Anti-aging creams can pack tons of ingredients and big promises, but can they really deliver? We asked top dermatologists to simplify your skin care shopping process by revealing the seven best wrinkle-smoothers available over the counter. Consider this your cheat sheet to the active ingredients proven to keep skin looking younger, longer.
It's the most popular and most studied over-the-counter retinoid. "Topical retinoids bind to receptors in the skin and stimulate collagen growth," says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. "They can help thicken the dermis, or deepest layer of the skin, which evens out texture and reduces fine lines and wrinkles." While it may take a little longer to work than prescription-strength versions, retinol tends to be less irritating than Rx retinoids.
Scan labels for: Retinol, retinaldehyde, retinyl palmitate, and retrinal
Try: L'Oreal Paris RevitaLift Deep-Set Wrinkle Repair Night Creme ($20; drugstore.com), with retinol.
This megahydrator is a natural lubricant found in our skin that decreases with age. When included in a topical cream or serum, it acts as a humectant, meaning it draws water from the atmosphere into the skin, giving the surface a smoother, plumper appearance (albeit, temporarily).
Scan labels for: hyaluronic acid, hyaluronan, and sodium hyaluronate
Try: Dr. Jart Water Fuse Water-Max Sleeping Mask ($48; sephora.com).
These proteins are long chains of amino acids that send messages to cells, telling them to produce more collagen. Without adequate collagen, skin loses its firmness and wrinkles start to form. "Peptides have some clinical studies behind them," says Paul Jarrod Frank, a dermatologist in New York City. "They're proven to stimulate both collagen and elastin (which gives skin its resiliency)."
Scan labels for: hexapeptides, pentapeptides, oligopeptides, Matrixyl, and copper peptides
Try: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream ($29; ulta.com).
AHAs are acids -- typically from fruit, milk, or sugars -- that loosen the gluelike bonds that keep complexion-dulling dead skin cells hanging around. Once those cells slough off, fresher, glowier skin is exposed. With regular use, skin looks brighter, smoother, and more even.
Scan labels for: glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acids
Try: Philosophy The Microdelivery Mini Peel Pads ($38; philosophy.com), with lactic acid.
When you get a wound, your cells send signals to start the healing process. Cosmetic companies were able to mimic these signals with synthetic and plant-based growth factors that stimulate collagen, essentially healing lines and wrinkles, Zeichner says.
Scan labels for: kinetin and epidermal growth factor (EGF).
Try: Kinerase Restructure Firming Cream ($98; kinerase.com), with kinetin.
Think of topical antioxidants as fire extinguishers, Zeichner says. They neutralize free radicals -- unleashed by UV light, smoke, and pollution -- before they get a chance to do harm to healthy skin cells. Wear them in the morning, along with sunscreen, as an added layer of protection.
Scan labels for: vitamin C (ascorbic acid), green tea, ferulic acid, vitamin E (tocopherol), co-enzyme Q10
Try: Esteé Lauder DayWear Advanced Multi-Protection Anti-Oxidant Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF15 ($48; esteelauder.com), with vitamins C and E.