Anti-aging creams are filled with buzzwords like "anti-wrinkle" chemicals, and feature models with impossibly smooth faces. Some face creams deliver an empty promise with fancy packaging, while others can lead to some improvement in the appearance of wrinkles. Currently, there are no published medical studies that support these products' claims, but how well an anti-wrinkle creams works depends on its active ingredients, such as retinol (vitamin A), salicylic acid, or hyaluronic acid.

In SciShow's video, "Does Anti-Aging Cream Work?" host Michael Aranda explains we first need to know the biggest cause of wrinkles isn't aging, it's environmental damage, like from the sun. Sunlight contains three types of UV radiation, UVA, UVB, and lastly, UVC, which does not reach the earth. UVA radiation penetrates the second layer of skin, contributing to some types of sun damage, and causing wrinkles and premature aging of the skin. Meanwhile, UVB affects the top layer of the skin, and causes most sunburns; it's also strongly linked to skin cancer, and can even damage DNA in the skin.

Read More: Is An Anti-Aging Serum In Your Future?

UVA radiation interacts with molecules in the skin to create reactive oxygen species, like "free radicals" that can react with other molecules in the dermis, like elastin and collagen. Since they have unpaired electrons, they are constantly looking for more electrons, and will take things like DNA, proteins, and fats while damaging them in the process. This can create tangled clumps or breakdowns, which can lead to a wrinkle problem if there's too much damage.

There are plenty of anti-wrinkle creams, but the chemicals that have been shown to work actually deal with skin damage.


For example, retinol and chemically related compounds, known as retinoids, have been shown to reduce wrinkles to speed up the healing of cuts and scrapes — as long as you follow recommendations by dermatologists. However, using retinoids, and then exposing your skin to sunlight or using them while pregnant, can cause more damage because of how they interact with the cells.

Retinoids can help maintain the structure of your dermis and fight off wrinkles by making the body produce more collagen, elastin, and long chains of sugars called glycosaminoglycans or GAGs. They act like sponges, and have the ability to hold huge amounts of water. GAGs help resist squishing forces on the skin, and keep it hydrated and healthy-looking. Biochemically, retinoids can tell repair mechanisms in the skin to speed up, so it gets rid of stuff that was damaged by reactive oxygen species, and makes new cells and molecules at a faster rate.

Salicylic Acid And Hyaluronic Acid

There have been a few other compounds known to have similar, but less potent effects. Chemicals like salicylic acid might also activate genes that cause cells to make more collagen, or boost certain repair pathways. Hyaluronic acid is a GAG that can help retain moisture.

Stay Away From Peptides

There are several chemicals in anti-aging creams that are just that, chemicals. Anything with peptide in its name just means it's a smaller building block of proteins. Peptides are involved in several processes in the body, such as making new cells and proteins, which is important for the skin's structure. However, dermatologists believe most of these anti-aging peptides are just too large to squeeze in between cells in the epidermis, meaning they probably just sit on top of the skin and do absolutely nothing.

Read More: A Future Skin Care Product That Slows Signs Of Aging?

The Secret To Fighting Skin Damage

The best way to fight wrinkles could be using sunscreen. It blocks UV radiation by protecting the cells from damage in the first place. It seems the best anti-aging cream we can buy is what we use every day to protect our skin from the sun.

See Also:

10 Common Myths About Skin

7 Best Oils For Your Face And Body