There's arguably no market more crowded than anti-aging. In your quest for insight on how to look younger, you could spend hours perusing the rows and rows of lotions, creams, serums and potions at your local pharmacy or cosmetics store — and, honestly, who has that kind of time?
We turned to Dr. Anisha Patel, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and an American Academy of Dermatology fellow, for guidance. Here's what she says to look for next time you shop for anti-aging products.
Broad spectrum sun protection
"The most important thing for anti-aging products is that they have good sun protection," Patel says. "It's really hard to reverse the sun damage that has been done, but to prevent it, you can save yourself a lot of dollars and products later in life."
Patel says you should look for products that are SPF 30 or higher, and that offer broad spectrum protection — meaning they guard against both UVA and UVB light. "SPF is only a measure of UVB protection," Patel explains. "For it to have UVA protection in it, it has to say 'broad spectrum.'"
This is important, she adds, because UVA light contributes to long-term sun damage, while UVB is responsible for sunburns.
Non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic
Products labeled with these words are unlikely to cause acne or allergic reactions, respectively, Patel says. She adds that scents and botanical ingredients are two of the biggest offenders when it comes to allergic reactions, which may come as a surprise to those who gravitate toward plant-based cosmetics.
"Just because it says 'all natural' doesn't mean that it's better," Patel warns.
Products containing the vitamin A derivative retinol are over-the-counter versions of retinoids — powerful, prescription-strength skincare products. Even the OTC versions are plenty effective, Patel says. "Vitamin A derivatives sort of regulate the skin cycles so you have what looks like a more even layer of skin," she says. "It gives you smaller pores. Regulating the skin cycles helps with the fine wrinkles, helps with the dry, patchy skin, that kind of stuff."
Patel does caution, however, that retinols can be irritating at first and make you more susceptible to sun damage, so you should be extra vigilant about moisturizer and sunscreen while using them.
Honorable Mention: Antioxidants
Though she allows that the evidence around topical antioxidants' efficacy is a little fuzzy, Patel says creams, serums and other products that contain these compounds may help you look younger by improving cell turnover.
"Whenever you have UV damage to the skin, then your DNA repair mechanisms are supposed to repair those," she says. "And as we get older, those repair mechanisms don't work as well. The antioxidants work as another way to repair those UV-damaged cells."