Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 6/11/2021
It’s a moment that everyone dreads — looking into the mirror and noticing fine lines and wrinkles around your eyes, forehead and other parts of your face.
Although wrinkles are a natural part of getting older, there are numerous products that you can use to slow down the process of wrinkles development and keep your skin looking smooth and free of the signs of aging as you enter your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.
Unfortunately, navigating the complex world of men’s anti-wrinkle treatments is easier said than done.
With so many different products available, knowing what works and what doesn’t is often a serious challenge.
Luckily, once you understand how wrinkles develop and what can stop them, putting together a skincare routine becomes far easier.
Below, we’ve dug into the science to explain how fine lines, wrinkles and other common signs of aging develop in your skin.
We’ve also listed proven, science-based ingredients that you should be on the lookout for when you compare anti-wrinkle creams.
Finally, we’ve shared several other products that you may want to consider if you’d like to lower your risk of developing wrinkles, discoloration and other signs of skin aging.
Before we get into the specific ingredients that you should look for in an anti-wrinkle cream, it’s important to go over the basics of how wrinkles develop in the first place.
Wrinkles, fine lines, age spots and other common annoyances all develop due to changes that occur in your skin as you grow older.
Over time, your skin loses fat and fullness, becomes thinner and begins to take on a rougher texture.
It loses some of its elasticity and begins to sag in certain areas. It takes longer to heal, meaning that scratches and cuts linger for longer.
These biological changes affect your skin’s appearance. As your skin becomes less elastic, the creases that form due to repetitive facial movements become deeper, resulting in fine lines and wrinkles.
However, much of the aging process your skin goes through is extrinsic, meaning it’s caused by external factors such as sun exposure, chemicals, toxins and pollution.
While it isn’t possible to completely stop the skin aging process, the right combination of habits and effective use of skincare products can certainly slow it down.
In some cases, certain skincare products may even help to reverse certain aspects of the skin aging process, including those that are intrinsic in nature.
When it comes to anti-wrinkle creams for men, it’s much more important to prioritize ingredients than to compare products based on their brand name, packaging or price tag.
After all, it’s the ingredients in the anti-wrinkle cream that make it effective.
While some popular skincare ingredients are promoted mostly on hype rather than substance, others are backed up by real scientific research showing that they work.
We’ve listed these ingredients and explained the scientific evidence behind them in more detail below.
Topical retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, are some of the most powerful and effective ingredients in modern skincare.
Retinoids are best known as medications for treating acne breakouts. However, many also offer anti-aging benefits and can be used to reduce the visibility of fine lines, wrinkles, age spots and other common signs of aging that may develop on your skin over time.
The most effective topical retinoid for preventing skin aging and reducing the visibility of wrinkles is tretinoin.
Tretinoin is a prescription medication that’s sold in cream and gel form. It’s one of several active ingredients in our Custom Anti-Aging Cream for men. You can find tretinoin in many pharmacies under the brand name Retin-A®.
As an anti-aging treatment, tretinoin works by increasing the speed at which your skin produces new cells — a process that’s referred to as cellular turnover.
Research on tretinoin’s anti-aging effects first started to pop up in the 1980s, with a few studies showing that it improves the appearance of wrinkles.
Since then, numerous studies have found that tretinoin offers real benefits as an anti-wrinkle ingredient.
In a study published in the journal Archives of Dermatology, researchers found that people who used tretinoin over a period of 24 weeks experienced improvements in fine wrinkling, skin laxity, roughness and hyperpigmentation (a form of age-related skin discoloration).
Currently, tretinoin is FDA-approved as a treatment for fine facial wrinkles, facial skin roughness and mottled hyperpigmentation (for example, liver spots).
You can learn more about tretinoin in our guide to using tretinoin to treat wrinkles and other skin aging.
While tretinoin is the most effective topical retinoid, it isn’t for everyone. Other topical retinoids include:
Adapalene. Available as a prescription medication and in weaker concentrations as an over-the-counter medication, adapalene is a popular alternative to tretinoin that can be used to treat acne and wrinkles. You can find adapalene in cream and gel form under numerous brand names, including Differin®.
Retinol. A milder retinoid, retinol is available in many over-the-counter anti-wrinkle and anti-aging creams. Although it’s less effective than tretinoin, it’s also less likely to cause skin irritation.
Our guide to retinoids for wrinkles talks about these ingredients and their anti-aging benefits in more detail.
Exfoliants, which work by stripping away dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, are some of the most widely-used ingredients in men’s skincare.
Although many people view exfoliants as ingredients for fighting acne, many exfoliants can also make wrinkles, fine lines and other common signs of skin aging less visible.
