Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/11/2021
Aging may be better than the alternative, as they say, but that doesn’t mean you have to let the ravages of time have their way with you. Increasingly, men are taking up this fight, especially as it applies to the way their skin looks.
Anti-aging creams, masks, serums—there are so many products on the market, making so many claims about how to prevent your face from resembling a tired piece of leather by retirement.
So what’s bullshit, and what isn’t? Well, there’s a reason the anti-aging and skincare industries are so full of competing products: the answer isn’t quite so simple.
Science has only really proven the value of a few ingredients. Though there are many products with promising research to show you, only a few of them should inspire any confidence.
To help you understand what’s going to help your skin, and what sort of products you should be buying, let’s take a look at why your skin ages.
Your skin is a surprisingly complex array of blood vessels and glands. It’s the largest organ on your body, and one of the most complex. But what keeps it looking young and healthy are three major proteins: collagen, elastin, and keratin.
Collagen is arguably the most important of these. It’s the most plentiful protein, responsible for the “firmness” of your skin, and the largest component of connective tissue: the stuff that keeps your cells attached to one another.
The next most important is elastin, which, as the name suggests, is responsible for the responsive flexibility of your skin. When someone squeezes your cheek, you can thank elastin that it doesn’t just stay that way.
Keratin is very important, for different reasons than elastin and collagen. It’s a sort of protective barrier for your skin. Think of it as armor: a tough protein capable of taking damage to protect the inner tissues from harm from objects and things like the sun.
So where do wrinkles come into this? Well, as you age, problems can occur with production of elastin, collagen, and keratin that will make your skin look less youthful.
Aging skin is explained by two major theories/sources: extrinsic and intrinsic. For your benefit, consider both valid. Extrinsic sources include poor air quality and sunlight, or deficient nutrition and water intake. You can also cause damage to your skin by smoking, sleeping face down, or even just rubbing your eyes.
The heart of extrinsic skin damage theory is damage caused by reactive oxygen species, also known as free radicals, which oxidatively stress your skin. Free radicals basically steal energy from your cells in the form of electrons—stealing energy from your cells means less efficient production of new, healthy cells.
Intrinsic sources mostly have to do with decreased function of your cellular production due to age; as you age your cells live shorter lives and replenish less efficiently.
Aging creams claim to benefit the skin by reducing and reversing these various types of skin damage, and some of the claims of how they do it (and with what ingredients) can sound very convincing.
You’ve probably seen some miracle cure somewhere, claiming a rare jungle root used since the dawn of time works like a magic wand. Best of all? It’s available at half price if you call now. Operators are standing by.
According to a 2007 review published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, “Many over-the-counter products advertise dramatic results, but there have been relatively little scientific data to support these claims… we conclude that although many different compounds are marketed as anti-aging products, studies proving their efficacy are limited.”
So what did the authors of this review find? Just a few ingredients in over-the-counter topical creams have any proven efficacy. They include: Vitamin C, alpha-hydroxy acids, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, moisturizers and peptides.
“Vitamin C and alpha-hydroxy acids have been the most extensively researched products, and their anti-aging capabilities have been demonstrated in the literature,” the review explained. “There have also been some promising studies on vitamin A and vitamin B derivatives. Moisturizers have been shown to increase skin hydration and improve the overall appearance of skin. Studies also indicate that pentapeptides can be effective in decreasing facial wrinkles and roughness.
As you might suspect, other ingredients in skin creams may offer the same effects, or even better ones. But they haven’t been effectively tested to the point that they can prove anything. There might be a special mushroom from Madagascar that can make your skin look 22 forever, but it might also make you bald, blind, and impotent. It takes years of independent studies to consider these things.
As we shared before, there are several ingredients that you should look for in skincare products that will actually aid you in combating wrinkles and signs of aging. The main ones are vitamin C, retinoids, and moisturizers.
Retinoids are synthetic vitamin A compounds that benefit your skin in two ways: they strip dry, dead cells from your face in layers, and they encourage the synthesis of collagen. Think of it as a one-two punch: both a chemical exfoliant and a starter gun for what your skin has to do on its own.
Prescription retinoids (sometimes called retinol) have been around since the 1960s, and particular versions like the retinol tretinoin have been recommended for safe, effective use since then.
Learn more about tretinoin here, and see if it’s right for you.
Remember those free radicals we mentioned? Well, there’s a way to stop them besides sunscreen: vitamin C. Vitamin C acts like a big punching bag for free radicals: it’s full of electrons that they can ravage from it, while sparing your vulnerable cells.
So when the sunlight hits, having vitamin C in your skin will sort of treat that UV bombardment the way an airbag treats a collision. You might also want to consider including a product with sunscreen, for these same reasons.
A serum, like our daily Morning Glow Vitamin C Serum, can be applied topically in the morning to both brighten dull skin and protect it throughout the day.
Moisturizers are important for, well, keeping your skin from looking tired and dried out. One of the best moisturizers you can invest in is something called hyaluronic acid.
Hyaluronic acid can bind to “over one thousand times its weight in water.”
Hyaluronic acid is naturally found in places you want lubrication, including the skin, eyes, and joints. It’s generally made by bacteria for pharmaceutical and beauty purposes. Hyaluronic acid is much more effective as an injection, but studies have shown it has benefits as a topical ingredient as well.
If you’re seeing signs of aging and fine lines, you may want to jump into some over the counter products immediately. But take our advice, and ask a healthcare provider about your concerns first.
Addressing your concerns may lead to a lot of benefits: better, more tailored solutions, or the discovery of other more serious underlying problems that have different solutions.
Sudden signs of aging could be the signs of poor diet, excess stress and anxiety, or other more serious conditions, and catching these things early will have long term benefits.
And there’s another obvious benefit to solving problems earlier: it’ll cut down on the worry lines you’ll form wondering what’s going on.
Insider tips, early access and more.