The 6 Anti-Aging Ingredients That Actually Work—and Where to Buy Them
These are the best-in-class products containing each.
Aging skin happens because of science, so naturally, anti-aging as a practice should also be based in science. No amount of savvy marketing will make a tool effective at smoothing fine lines and wrinkles or lightening age spots—an anti-aging product’s entire value lies in the nature and quality of ingredients, the composition of the formula, and how it behaves on your skin.
What’s more, the anti-aging industry hasn’t really discovered any new or revolutionary ingredients in, well, years. The only things that have changed are the promotion, packaging, and combination of existing ingredients in “new” products.
While buzzy ingredients like peptides or Coenzyme Q10 might dominate the news cycle for their novelty and promising early studies, the truth is, there’s either not enough conclusive research to prove that these trendy ingredients have any impact when applied topically, or else there’s no consumer product on the market with the right chemical composition to deliver the promised effect.
It’s important to be your most skeptical self when it comes to shopping for your anti-aging skincare routine, and stick with ingredients that are tried, true, and scientifically backed. To make your life a little easier, we’ve done the heavy lifting and rounded up the top six anti-aging ingredients that actually work, plus the best-in-class skincare products containing each.
Vitamin C is widely known for its brightening and protective properties—in fact, this antioxidant can actually reverse signs of aging in skin by promoting collagen production and combating free radicals. But, for as well-documented as its benefits are, vitamin C is notoriously difficult to prepare and bottle in a way that won’t oxidize (and become useless) right away.
This particular vitamin C product is every beauty editor’s favorite source of the ingredient, and for good reason. Skinceuticals holds an extremely coveted patent on the precise blend of vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid at a pH of 2.5 that delivers the most shelf-stable, effective version of the vitamin C possible to your skin.
To buy: $166; dermstore.com.
Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide is a powerhouse skincare ingredient, and can be used to tackle many concerns from acne to psoriasis to, yes, anti-aging. Similar to vitamin C (though using both would not be redundant), niacinamide can give skin that glowy, bouncy look you’re always after. It can also fill in fine lines, even skin tone, and refine pores.
While there are plenty of niacinamide serums on the market, we prefer to use this affordable dry skin moisturizer by Pond’s for our B3 fix. Niacinamide is listed very high up on the ingredients list, which means it makes up a good percentage of this product’s formula. Plus, we’ll always welcome one less step when we can manage it (and the key ingredient isn’t pH-dependant)—our routines are long enough.
To buy: $11; amazon.com.
You’ve probably heard of this vitamin A-derived ingredient, perhaps by its brand names Tretinoin or Retin-A, and that’s because it might just be the most highly researched, proven anti-aging ingredient there is. It’s a powerful promoter of skin cell turnover, which reveals younger, healthier-looking skin. Retinoid is so powerful, in fact, that it’s prescription-only in the United States.
Curology, an online service that connects you to dermatologists, is the easiest way to get an anti-aging prescription without every having to make an office visit. Once you describe your skin concerns, you are matched with a skincare professional who’ll mail you a proprietary formula that’s entirely customized to your needs. The best part: your formula can include prescription-only ingredients like retinoid.
To buy: Free trial, then $20+/month; curology.com.
Before diving into a prescription retinoid, many people begin with a retinol product to help prepare their skin for the transition. Retinol is also vitamin E-derived, but it’s much less potent, and also much less potentially irritating.
This retinol product by RoC is an excellent starting point for entering the vitamin E game. RoC was one of the first brands to make a shelf-stable retinol product, and this particular cream has been around for decades.
To buy: $15; amazon.com.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids, or AHAs, are a class of ingredients that exfoliate the skin by helping “unstick” dead cells from living ones. Not only does this reveal fresh, young skin, it also protects against pollutants that get caught beneath old skin cells and exacerbate skin aging.
Pixi Glow Tonic contains glycolic acid, a type of AHA whose molecules are especially small which allows them to penetrate deeper into your pores than say, lactic or mandelic acids. Of course, the effect of the glycolic can be quite potent, so this product also includes aloe vera and ginseng, known to calm the skin.
To buy: $29; amazon.com.
Okay, so sunscreen isn’t really an ingredient in and of itself, but it’s too important a consideration to leave off this list. Sunscreen blocks UVA and UVB rays from the sun, thus protecting skin from burns, skin cancer, and premature aging caused by excessive sun exposure.
The active ingredients that go into creating a stable and effective sunscreen are too many to list off in their entirety, but zinc oxide and avobenzone are two leaders in their respective sunscreen types: meaning physical and chemical, respectively. This sunscreen by EltaMD is dermatologist-recommended and a buyer favorite, and it contains both physical and chemical ingredients to mitigate sun damage. What’s more, it also contains other anti-aging favorites, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid.
To buy: $33; amazon.com.