Popular exfoliants that are used in anti-wrinkle creams include salicylic acid, azelaic acid, citric acid, glycolic acid and lactic acid.
Many of these ingredients are referred to as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta-hydroxy acids (BHA)s.
Although the exact effects can vary from one ingredient to another, most exfoliants are backed up by real scientific research:
Salicylic acid, which has been used to treat skin disorders for more than 2,000 years, is known to reduce the appearance of fine lines, improve skin texture and treat skin issues such as acne and hyperpigmentation.
Azelaic acid is best known as an acne treatment. However, research has also found that it can reduce the signs of aging, particularly when used in combination with other peeling agents.
Citric acid has been shown in research to increase the thickness of the epidermis — the outermost layer of the skin. This may help to reverse skin thinning that often occurs as part of the aging process.
Glycolic acid, which is frequently used in peeling procedures, has been found to improve many aspects of skin aging, including wrinkles.
Lactic acid has been shown to increase the thickness and firmness of skin, reversing the effects of aging. The same research has also found that treatment with lactic acid helps to increase skin smoothness and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Other scientific research has concluded that many AHAs offer similar effects. For example, one study found that glycolic, lactic and citric acid — all alpha-hydroxy acids — can all cause the skin to thicken by approximately 25 percent while improving elastic fiber quality.
Unlike tretinoin, these exfoliants can be bought without a prescription as active ingredients in a variety of anti-wrinkle creams, gels and other topical treatments.
Many popular exfoliants are used in higher concentrations in cosmetic peeling procedures, such as those offered by dermatologists and plastic surgeons to lighten scars, wrinkles and other skin imperfections.
We’ve discussed these treatments in more detail in our full guide to chemical peel treatments for men.
Niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, is a common ingredient that’s found in many anti-aging skincare creams, masks and other products.
Research shows that niacinamide can increase antioxidant activity, improving your skin’s ability to function as a barrier and increase dermal collagen and protein production to make fine lines, wrinkles and other imperfections less visible.
Studies have also found that niacinamide can increase skin smoothness and improve other skin issues, such as discoloration and blotchiness.
Unlike tretinoin, which requires a prescription, niacinamide can be found in a variety of skincare creams and other products sold over the counter.
It also assists in lubricating your joints, repairing injured tissue, producing blood vessels and several other important processes.
Research shows that hyaluronic acid can improve your skin’s integrity and make many common signs of skin aging, including wrinkles, less visible.
For example, in a 2014 study, researchers found that women who used a nano-hyaluronic acid lotion, cream or serum experienced a measurable increase in skin fineness and a reduction in wrinkle depth over the course of eight weeks.
Interestingly, the effects of the hyaluronic acid products were very fast-acting, with some of the study participants showing improvements in skin elasticity after just two weeks.
Unfortunately, there's very little study data available on the effects of topical hyaluronic acid for men’s skin.
You can find hyaluronic acid as an active ingredient in many creams, masks and other skincare products designed to treat the signs of aging. It’s also a popular ingredient in moisturizers, such as our Moisturizer for Men.
While a high quality anti-wrinkle cream can make a big difference, it shouldn’t be the only item in your skincare arsenal.
Effective skincare is about keeping your skin protected and in optimal condition at any time and in any environment, from your home to the outdoors.
To protect your skin, you may want to consider adding two additional products to your skincare routine:
Sunscreen. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, damage to your skin from excessive exposure to sunlight and UV radiation is responsible for 90 percent of the visible change that occurs in your skin as you get older.
By keeping yourself protected from the sun, you can reduce your risk of developing fine lines and wrinkles. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an SPF 30+ sunscreen that offers water resistance and broad-spectrum protection.
Moisturizer. Moisturizer helps to keep water inside your skin, improving its texture and giving it a more youthful appearance. Try to apply a facial moisturizer at least one time per day, or whenever your skin feels overly dry.
Regular use of an effective anti-wrinkle cream can make a serious difference to how your skin looks and feels as you grow older.
When you’re shopping for a men’s anti-wrinkle cream, it’s better to focus on active ingredients than brand names.
Look for science-based ingredients such as topical retinoids, alpha and/or beta-hydroxy acids, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid.
Research has shown that these ingredients can lead to real, measurable improvements in wrinkle depth, skin elasticity and skin texture.
Our article on the top rated wrinkle creams of 2016 lists more anti-aging creams you might be interested in.
You can also learn more about preventing wrinkles, sagging, age spots and other signs of skin aging in our detailed guide to anti-aging skincare for men.