How to Buy Moisturizers and Antiwrinkle Creams

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Most basic moisturizers--both drugstore and high-end brands-- contain the same key ingredients (water, propylene glycol, lanolin) to soften your skin and help with surface dryness. Wrinkles? That's another story. Here's the rub.

Choose moisturizers, makeup base and other daily-use beauty products with built-in sun protection factor (SPF) 30. Sunscreen really can prevent new wrinkles from forming. Look for at least one of these active ingredients: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or avobenzone (aka Parsol 1789). These protect you from harmful UVA and UVB rays.

Mind your skin's moisture needs. Dry skin drinks up rich moisturizers, while oily or acne-prone skin does better with noncomedogenic or nonacnegenic products. (These are preferred over "oil-free" products, which often include pore-clogging oil imitators.)

Study the active ingredients, which are listed on labels in order of the amount contained. If soothing aloe vera or vitamin C is 15th on the list, you're not getting much of it

Be skeptical of products that claim to augment your own natural collagen or elastin, whose job it is to keep skin plumped up and youthful. The molecules in these products are too big to actually penetrate the skin.

Ask your doctor about tretinoins, one of the few active ingredients shown to truly reverse sun damage, reduce fine lines and soften wrinkles. These medications, which include Retin-A and Renova, are available by prescription only. Because of their ability to actually change your skin's structure, they are designated as drugs rather than cosmetics.

Sample other weaker, nonprescription vitamin A relatives like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). You need at least 8 percent AHA for any visible results, though, which is just as likely to be present in a cheap drugstore product as in an expensive brand.

Experiment with antioxidant ingredients like coenzyme Q10, vitamin C and alpha lipoic acid. Some dermatologists make great claims for them (with promising research), while others are skeptical about visible results given the low concentrations used.

Tips & Warnings

  • Reduce long-term risks of skin aging, skin cancer, and other harmful effects of the sun by limiting sun exposure, wearing protective clothing, and using sunscreen. While it's true that genes play a large part in how you age, with care, your skin will appear younger--for free.
  • Never use tretinoin or AHA products on the sensitive skin around your eyes. Because these are mildly exfoliating, they can cause redness or flaking en route to revealing fresh new skin. They also make your skin more photosensitive.
  • Hypoallergenic products should be free of fragrance and other common irritants like preservatives, but can still aggravate your skin.

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