Choosing Skin Care Products: Know Your Ingredients
But can they actually erase wrinkles, repair sun damage, or diminish age spots?
Antioxidants for Sun Damage and WrinklesAntioxidants are natural substances made up of vitamins and minerals, most notably polyphenols, which are found in most plants to in varying amounts. They have the ability to fight "free radicals" -- unstable compounds that attack human cells and damage DNA. Damaged skin cells can lead to accelerated aging in the form of wrinkles, dry skin, dark circles under eyes, dull skin, and more.
Free radicals are in the air we breathe, the foods we eat, sunlight, and pollution -- basically, just about everywhere. Eating foods rich in antioxidants is one way to ward them off. Another is to apply them on the skin, where they can seep underneath to strengthen skin cells and keep them healthy.
The antioxidants most shown to repair damage and slow the aging process include:
- Acai oil
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- Green Tea extract
- Vitamin C
- CoEnzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10)
- Alpha-hydroxy acids
- Salicylic acid
- Hyaluronic acid
Acai OilYou may have heard the buzz about the role that the antioxidant acai plays in a healthy diet. The new "superfruit" -- berries that are native to Central and South America -- are filled with antioxidants, more than those found in other berries. Cold-pressing acai berries extracts the oil, which may fight aging by healing sun damage and smoothing wrinkles. Antioxidant levels in acai oil remain high, even after it's stored.
While studies have yet to confirm the benefits of acai oil on the skin, it is being used in masks, creams, cleansers, exfoliating scrubs, body butters, and serums.
Alpha-Lipoic AcidAlpha-lipoic acid is produced by the body and is found in every cell. As an antioxidant, it attacks free radicals throughout the body -- it can penetrate skin-cell membranes to destroy them. Alpha-lipoic acid is promoted commercially as a substance that can erase fine lines and wrinkles, diminish pores, and give skin a healthy glow.
Green Tea ExtractThe high concentration of polyphenols found in tea also have been shown to fight free radicals.
Early studies have found the ingredients in tea can reduce sun damage and may protect skin from skin cancer when applied topically. Using green tea extract under sunscreen may yield a double dose of protection. An anti-inflammatory, polyphenols in creams and lotions may also slow signs of aging and reduce sagging skin and wrinkles.
RetinolVitamin A and its derivatives are powerful and proven anti-aging antioxidants. Retinol is a topical ingredient proven to promote collagen production and plump out skin, reducing fine lines and wrinkles. It also improves skin tone and color, and reduces mottled patches (hyperpigmentation) on the skin.
Many dermatologists prescribe retinol's stronger counterpart, tretinoin, or similar products, to slow skin aging, improve irregular pigmentation, and clear up acne. Over-the-counter products containing retinols may be weaker, but are still effective in improving skin appearance.
Using a retinol-based product may cause the top layer (the epidermis) to become dry and flaky. Be sure to wear moisturizer and sunscreen when using it or speak to your dermatologist about alternatives.
Vitamin CAs you age, your body slows down its production of collagen and elastin, which keeps skin strong, flexible, and resilient. Evidence suggests that the antioxidants found in vitamin C may stimulate the production of collagen and minimize fine lines, wrinkles, and scars.
Vitamin C is being added to skin care products such as creams and lotions. If you want to use a topical vitamin C-based product, ask your dermatologist which one would be right for you.
CoEnzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10)Your body naturally produces CoQ-10 to neutralize free radicals in cells, but as you age, the levels of CoQ-10 decline. That may make skin cells more susceptible to damage by free radicals. That's the rationale behind the use of the antioxidant in skin care products such as toners, gels, and creams, to be used alone or with a moisturizer. One study shows that CoQ-10 helps reduce wrinkles around the eyes (crow's feet).
CoQ-10 is bright orange, so products containing it will be orange or yellow.
CaffeineCaffeine is also a powerful antioxidant, but whether it can be used on the skin to reverse aging is a question mark. Still, skin care companies have added it to lotions and creams in response to evidence that shows caffeine can inhibit the growth of skin cancer and, in topical form, may reduce the depth of wrinkles, especially ''crow's feet'' around the eyes.
Other Popular IngredientsMore and more, skin-care and cosmetics companies are incorporating natural components such botanicals into their product lines. The following are some of the most common new ingredients:
Alpha-hydroxy Acids (AHAs)This group of natural-based acids found in a vast number of skin-care products includes glycolic, lactic, citric, and tartaric acids. Glycolic acid was the original AHA and remains popular for its ability to remove dead skin cells and leave skin smoother, softer, and more radiant.
AHAs are used to exfoliate the skin, reducing fine lines, age spots, acne scars, and irregular pigmentation. Peels with higher concentrations of AHAs are usually administered by a beauty specialist (esthetician) or dermatologist, but you can use lower concentrations -- between 5% and 10% -- in creams or lotions on a daily basis. To help avoid irritated skin, start with a low concentration and apply every other day, gradually increasing to every day. Even at lower doses, however, the acids may irritate and dry skin, as well as increase sensitivity to the sun. Doctors recommend using moisturizer and sunscreen when using any products that contain AHAs.
alicylic AcidSalicylic acid is used in many over-the-counter and prescription products to treat acne. It penetrates pores and reduces blackheads and whiteheads, with less irritation than may occur with alpha-hydroxy acids. Like AHAs, salicylic acid in certain amounts exfoliates the skin, which can reduce signs of aging.
If you are allergic to salicylates (found in aspirin), you shouldn't use salicylic acid. And pregnant or nursing women should ask their doctor before using any product with salicylic acid.
Hyaluronic AcidHyaluronic acid is incorporated into skin care products to reduce the effects of aging. Your body produces hyaluronic acid naturally, keeping tissues cushioned and lubricated. It's found in skin, joint fluid, and connective tissues. Age, smoking, and an unhealthy diet lead to drops in production over time.
Products containing hyaluronic acid may help smooth out skin. It's especially effective when combined with vitamin C products.