With the vast array of high-tech ingredients and the plethora of skin care brands from which to select, it is easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices. Lately skin care formulations are looking more like a supermarket or health food store. The spa market has clearly embraced formulations that are based upon food ingredients or nutraceuticals. Alongside all of these products remain the AHAs that have revolutionized the aesthetic industry in terms of the treatments and results they can offer. Recent advances in molecular biology have led to a better understanding of how the cells work and the development of skin care that contains topical ingredients such as peptides, stem cells and growth factors.
Over the counter anti-aging products are a billion dollar industry and with the sheer number of baby boomers demanding products that will help them hold on to their youth by improving the appearance of the skin, we are sure to see an ever growing number of topical anti-aging ingredients hit the market each claiming to be better then the next. Many products advertise dramatic results but the science to support these claims remains limited. Much of the efficacy of an ingredient has to do with the percentage of the actives, how it interacts within the formulation, and if it actually penetrates the skin. A clear distinction needs to be made between ingredients that make a visible difference that help to minimize fine lines and wrinkles and anti-aging ingredients that claim to change the way in which the cells age. There are anti-aging ingredients that have had more extensive research and proven results. Below are 10 of the Power Player ingredients most likely to help keep them guessing your age.
- Retinoids - Retinoids remain the gold standard. Long used in the doctor's office and available in prescription strength, Retin-A not only increases exfoliation but is proven to work deep in the cellular level to increase the activity of the fibroblast cells. However, it is not without its side effects and can cause redness, itching and flaking if not used properly. It also increases one's sensitivity to sunlight and proper sun protection must be adhered to. Retin-A has quite a few derivatives and comes as a cream or gel in various strengths. Long the darling of cosmecuetical products look for the pure Retinol form of vitamin A and buy it in an aluminum tube or opaque packing to avoid degradation from light.
- Hydroquinone - There is a reason we call hyperpigmented spots and discolorations age spots. They appear as we age and are caused from years of environmental damage, particularly sun exposure. We can see them on the face, chest and hands as early as 30 years old and as you age almost everyone will have some pigmentation. This makes hydroquinone the second most popular anti-aging ingredient. Available over the counter in percentages up to two percent, it can help even out sun spots and discolorations. It works by blocking the enzyme tyrosinase needed for the melanocytes to produce melanin. Hydroquinone works best when used in conduction with AHAs to help accelerate exfoliation of visible pigmentation. Results can be seen in 30 to 60 days but vigilant sunscreen protection needs to be adhered to. Doctor's offices offer percentages higher than two percent and often have private compounds that are a combination of HQ and Retin-A.
- Antioxidants - These powerful free radical fighters are ubiquitous to almost every anti-aging formulation today. Free radicals are a part of our everyday lives. They are unstable molecules that attack cell membranes and are known factors in causing both internal and external damage to healthy cells. Antioxidants help to stabilize free radicals by donating one of their electrons and neutralizing the cascading effect. Knowledge keeps increasing on which antioxidants are the most potent. My personal opinion is that we need a complex of antioxidants to work synergistically for optimal results. Some of the most popular antioxidants found as anti-aging ingredients are: vitamin C, CoQ 10, vitamin A, grape seed, zinc, lutein, ferulic acid, green tea and pine bark extract, just to name a few.
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids - These are a group of acids with glycolic being the most popular because of its smaller molecular size. Their primary function is to help increase the exfoliation of dead skin cells to reveal a younger, healthier, more hydrated skin. As an anti-aging ingredient, AHAs are a primary active as our skin cell turnover rate slows dramatically as we age. The ability to help rid the skin of "older" dead skin cells skin not only minimizes visible fine lines and wrinkles, but allows for better penetration of actives.
