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By Chayo Mata
Anti-aging creams can be pricey, but they don’t have to be. Here’s how to get smoother skin for a song.
Brand-new anti-aging creams with the latest uber-ingredients arrive on cosmetics counters every month with big claims (Better than Botox!) and still bigger price tags. But not all effective anti-agers run $570 for two ounces. Most drugstore brands now offer skin-care products with some of the same active ingredients found in their costly competitors (as well as some prescription counterparts). To find the best lower-priced wrinkle erasers and skin smoothers, Real Simple made appointments with top dermatologists then rounded up testers who, over the course of three months, dotted and daubed on dozens of products. Here are the anti-aging overachievers with the top ingredients-and all on a budget. Pretty soon you’ll be the one making big claims (“I got carded buying wine!”).
When you introduce an anit-aging product into your skin-care routine, it’s important to use the proper amount of it. Since some products can be irritating, they need to be incorporated gradually.
If you want to try a retinal (a vitamin A derivative) cream, apply a pea-size dollop to your face every third night in the beginning, suggests dermatologist Leslie Baumann. Slight itchiness is normal at first. As your skin begins to tolerate the ingredient better, use the same amount every other night. Avoid applying a retinal cream in the crevices around your nostrils. It’s not needed there, and those areas often heat up the cream and cause irritation and redness.
If you are using a nonretinol cream or an anti-ager with sunscreen, coat your face with a dime-size circle of it every day, suggests dermatologist Robin Ashinoff. “Your skin should feel lightly moisturized after you apply it-not greasy or dry.”
How Your Skin Ages
“As early as your 20s, your skin cells don’t turn over as quickly,” says Tina West, a cosmetic dermatologist in Chevy Chase, Maryland. By your 30s, the collagen and elastin in your skin have begun to degenerate, and the effects of those high school tanning sessions crop up in the form of fine lines, dark spots, and enlarged pores. The good news: You can repair much of the damage if you start caring for your skin today (and the sooner the better-wrinkles are easier to prevent than to erase).
Tip: Apply anti-aging cream to damp skin.
“Moisture helps the active ingredients penetrate more deeply,” says Joshua Fox, a dermatologist in Roslyn, New York. If you have sensitive skin, however, apply cream to dry skin, to avoid irritation.
Neutrogena Visibly Firm Face Lotion SPF 20, $19
Active Ingredient: Copper peptide.
Why it works: Copper peptide is a compound that’s found the body. It was originally used by physicians to heal wounds. But over time researchers discovered that the ingredient encouraged the growth of collagen and elastin, the building blocks that keep skin smooth, so it was packed into prescription anti-aging creams, including Neova. Today Neutrogena offers the ingredient in its skin-care line. “The Visibly Firm products are the same as the prescription cream,” says Miami dermatologist Leslie Baumann. The difference? Neutrogena costs $19; Neova Day Therapy SPF 20, $65. Real Simple testers were impressed by its performance. “My skin felt and looked smoother,” said one. “And it feels light and nice-not heavy and oily.” This lotion also has an SPF of 20, making it ideal for daytime use.
Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream, $20
Active Ingredient: Retinol (a vitamin A derivative).
Why it works: The gold standard for topical anti-aging ingredients, retinal increases collagen, evens out discolorations, and makes skin renew itself more quickly. “It’s the closest thing to the fountain of youth that you can get in a cream,” says West. “Products like this can be effective because they contain the same active ingredients as prescription products,” says Robin Ashinoff, a dermatologist at Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey. So they’re ideal for women with deeper lines. “The wrinkles-even the bags-around my eyes look a lot better,” said a tester. One caveat: Retinol can leave skin sensitive to sun exposure, so apply it only before bedtime. In the morning, apply sunscreen to protect skin from sunburn.
Olay Regenerist Eye Lifting Serum, $19
Active Ingredients: Pentapeptides.
