R Is for Retinoid: What Do Anti-Aging Ingredients Do?

Anti-aging products and packaged junk food, though diametrically opposed in their intentions and results, actually have something in common: they lure you in with buzz words. And just as you have to look past enticing terms like "all natural" and "made with whole grains" to find the truth in the ingredients list (or continue eating "whole grain guaranteed" Reese's Puffs in ignorant, delicious bliss), you also have to play detective with moisturizers and creams promising to "slow down visible aging" or give you "brighter-looking eyes." There's just one problem with that: anti-aging products and packaged junk food are also both filled with multisyllabic ingredients that only a scientist could decipher—that is, unless you've got a handy guide to anti-aging ingredients and how they might benefit your skin.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
CoffeeBerry
Conenzyme Q10
Ferulic Acid
Growth Factors
Hyaluronic Acid
Hydroxy Acids
Niacinamide
Peptides
Retinoids
Sirtuins
Urea
Vitamin C

Hydroxy Acids

These are divided into two separate groups, alpha hydroxyl acids (like glycolic acid) and beta hydroxyl acids (such as salicylic acid). They help to minimize signs of aging by exfoliating the outer, damaged skin layer away and helping repair the underlying problem spots. Glycolic acid is thought to be the most effective of the group because it can penetrate deeply, encouraging collagen production—the lack of which makes fine lines and wrinkles all the more visible.

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CoffeeBerry

CoffeeBerry, an antioxidant taken from a coffee plant’s whole fruit, caught the industry’s attention a few years ago. Preliminary evidence suggests that it’s more powerful than green tea or pomegranate, which could make it an even better weapon against the signs of aging.

Conenzyme Q10

This powerhouse is responsible for creating energy within your body’s cells, helping vital organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys stay strong and active. Coenzyme Q10’s recent role in skincare research focuses on its potential ability to re-energize skin cells and fight back against the ravages of free radicals.

Ferulic Acid

Found in plant cell walls, this phytochemical goes head to head with free radicals, staving off their skin cell assault. And because it’s an antioxidant, its powers increase when combined with other common antioxidant ingredients like vitamins C and E, tea extracts, and fruit extracts.

Growth Factors

These compounds can encourage cell and blood vessel regeneration as well as elastin production (the latter of which prevents sagging); it can also reduce the visibility of fine lines.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, the name given to ingredients that encourage the skin to retain water. Pro-Xylane, a specialized form of hyaluronic acid, actually stimulates cells into holding one thousand times their volume in water, creating supple, firm skin.

Hydroxy Acids

These are divided into two separate groups, alpha hydroxyl acids (like glycolic acid) and beta hydroxyl acids (such as salicylic acid). They help to minimize signs of aging by exfoliating the outer, damaged skin layer away and helping repair the underlying problem spots. Glycolic acid is thought to be the most effective of the group because it can penetrate deeply, encouraging collagen production—the lack of which makes fine lines and wrinkles all the more visible.

Niacinamide

Vitamin B is necessary for healthy hair and nails, so it’s no surprise that its derivative works so well on skin as well. Niacinamide offers much of the same perks as other ingredients, but it also helps speed up cell repair, which works against sun damage.

Peptides

These little proteins, sometimes listed as copper peptides, Matryxil, or Argireline, are supposed to increase collagen layers and minimize under-eye bags. Copper peptides in particular are said to make skin firmer and more elastic as well.

Retinoids

This all-star ingredient multitasks like no other. A derivative of vitamin A, retinoids can remove dead skin cells, fade age spots, shrink pores, and pump up collagen production to reduce and prevent wrinkles. Over-the-counter varieties aren’t nearly as potent, but they’re also better for first-time users or those with sensitive skin. Younger users looking to prevent rather than reduce the signs of aging might do well to choose weaker versions as well. Retinoids, especially the prescription versions, can cause irritation and might even decrease the skin’s ability to protect itself from harmful UV rays. (You also shouldn’t use them if you’re pregnant.) The prescription Differin is reportedly the most benign, but consult with a dermatologist to see which one’s right for your skin type.

Sirtuins

A peaceful race of aliens living on the planet of Sirtu? Not quite. Sirtuins are protein enzymes that increase that oh-so-essential layer of collagen beneath the skin. Lab research has also shown that sirtuins might prolong skin-cell life, too.

Urea

Urea is a natural humectant found within our skin. It’s responsible for keeping the water levels in our skin balanced so that it stays soft and smooth. In fact, issues like psoriasis and eczema could be linked to a lack of urea. Applied topically in an anti-aging cream, it might prompt scaly skin to hold moisture more successfully.

Vitamin C

As an ingredient in anti-aging products, this immune system booster spurs cell growth and collagen production, fights against free radicals, and might even help reverse sun damage. Be sure to look for its most stable forms, like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or ascorbyl-palmitate, when scanning ingredients lists.

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