Here’s how to slow the effects of time when it comes to your skin.
“The days of putting on a cream that smells good but does nothing for your skin are long gone,” says dermatological chemist Ben Kaminsky. Thanks to the era of cosmeceuticals, today’s skincare ingredients are verging on the pharmaceutical in their ability to work below the skin’s surface. With new advances in technology and a plethora of lotions that promise dramatic results, it can be hard to decode what you should add to your skincare routine. Here’s our guide to what works.
The protectors: Skin savers to slather on at any age
While you may have enjoyed sunning yourself on the patio this summer, your skin hasn’t forgotten it. “Sun damage is accumulative,” says Leanne McCliskie, Canada’s education manager for The International Dermal Institute. “It is remembered and stored and surfaces years later.” In fact, 90 percent of skin’s aging is due to sun exposure, according to Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett. With UVA rays still strong in winter, it’s important to always slather on a broad-spectrum sunscreen before you head outdoors.
Extracts of green tea and grape seed – along with vitamins A, C and E, coenzyme Q10 and idebenone – are the equivalent of skin superheroes. They are just some of the antioxidant ingredients that can intercept free radicals that are unleashed on the skin when exposed to pollution, smoke and UV rays. Not only do antioxidants act as protectors, preventing cellular damage that can lead to advanced aging and potentially serious diseases, but research has shown that they can also help reverse some skin damage.
“The most essential secret to sexy, ageless skin is to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize,” says Kaminsky, co-author of Beyond Botox: 7 Strategies for Sexy, Ageless Skin Without Needles or Surgery (Springboard, 2006). Well-hydrated skin looks and feels plump, as moisture diminishes the appearance of fine lines. Skin naturally becomes drier as you age, as sebum production slows down and skin thins. Traditionally, creams acted as a barrier to prevent moisture from escaping, but new skincare advances mean that ingredients can boost hyaluronic acid (a humectant that draws in water and can hold 1,000 times its own weight in H20) in the skin.
The activists: Try these trusted anti-aging ingredients to renew skin
Alpha and beta hydroxy acids, including glycolic and salicylic acids, are chemical exfoliants. They break the bonds between cells, which helps dead skin shed more easily – no scrubbing required. “I’m a huge fan of exfoliation because as you age, your skin doesn’t turn over as quickly, and getting rid of the dead cells is one of the best ways to make your skin look brighter,” says Kellett. Glycolic acid at professional-grade strengths can also boost collagen production.
Vitamin A and its many derivatives are favourites among dermatologists. “Anyone over 25 who has some fine lines should be on vitamin A or a retinoid,” says Kellett. Evening skin tone, reducing fine lines and normalizing cell turnover are some of the benefits that come with regular use. At prescription strength, they can also stimulate collagen renewal. “Over-the-counter creams are not as effective as prescription-grade products,” says Kellett. But she says that retinol-based cosmetics are still a great starting place, as they can brighten skin and improve its texture. Be aware that the aggressive nature of retinoids can cause irritation. It’s also even more important to wear sunscreen, as vitamin A makes skin photosensitive.
The advance guard: New technology is bringing these new ingredients to the forefront
Chains of amino acids that mimic those that occur naturally in the skin are the latest anti-aging ingredients to cause a stir. With the ability to boost collagen production and strengthen the skin’s structure, they can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and repair sun damage. Peptide formulas provide a great alternative for people who can’t tolerate the more-aggressive glycolic or retinol formulas, says Toronto-based dermatologist Paul Cohen. “Plus, there’s no danger of photosensitivity from the sun,” he says.
Particles that are 1/100,000th of the diameter of a human hair allow ingredients to penetrate the skin. “It’s revolutionizing the industry by making ingredients like peptides more effective,” says Calvin Davies, president of the Canadian skincare company Dermaglow. While some groups are concerned over its safety, Davies isn’t as worried. “The skin is a natural barrier, and we’re not trying to penetrate more than the upper layers of the dermis,” he says. “There aren’t the same implications as with other technologies, such as pharmaceuticals which could affect the absorption of drugs into the bloodstream.”
Beyond wrinkles: How to deal with the other effects of aging
Irregular brown pigmentation of the skin can affect age evaluation by up to 20 years, according to a study conducted by P & G Beauty. So how to halt discolouration? Exfoliating with hydroxy acids can help slough off existing melanin from surface layers, giving skin a more uniform appearance. Another approach is to slow the creation of melanin. Hyroquinone, a bleaching agent available in both over-the-counter and prescription-strength products, prevents the triggering of excess pigment. The downside can be skin irritation, but there are kinder alternatives, including glucosamine (a protein complex), licorice and soy extracts.
“Every decade, you lose a couple of teaspoon of fat from your face – and it’s volume that keeps people looking younger,” says New York dermatologist Dr. David Colbert. The loss of fat and the skin’s supporting structure (which causes skin to sag) can be due to genetics rather than external factors you can control, says Kaminsky. It’s the hardest sign of aging to treat topically, but your best bet is to look for collagen-boosting ingredients that fortify your skin.
IT’S ALL IN THE APPLICATION
So how and when do you use the products in your skincare arsenal? “The skin absorbs in layers, so you should address different issues in different steps,” says Leanne McCliskie, Canada’s education manager for the International Dermal Institute. Make protection your daytime priority and leave the restorative and skin-sensitizing treatments for evening, when skin isn’t exposed to UV rays and pollution. Apply products with active ingredients (such as sunscreen) first, says dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett. “Apply sunblock and wait 20 minutes before reassessing your skin,” she adds. “Most sunblocks are rich, so you won’t need an additional moisturizer.