Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/24/2021
As a man, dealing with aging can be a frustrating process. From gray hairs to wrinkles, injuries and other issues, getting older comes with a long list of problems that simply didn’t exist during your teens and 20s.
While it’s impossible to prevent every aspect of aging, the right anti-aging skin care routine can make aging gracefully — at least from an aesthetic perspective — a much easier process.
If you’ve ever searched online for anti-aging creams, you’ve likely come across a large range of options, from inexpensive products to high-end, luxurious anti-aging creams made using unique, exotic ingredients.
The reality is that good anti-aging creams are much more about the content of the cream itself — namely, whether or not it contains proven, science-based ingredients — than how it looks or how much it costs.
Below, we’ve explained what you should look for if you’re interested in buying the most effective anti-aging cream, from specific ingredients to tips and tactics to help you avoid products that are less effective than they seem.
We’ve also listed specific anti-aging creams that are worth trying, including several surprisingly inexpensive options that can make a big difference to your skin.
Anti-aging creams can vary hugely in quality and effectiveness. Some creams contain active ingredients that are scientifically proven to reduce the signs of skin aging, while others rely more on hype and persuasive marketing than science.
Contrary to popular belief, when it comes to anti-aging, expensive isn’t always the best option. In fact, many of the most effective ingredients in anti-aging creams are relatively inexpensive and affordable.
Similarly, impressive packaging and a well-known brand name don’t guarantee that an anti-aging cream will be effective.
To find the best anti-aging creams, look for active ingredients that are proven to reduce specific signs of aging, such as wrinkles, age spots or uneven pigmentation.
Good ingredients to look for include tretinoin, niacinamide (vitamin B3) and exfoliants such as salicylic acid, azelaic acid, hyaluronic acid and others.
In addition to using an anti-aging cream, applying moisturizer and wearing sunscreen can go a long way towards helping your skin retain a youthful appearance in your 30s, 40s and beyond.
To find out what makes an anti-aging cream worth buying, it’s important to understand how and why your skin ages.
Aging doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, the changes in your skin that happen as you get older are part of a slow, ongoing process that happens all the time. While you might suddenly notice a wrinkle one morning, the reality is that it’s probably been forming for some time.
To keep itself healthy, your skin undergoes a continuous renewal and repair process referred to as epidermal turnover.
As part of this process, new skin cells rise from the basal levels of your skin up to the epidermis (the top, outermost layer of skin). As this happens, the old skin cells die and are eventually shed into the environment.
When you’re young, this process is fast and efficient. However, as you get older, your epidermal turnover cycle slows down. On average, it takes about 40 to 56 days for the epidermal turnover process to complete itself.
In addition to a slower epidermal turnover cycle, several other changes also affect your skin as you get older:
The outer layer of your skin thins, as does the fat layer underneath your skin. This can make skin injury more common.
Your skin becomes weaker and less elastic, changing its texture and making blemishes, sagging, wrinkles and other signs of aging more obvious.
Your sebaceous glands produce less oil, increasing your risk of dealing with dry, irritated skin.
The number of pigment-producing cells in your skin declines, potentially giving your skin a paler color.
Your blood vessels become more fragile, making bruising and other injuries to your skin more visible.
All of these biological changes contribute to wrinkles, sagging, age spots and other visible signs of aging that define getting older.
Many of these changes are genetic and unavoidable. However, one of the biggest factors in determining how rapidly and severely your skin ages is your level of exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
Anti-aging creams work in several ways. Some work by assisting your body in repairing damage to your skin. Others work by helping to peel away dead cells. Others still work by stimulating the creation of collagen or other proteins that provide your skin with its texture and elasticity.
As we mentioned above, the best anti-aging creams are much more about effective ingredients than brand names, packaging or pricing.
When you’re comparing anti-aging creams, make sure to check the active ingredients that they contain. You can find these listed on the labels of most anti-aging creams. The ingredients of a cream are what determine whether or not it will be effective.
Below, we’ve listed science-based ingredients that have been proven to improve skin health and appearance:
Tretinoin is a type of topical retinoid. It’s commonly used as an acne treatment, but also offers a range of benefits for treating and preventing skin aging.
Like other retinoids, tretinoin is derived from vitamin A. It works by stimulating the production of skin cells, increasing collagen levels in the skin, creating extra blood vessels and changing the texture and pigmentation of the skin.
As we’ve covered in our guide to using tretinoin for anti-aging, tretinoin is a real, science-based medication for treating wrinkles. Several studies have found that it improves wrinkles, fine lines, discoloration and other common signs of getting older.
Tretinoin takes three to four months to start working. When used daily, you should be able to notice improvements in your skin after about six months of treatment.
Since tretinoin has been available since the 1960s, it’s widely available and affordable. You can buy it on its own or as an ingredient in some medicated anti-aging creams. We use it, along with several other ingredients, in our customized Anti-Aging Cream.
Tretinoin is only available with a prescription. To get this, you can either talk to your healthcare provider or take part in an online consultation with one of our medical professionals.
Adapalene is also a topical retinoid. Like tretinoin, it’s a science-based medication that’s proven to treat some signs of aging. In fact, a 2018 study from Brazil found that adapalene was equally as effective at tretinoin at treating wrinkles, discoloration and other signs of skin aging.
Unlike tretinoin, adapalene is available both as a prescription skin cream and over the counter in a slightly weaker, 0.1% formulation.
As well as reducing the signs of skin aging, research also shows that adapalene is also effective at treating and preventing acne breakouts.
Like many other science-based anti-aging creams, adapalene is cheap. You can buy adapalene in gel form from most pharmacies under a variety of brand names, including Differin®. Most cost $30 or less and will last for several months if used daily.