- Hyaluronic Acid - Young, healthy skin has a "dewy" moist look and feel. Hyaluronic acid, a sugar molecule found naturally in the skin, increases the skin's ability to hold moisture. Capable of holding 1,000 times its weight in water, it is found in almost every quality anti-aging formulation. It is available as a serum or a cream so can be used even by an oilier skin without causing blemishes. It also combines very well in formulations with other anti-aging actives, making it a primary active in the arsenal of anti-aging ingredients. Some forms of hyluronic acid are more pure then others so reputation of the brand is important when using this product.
- Probiotic Lactobacillus - A proven anti-aging active in the health care industry to increase the body's natural immune system, probiotics are now being formulated into skin care products. As we age the ability for the skin to defend against environmental damage decreases. Probiotics add "friendly bacteria" to the cells, improving the skin's protective mechanism against stress induced environmental damage. By helping to protect the cell membranes, skin remains more elastic, resilient and immune to inflammation.
- Pentapeptides Pal-KTTKS - In the skin, peptide fragments naturally stimulate the synthesis of collagen and elastin, as well as the integrity of the matrix. Collagen and elastin loss or damage is a primary feature of aging skin. Clinical testing demonstrated that pal-KTTKS reduce the appearance of wrinkles without irritation or negative effects on the skin barrier associated with retinol. Data also showed that pal-KTTKS can stimulate synthesis of collagen and other dermal matrix components. KTTKS [lysine-threonine-threonone-lysine-serine] were identified as the fragments with the greatest regulatory activity but the shortest amino acid chain. The popularity of these actives can be seen in almost all Botox-like topical creams.
- Essential Fatty Acid - It is a well documented fact that inflammation in the body is the cause of most disease. This remains true for the aging of the skin and its ability to repair itself. Omega-3 essential fatty acids, taken both systemically and added to the base formulation of anti-aging skin care, have been shown to help reduce the wrinkling of the skin as well as aid in the prevention of eczema and psoriasis.
As powerful as naturally occurring ceramides these fats not only hold together the cells of the epidermis, but reinforce the skin's protective barrier against environmental damage by reducing the skin's inflammatory process.
- Niacinamide - Niacinamide is the watersoluble form of vitamin B; studies have shown its ability to up-regulate epidermal ceramide synthesis with concurrent epidermal barrier benefits. Niacinamide also showed multiple benefits in helping to improve photo-damaged skin by inhibiting the transfer of melanosomes from melanocytes to keratinocytes. This resulted in less hyperpigmentation and a more even skin tone. Anti-acne properties were also associated with niacinamide, making this a good dual functioning anti-aging ingredient for adults who are dealing with wrinkles and blemishes due to mid-life hormone changes.
- Sunscreen - No list of anti-aging ingredients would be complete without mentioning sunscreens. In my opinion, the most important ingredient in helping to prevent pre-mature aging is a sunscreen. Sunscreen molecules called UV filters absorb or scatter light. Physical sunscreens like Titanium dioxide and zinc or chemical absorbers are both effective, but make sure to use an SPF 30 and re-apply every two hours. Sunscreens are also now formulated with antioxidants so you can defend the skin on multiple fronts. New regulations on sunscreens will now make sure formulations have the proper balance of UVA protection and are truly broad-based shields. A teaspoon is about the right amount for your face and it is best to put chemical-based sunscreens on 20 minutes before going out in the sun to give them time to work.
Science continues to advance as the baby boomers push to stay young. The science behind the pursuit of youthful skin will continue to evolve, but many of the old truths still remain your best lifestyle choice. The skin is only a reflection of your overall health. Diet and exercise, while not "sexy" anti-aging ingredients still remain the most important step in building a foundation for younger, healthier skin. Topically applied actives are only as good as the body’s ability to absorb and use these as building blocks for metabolic activity. Many of the best ingredients will continue to be long standing actives that will benefit from new science and technology. I believe delivery systems that help the skin absorb and use anti-aging ingredients will be the new frontier in growing old without looking your age. I always smile to myself when referring to the word anti-aging. The fact is that we are not against aging… just looking old!