Do you ever feel like you need a PhD in chemistry to read the labels of your beauty products? We asked the pros for the lowdown on today’s most coveted ingredients in anti-aging skincare.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
“AHAs typically come from natural sources such as sugar cane (glycolic acid), milk (lactic acid) or fruits like grapes, apples or lemons,” says Nancy Labonté, specialist in skincare and cosmetics for IDC Dermo. “AHAs are popular in antiaging skincare because they bring about what’s called cellular exfoliation—the famous ‘peel’—thanks to a pH slightly lower than that of the skin.”
Over time, the regeneration of skin cells naturally slows down. Regardless of which type of AHA you choose, the effects are similar: They remove dead cells and other impurities on the skin’s surface, help stimulate cell regeneration and brighten the complex ion. “They act directly on the melanocytes (melaninproducing cells) by reducing the production of melanin and thus the appear ance of pigment spots,” explains Nathalie Pelletier, scientific direc tor for the Montrealbased beauty line Jouviance. The complexion becomes clearer and more uni form. AHAs are photosensitizing and can cause skin irritation and dryness, so choose a formula with moisturizing agents like hyaluronic acid, shea butter or aloe vera, and don't forget to wear sunscreen.
Naturally present in the dermis—the inner layer of the skin—hyaluronic acid acts like mortar filling in the spaces between skin cells. It’s no wonder this active ingredient has been used for many years in aesthetic medicine as a filling agent. It is also renowned for its moisturizing properties. This molecule, essential for maintaining skin hydration, is often compared to a sponge; full of water (hyaluronic acid can retain up to 1,000 times its weight in liquid), it pro vides us with firm, plump skin. However, as we age, the amount of hyaluronic acid in our skin naturally decreases, resulting in the appear ance of fine lines and wrinkles.
“In its topical form, hyaluronic acid helps fill gaps in mature skin,” explains Pelletier. “In short, it helps to firm and plump skin.” What’s more, this extra hydration brings a lot of comfort and even helps soothe the redness and tightness that can come along with dehydrated skin.
Many ingredients known to neutralize the free radicals that cause oxidative stress and, ultimately, cell degradation fall under this catch-all title. “When we expose our skin to the sun, to pollution and even to blue light, we accelerate cell oxidation, which leads to premature aging,” says Labonté. “Whether you live in a polluted area, take vacation at a beach or spend your days in front of a computer, using products that contain antioxidants is as important as using sunscreen, believe it or not,” says Pelletier.
Many ingredients offer antioxidant properties, but some are more potent than others. This is particularly the case with vitamin C, a.k.a. ascorbic acid, an antioxidant widely seen in anti-aging skincare formulas. “Vitamin C restores radiance to the complexion, reduces the appearance of pigmentation and is essential for the production of collagen,” says Pelletier. When choosing a product, be sure to check what type of vitamin C you’re purchasing—the most common form in cosmetics, L-ascorbic acid, oxidizes easily with exposure to heat or light and can lose all effectiveness, so requires storage in a cool, dark place. Vitamin C in Et-VC form, created from a new process that makes the ingredient more stable, is also on the market. Antioxidants from the large family of polyphenols (often produced from grape peel or green tea) and botanical extracts (Kakadu plum extract, for example, a natural source of ascorbic acid) are recognized for their similar benefits.
Lipids (in other words, oils) are essential for maintaining the skin barrier. Ceramides are lipids that make up about 50 percent of the outermost layer of the skin. Their role is to capture and preserve hydration. Without them, Hello dryness and irritation! “A poorly moisturized epidermis will not only lack radiance, but will also be more vulnerable to aggressors and won’t absorb other active ingredients in the skin-care routine,” says Pelletier.
Adding ceramides to a cream helps improve or even restore the skin’s natural defences while recreating a hydrolipidic balance. But their action is not limited to moisturizing the outer layer of the skin. “Ceramides are also soothing and have anti-inflammatory properties,” explains Pelletier. They reduce the appearance and depth of fine lines and wrinkles, brighten the complexion and restore firmness and elasticity to the skin.
Peptides are not, strictly speaking, proteins, although they are very similar in that they are made up of amino acid chains of varying length. Peptides may be smaller, but they’re just as versatile. “There are as many peptides as there are skin problems,” says Labonté, adding that their strength lies in their ability to reactivate a variety of skin processes that modify cell activity by stimulating the production of collagen or hyaluronic acid, in particular.
Are you looking for a tightening effect? Illuminator? Repair? “There’s a specific peptide for each of these concerns,” says Labonté. Depending on the nature of the amino acids they contain, peptides can improve the firmness and elasticity of the skin, speed up wound healing, revive the radiance of the complexion and even reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation, among other things. Peptides have it all, she says. “They are effective, easy to test, easy to formulate and safe for the skin.
Introduced about 30 years ago, this vitamin A derivative has undoubtedly revolutionized the world of anti-aging skin care. It is so effective that it continues to be incorporated into creams and serums. “It is the most recognized anti-aging ingredient used around the world,” says Pelletier.
Tests on retinol have proven its worth time and time again. Retinol is known to decrease the appearance and depth of fine lines and wrinkles, firm up tissue, stimulate cell regeneration and exfoliation, shrink pores, brighten the complexion and prevent photoaging. On the other hand, vitamin A derivatives are photosensitizing and are not always well-tolerated, particularly by sensitive skin. “This is why it is recommended to introduce it gradually into your routine and apply sun protection every day,” says Pelletier. Advances in technology, however, are making it possible to mitigate these adverse effects with formulations that combine progressive-release encapsulated retinol with soothing ingredients.