Other retinoids, such as retinol, are commonly used in over-the-counter skin care and anti-aging creams.
While over-the-counter retinoids aren’t as strong as tretinoin, they do improve the appearance of sun exposed skin. However, they do offer benefits and can be a good option if you’d like to stick to creams that are available over the counter.
Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3. It’s found naturally in a variety of different foods, including meat, fish, milk, eggs, green vegetables, yeasts and others.
Although there’s less scientific research on niacinamide than on retinoids like tretinoin, several studies have found that it can improve certain aspects of skin aging.
For example, research has shown that topical use of niacinamide increases water retention in the skin and stabilizes the skin’s protective barrier. It’s also linked to an increase in keratin — the main protein that provides structure for the outermost layers of skin.
Another study found that niacinamide has lightening properties that can help to even out areas of skin with age-related hyperpigmentation.
Unlike tretinoin, niacinamide is available without a prescription. You can find it in a large range of anti-aging creams, including our customized Anti-Aging Cream.
Your skin is rich in ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, which plays an important role in stimulating the production of structural proteins such as collagen and offering protection against skin damage caused by UV radiation.
Research has found that vitamin C plays a key role in treating skin aging. For example, a 2002 study published in Dermatologic Surgery found that topical use of vitamin C can make wrinkles on the cheeks and under the eyes less visible.
Vitamin C is widely available in anti-aging creams, moisturizers and other products. As one of the most common vitamins, it’s available over the counter.
Salicylic acid, azelaic acid and other acid-based keratolytic agents, or peeling agents, work by breaking down the outermost layers of the skin. They’re commonly used to treat acne, but can also help to treat and prevent certain signs of aging in your skin.
In a series of three studies, researchers looked at the effects of topical salicylic acid on wrinkled skin. They found that salicylic acid increased type-1 collagen, reduced the depth of wrinkles and increased the smoothness of skin affected by aging.
Other research has found that azelaic acid and kojic acid can reduce certain signs of damage in aged skin.
Other acid-based peeling agents, such as alpha-hydroxy acids, are also effective at preventing some signs of skin aging. Common alpha-hydroxy acids include citric, glycolic, hydroxycaproic, lactic, malic and tartaric acid.
Studies have found that alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids can help to improve skin elasticity, reduce wrinkles and maintain skin tone and hydration.
While high-strength peeling agents are only used in a clinical setting, you can find mild peeling agents such as those mentioned above in many over-the-counter anti-aging creams and other skin care products.
Peptides, or polypeptides, are naturally-occurring amino acids that are used to make collagen, an important structural protein that keeps your skin soft, flexible and elastic.
Research suggests that topical use of peptides can reverse certain signs of aging. For example, one study published in 2004 found that a gel formula containing a collagen-like peptide reduced the surface area and depth of wrinkles when applied around the eyes.
Another study found that topical use of peptides produced a significant improvement in wrinkles over the course of two weeks.
Peptides are a common, easy-to-find ingredient in over-the-counter anti-aging creams, wrinkle creams and other skin care products.
With such a diverse range of options to choose from, shopping for an anti-aging cream can be a challenging process. Use the following techniques to avoid ineffective products and get the best value for money:
Prioritize ingredients over brand names, packaging or marketing claims. As we’ve mentioned above, it’s the active ingredients that make an anti-aging cream effective, not its brand name or the way it’s marketed.
When you’re comparing anti-aging creams, ignore things like packaging or branding and spend your time looking at the ingredients listed on the label.
Never assume that price equals quality. The world of skin care and anti-aging is full of exotic-looking creams, serums and other treatments that can cost hundreds of dollars an ounce.
The fact that these products cost a lot of money doesn’t necessarily mean that they offer the best results. In many cases, an affordable, science-based product will outperform an expensive one that relies on untested, less reliable ingredients.
Wait three to six months before you assess your results. Many of the most effective anti-aging ingredients, such as retinoids and peeling agents, can take several months to produce noticeable results.
After you start using an anti-aging cream, wait for three to six months before you assess your results. This way, you’ll give the ingredients time to produce a noticeable change in your skin before you judge whether or not they’re effective.
In addition to being consistent with your use of anti-aging cream, try the following tips to prevent your skin from aging prematurely:
Limit your time in the sun. UV radiation damages your skin and accelerates the rate at which it ages, meaning wrinkles, age spots and other common signs of aging all develop earlier than they otherwise would.
To avoid excess UV radiation, try to avoid spending long periods in the sun. When you’re outdoors on a sunny day, use a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection to keep your forehead and eyes — two common areas for wrinkles — protected.
Use sunscreen. When you’re out and about, wear sunscreen to protect your facial skin from UV rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an SPF 30+, broad-spectrum sunscreen on all skin that’s not covered by clothing.
Use a moisturizer. While a moisturizer won’t prevent aging, using one regularly will help to trap water in your skin and prevent dryness. Moisturizing regularly may also help with acne and eczema — two common causes of skin irritation and scarring.
Contrary to popular belief, anti-aging creams don’t need to be expensive in order to produce a real, noticeable improvement in your skin.
Instead of focusing on brand names, marketing claims or price, look for anti-aging creams that use science-based ingredients like retinoids, niacinamide, ascorbic acid or peeling agents like alpha-hydroxy or beta-hydroxy acids.
These ingredients are backed up by real scientific research that shows they can slow down or reverse common signs of aging such as wrinkles, fine lines and discoloration.
After you start using an anti-aging cream, be patient and consistent. It often takes three to six months for improvements in your skin to become visible. If you don’t notice any improvement after this long, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider.