woman washing faceBy Meghan Rabbitt
Don't be so sure the mix in that pricey moisturizer will work magic on your complexion. "There are products on the market that do squat for your skin," says Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, a dermatologist in Washington, DC, and co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery. "But there are plenty that contain ingredients that are proven to be effective." Here's what to look for on skincare labels, as well as products that are packed with these research-backed ingredients. While you shouldn't use all these every day, your dermatologist can tell you which ones to add to your daily routine. Photo by Getty Images
1. Hyaluronic Acid This uber-moisturizer is kind of like Botox-minus the needle. Hyaluronic acid is naturally found in skin, but it diminishes over time. The result? Dryness and wrinkles, says Dr. Tanzi. Moisturizers with this ingredient not only hydrate the skin but also fill in wrinkles. And they're almost always lightweight enough to use on all skin types, including acne-prone, she adds. Slather some on when skin is damp-say, after you've washed your face in the morning and at night-to boost its hydrating powers. Try: CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM, $12.99; Amazon.com
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2. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) These powerful exfoliators dissolve skin-dulling dead cells, which appear with age and environmental damage, says Dr. Tanzi. The AHAs in cleansers, moisturizers and even pads wash away those dead cells to reveal younger-looking skin. In fact, one study found that patients who applied a lotion containing 25% glycolic, lactic or citric acid (all AHAs) experienced a 25% increase in skin thickness (so skin doesn't sag or appear sallow), plus a boost in elasticity and collagen. Use AHAs once or twice a week (or daily on oily or acne-prone skin) at nighttime, as they can cause temporary redness. Try: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel Packettes, $28 for 10 applications; Amazon.com
3. Peptides Talk about magic: These little protein messengers trick skin into making more collagen-the stuff that makes up skin's connective tissue that breaks down with age, resulting in sagging and wrinkles. Jeannette Graf, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, is a big fan. "Peptides should be used starting as early as your 20s." While there are many different peptides, both Dr. Graf and Dr. Tanzi recommend the Olay Regenerist line. Since peptides boost collagen production better at night, Dr. Graf suggests applying a peptide serum or cream before bed to freshly cleansed skin. Try: Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum, $22.99; Olay.com
4. Sunscreen Dermatologists have long suspected that SPF blocks the sun's ultraviolet rays from causing wrinkles, age spots and loss of elasticity, but a new study proves it. "Wearing sunscreen does slow down aging," confirms Dr. Graf. Of course, you reap the benefits only if you use sunscreen correctly: Apply it 20 to 30 minutes before going out, and every 60 to 80 minutes thereafter, says Dr. Graf. If you buy foundation and powder with SPF in it, be sure it has broad spectrum SPF. And if you're using it as your sole sun protection, reapply throughout the day. Try: MD Solar Sciences Mineral Tinted Crème SPF 30, $32; MDSolarSciences.com
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5. Retinoids "In addition to sunscreen, I believe the most important skincare ingredient women can use is retinoids," says Dr. Graf. "These repair skin from DNA damage that make you look older and can cause skin cancer." When applied, retinoids bond with DNA known as ligans to speed up cell turnover, which improves skin's texture and evens skin tone, explains Dr. Graf. Only use a retinoid at night and be diligent about applying sunscreen during the day, as this ingredient makes skin extra-sensitive to sunlight. Don't forget to use a retinoid on your neck, the tops of your hands and other spots that catch sun, reminds Dr. Tanzi. Try: RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream, $22.99; Ulta.com
6. Antioxidants Sun, wind, smoke and other environmental stressors cause free radical damage in the body, which inflames skin. And that leads to wrinkles, dullness and even acne. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from harming skin. What's more, emerging research shows they can make your sunscreen more effective, says Dr. Tanzi. "I use an antioxidant serum during the day because it protects me when the sun and other environmental pollutants are bombarding my skin," she says. Use an antioxidant serum in the morning, after you've washed your face and before you put on your moisturizer and sunscreen. Try: Timeless 20% Vitamin C+E Ferulic Acid Serum, $24.95; Amazon.com
7. Kinetin Besides helping skin retain moisture, this plant-based growth hormone works wonders for stimulating collagen production, says Dr. Graf. Dr. Tanzi agrees, suggesting patients use products with kinetin when their skin isn't able to tolerate a retinoid. "While kinetin isn't as strong as retinoids, it's been around a long time and has been shown to be beneficial," she says. Apply at night after you've washed your face if you're using this instead of a retinoid. Try: Dr. LeWinn by Kinerase Wrinkle Repair Day & Night Cream, $20.99; Amazon.com
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8. Niacinamide This anti-inflammatory ingredient soothes skin, says Dr. Tanzi, making it great for people with rosacea, acne or sensitive skin. One study also found that when applied topically, niacinamide improves skin's moisture barrier, which hydrates skin and allows for the natural production of collagen. Try: Paula's Choice Skin Balancing Moisture Gel, $24; PaulasChoice.com
9. Hydroquinone Products containing this ingredient are often called "bleaching creams." That's because hydroquinone can minimize hyperpigmentation (think sun spots and dark spots due to hormonal imbalances) by reducing how much melanin your skin produces. In one study, 80% of patients who applied a topical hydroquinone cream saw a marked improvement in their hyperpigmentation-enough to make them feel less self-conscious. Steer clear of hydroquinone during pregnancy (the jury is still out on its safety) and on broken skin (which could cause irritation). Also, use sunscreen on hydroquinone-treated skin, urges Dr. Tanzi: Lowered melanin production makes skin more susceptible to sunburn. Try: ProDerma Light 5% HydroquinoneSkin Lightening Whitening Bleaching Body Cream Dr. Kligman's Formula, $28.99; Amazon.com
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woman washing faceBy Meghan Rabbitt