Anti-Aging / Skin Rejuvenation

Best Wrinkle Creams Part 1: Common Ingredients

There are an overwhelming number of wrinkle creams on the market.  Although most creams don’t boast surgical or near-surgical results, many if not all anti-wrinkle products claim to significantly improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.  However, anyone who’s tried wrinkle creams knows that it is VERY difficult to find an effective product.  So how can we navigate through all the hype and false claims to find something that works?  First, you need to familiarize yourself with a few ingredients commonly found in anti-wrinkle creams:

1.  Retinoic Acid

Retinoic Acid, a form of Vitamin A, is a very effective anti-aging ingredient.  Topical application of retinol to aged skin has been shown to reduce the appearance and severity of fine lines on the arms [1], under the eyes and other areas [2], and to improve overall skin tone [2].  Retinoic acid stimulates the cells at the basement membrane increasing cellular turnover and stimulating collagen formation in the skin.  This process causes the superficial layer of the skin to peel as the damaged cells are sloughed off and increases blood flow to the skin.  It is really important to sun block your skin while using retinoic acid as the peeling and increased blood flow makes the skin sensitive to the sun.  Retinoic acid can be found in low concentrations over-the-counter or in higher concentrations through a physician.  I usually recommend retinol-based creams for individuals who wish to reduce fine lines and/or improve skin tone as one component of a non-surgical approach to combat aging.

2. Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid (aka hyaluronan or hyaluronate) is a substance normally found in the connective, neural, and epithelial tissues.  It is commonly used to treat arthritis through direct injection into the affected joint.   It is also available as an injectible filler to lessen the appearance of wrinkles (e.g. Restylane, Juvederm).  More recently it has been used as an ingredient in wrinkle creams, although its efficacy as a topical agent has been disputed.  I’ve heard physicians argue that the hyaluronan molecules are too large to pass through the epidermis rendering the creams ineffective.  On the other hand, Brown et al. claims that certain formulations do penetrate through to the dermis [3] and Pavicic et al. claim that their subjects experienced significantly better anti-aging results (including better skin elasticity, decreased wrinkle depth) using a hyaluronic acid-based cream compared to a placebo [4].  A benefit of topical hyaluronic acid that is less debated is its ability to keep and attract moisture on the skin.

3. Vitamin C

Applying topical Vitamin C blocks chemical reactions in the skin that cause damage.  It neutralizes free radicals caused by sun damage and stimulates collagen formation.  In addition, vitamin C can restore some of the skin’s immune function that has been damaged by ultraviolet rays.  I often recommend it to clients with hyperpigmentation since it can help lighten blemishes and improve overall skin tone.  It is crucial to note that vitamin C in its oxidized form can have an opposite effect and be harmful to the skin.  Thus, it is important to make sure that you only use vitamin C products that aren’t expired and that are stored properly in the right container (something air-blocking).  If you notice the product has changed color (e.g. from yellow to a brownish color) definitely don’t use it.

4. Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is an acid used as an exfoliating agent.  It forces cellular turnover, speeding up the clearance of irregular pigmentation caused by aging, sun damage, or acne blemishes.  Glycolic peels are often performed by a plastic surgeon or a licensed esthetician in concentrations between 20-70% depending on the desired effect.  It is also found in over the counter products in smaller concentrations.


[1] Kafi R, Kwak HSR, Schumacher WE, et al.  Improvement of naturally aged skin  with vitamin A (Retinol).  Arch Dermatol. 2007; 143: 606-612.

[2] Bellemere G, Stamatas GN, Bruere V, et al.  Antiaging action of retinol: from molecular to clinical. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2009; 22 (4): 200-209.

[3] Brown TJ, Alcorn D, Fraser JR.  Absorption of hyaluronan to the surface of intact skin. J Invest Dermatol. 1999; 113(5): 740-746.

[4]  Pavicic T, Gauglitz GG, Lersch P, Schwach-Abdellaoui K, Malle B, Korting HC, Farwick M. Efficacy of cream-based novel formulations of hyaluronic acid of different molecular weights in anti-wrinkle treatment.  J Drugs Dermatol. 2011; 10(9): 990-1000.


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