What Is the Most Important Anti-Aging Cream Ingredient?

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Most anti-aging creams may work no better than typical moisturizers.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

What is the truth about over-the-counter “anti-aging” products, which constitute a billion-dollar industry? There is a “psychological effect from spending more,” wrote a team of dermatologists, but “don’t be seduced by fancy packaging and high prices.” Many products advertise dramatic results that are frequently exaggerated and misleading, and are rarely scientifically supported.  An independent product-testing institute questioned the efficacy of anti-aging creams generally, finding that beneficial effects could only be picked up using sensitive instruments without becoming clinically or noticeably detectable. They suggest these products may not work any better than typical moisturizers.

Cross-sectional studies of Chinese and British women found that those who regularly used facial moisturizers were guessed to be about two years younger than those the same age who didn’t. However, a third, larger Dutch study did not, and regardless, snapshot-in-time studies can never establish cause and effect. Studies on moisturizers are limited. But they can improve the appearance of dry skin, which can otherwise look discolored, flaky, and rough. Moisturizers can hydrate the skin, and may reduce the appearance of fine lines by 15 to 20 percent––called “the oldest trick [in] the cosmetic industry,” but may not do anything to treat the underlying cause.

Whether facial foundation, or night cream, or anti-aging serum, the formulations of most skin products are basically a moisturizer combined with purported active ingredients for marketing appeal. Which ingredients are actually active anti-aging agents? I’ll give you a hint: up to 90 percent of the visible aging of someone’s face is due to sun exposure. From an anti-aging standpoint, the most biologically active ingredient in skin products is sunscreen.

Considered the most important thing to maintaining youthful skin is the daily application of sunscreen, and other protective measures like wearing a hat. All other things you can do for your skin pale in comparison, especially for those with pale skin. To prevent skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. But an SPF of 15 can prevent skin aging. How do we know? Because it’s been put to the test.

Nine hundred adults were randomized to years of daily sunscreen use, or to continue with their own discretionary use. (It was considered unethical to withhold protection by giving people placebo sunscreen.) In the end, 77 percent in the recommended daily sunscreen group were applying sunscreen at least three to four days per week, compared with 33 percent in the discretionary use group. Would that be enough of a difference to make a difference? Yes, there was significantly less skin aging in the instructed daily-use group. In fact, they suffered no detectable increase in skin aging over the 4.5-year study. The researchers concluded, “Daily sunscreen use protects against skin aging.”

Although sunscreens are primarily intended to prevent further facial aging, rather than reverse photodamage already done, some in the daily sunscreen use group did show an improvement in skin texture. The results are all the more striking given the control group was told to continue to use sunscreen and hats whenever they thought necessary––suggesting people are poor judges or planners for excess UV exposure when left to their own devices. So, a daily facial moisturizer with an SPF 15 in it is recommended, even if it’s cloudy or raining outside. Considered the “gold standard” for anti-aging skin care: “daily use of sunscreens in the daytime and retinoids at night.”

Retinoids? I’ll cover them next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

What is the truth about over-the-counter “anti-aging” products, which constitute a billion-dollar industry? There is a “psychological effect from spending more,” wrote a team of dermatologists, but “don’t be seduced by fancy packaging and high prices.” Many products advertise dramatic results that are frequently exaggerated and misleading, and are rarely scientifically supported.  An independent product-testing institute questioned the efficacy of anti-aging creams generally, finding that beneficial effects could only be picked up using sensitive instruments without becoming clinically or noticeably detectable. They suggest these products may not work any better than typical moisturizers.

Cross-sectional studies of Chinese and British women found that those who regularly used facial moisturizers were guessed to be about two years younger than those the same age who didn’t. However, a third, larger Dutch study did not, and regardless, snapshot-in-time studies can never establish cause and effect. Studies on moisturizers are limited. But they can improve the appearance of dry skin, which can otherwise look discolored, flaky, and rough. Moisturizers can hydrate the skin, and may reduce the appearance of fine lines by 15 to 20 percent––called “the oldest trick [in] the cosmetic industry,” but may not do anything to treat the underlying cause.

Whether facial foundation, or night cream, or anti-aging serum, the formulations of most skin products are basically a moisturizer combined with purported active ingredients for marketing appeal. Which ingredients are actually active anti-aging agents? I’ll give you a hint: up to 90 percent of the visible aging of someone’s face is due to sun exposure. From an anti-aging standpoint, the most biologically active ingredient in skin products is sunscreen.

Considered the most important thing to maintaining youthful skin is the daily application of sunscreen, and other protective measures like wearing a hat. All other things you can do for your skin pale in comparison, especially for those with pale skin. To prevent skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. But an SPF of 15 can prevent skin aging. How do we know? Because it’s been put to the test.

Nine hundred adults were randomized to years of daily sunscreen use, or to continue with their own discretionary use. (It was considered unethical to withhold protection by giving people placebo sunscreen.) In the end, 77 percent in the recommended daily sunscreen group were applying sunscreen at least three to four days per week, compared with 33 percent in the discretionary use group. Would that be enough of a difference to make a difference? Yes, there was significantly less skin aging in the instructed daily-use group. In fact, they suffered no detectable increase in skin aging over the 4.5-year study. The researchers concluded, “Daily sunscreen use protects against skin aging.”

Although sunscreens are primarily intended to prevent further facial aging, rather than reverse photodamage already done, some in the daily sunscreen use group did show an improvement in skin texture. The results are all the more striking given the control group was told to continue to use sunscreen and hats whenever they thought necessary––suggesting people are poor judges or planners for excess UV exposure when left to their own devices. So, a daily facial moisturizer with an SPF 15 in it is recommended, even if it’s cloudy or raining outside. Considered the “gold standard” for anti-aging skin care: “daily use of sunscreens in the daytime and retinoids at night.”

Retinoids? I’ll cover them next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

This is the first in a four-part series on so-called anti-aging skin products. Stay tuned for: 

Do Collagen Supplements Work for Skin Aging? See the video.

What is The Single Most Important Thing for Anti-Aging Skin Care? Check out the video.

For more on how to live your longest, healthiest life, preorder my new book How Not to Age and check out my full-length How Not to Age presentation. (As always, all proceeds I receive from all of my books are donated to charity.)

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here. Read our important information about translations here.

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