you have any comments or questions. We would also love to hear what your favorite anti-aging skincare tips and products are!
As always, continue to follow your gut,
Disclaimer: I am not paid to mention specific skin care brands and products mentioned in this post.