Why it works: Applying pentapeptides to skin inhibited the breakdown of collagen and increased its production in a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Pentapeptides are made up of the amino acids in your skin, says Zoe Diana Draelos, a dermatologist in High Point, North California. In this gel, which glides over the skin like a luxury cream, the ingredient is accompanied by vitamin E, niacinamide, and panthenol, which nourish the skin and soften fine lines. And it has light-reflecting particles to brighten dark circles. One tester in her 50s, who used this gel consistently for more than a month, received a compliment from her doctor. “He noticed an improvement and wanted to know what I was doing differently,” she said.
Eucerin Q10 Anti-Wrinkle Sensitive Skin Lotion SPF 15, $9
Active Ingredient: Coenzyme Q-10.
Why it works: Coenzyme Q-10 is an antioxidant that’s found in the body’s cells. As you age, these cells lose coenzyme Q-10 and your skin becomes more prone to fine lines and wrinkles. Using a cream with coenzyme Q-10 will reduce those lines and increase skin’s elasticity, according to Ashinoff. “Coenzyme Q-10 is a very promising new ingredient,” she says. It is also easily absorbed into the skin, and it’s a safe and effective option for women with sensitive skin who can’t tolerate aggressive anti-aging ingredients, such as retinal. Plus, this lotion is fragrance-free and noncomedogenic (meaning it won’t clog pores)-another boon for those with easily irritated or acne-prone skin. “Most anti-aging creams make my skin turn bright red,” said one tester. “This didn’t aggravate my skin, so it looked softer and less wrinkled.”
Uneven Skin Tone
Aveeno Positively Radiant Anti-Wrinkle Cream, $14
Active Ingredient: Soy.
Why it works: Besides moisturizing the skin and smoothing fine lines, soy gets rid of discoloration by subtly lightening darker pigments, says Draelos. The combination of strong antioxidants in this cream, which include soy and vitamins E and B5, not only reduces blotches (caused by sun damage, certain birth-control pills, or pregnancy) but protects the skin from future spots, too. For instant improvement, the cream also has cosmetic brighteners to reflect light and diminish dark spots. Still, be vigilant about using sunscreen: “If you don’t use sun protection, you will undo all the good your lightening products are providing,” Draelos says. Testers like the richness of this cream and found that it subtly evened out skin tones over time. And if you are concerned about soy’s estrogen-like effects, there’s no need to be alarmed. According to dermatologists, the small amount used in this topical cream won’t have an adverse effect.
Jergens Repleneshing Multi-vitamin Age-defying Moisturizer, $4
Active Ingredients: Vitamins A, C, and E.
Why it works: A body lotion alone can make your skin look better. “Fine lines can be alleviated with a regular moisturizer,” says West. “It gives skin a temporary plumping effect. But you shouldn’t stop there.” This body lotion includes antioxidant vitamins, which neutralize the free radicals that cause skin damage and lead to wrkinles. And while many creams contain antioxidants, New York City dermatologist Karen Burke favors this blend. “Vitamins E and C work together synergistically,” she explains. “Each vitamin is good on its own, but together they accomplish more than either does alone.” And vitamin A is a proven anti-aging ingredient. The lotion also has a high level of glycerin, which protects skin from dryness.
Common sense tells you that rubbing baby oil on your skin at the beach is a bad idea. Here are four more strategies to keep your skin smoother longer.
Always wear sunscreen. You’ve heard it before, but it’s your strongest weapon against wrinkles. Sun exposure is the number one cause of premature aging, dark spots, broken capillaries, and a leathery skin texture.
Be consistent. An effective anti-aging regimen is like exercise: It’s more important to stick to a consistent daily routine than to pick up the heaviest weight every once in a while. (And applying a cream is a lot easier than doing crunches.)
Exfoliate once a week with a scrub or a salicylic acid wash. Use only a washcloth if you have sensitive skin. Exfoliating will remove the top layer of dead cells and help an anti-aging cream penetrate more effectively.
Be realistic. A cream can help, but it can’t turn you into a 16-year-old again (and would you really want that?). A good cream prevents wrinkles and reduces their appearance. Do what you can, and get on with your life.
Tip: Use your anti-aging cream on your hands, neck, and décolletage, too.
These parts of the body show signs of age-fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots-just the way your face does.
(For info, call: 718-357-8200)