Anti-Aging Superstars



Is there a single best anti-aging ingredient? Which antioxidants should you look for? Does everyone need to use retinol?

Find out what the research has proven about todays most popular anti-aging ingredients—and find products guaranteed to give you younger-looking, revitalized skin!

In This Article

What Skin Needs

The best products any skincare company can offer to fight wrinkles and aging include the following ingredients:

  • Sunscreen is the superstar of all superstars in the anti-aging category; of course, it must be a broad-spectrum sunscreen product rated SPF 25 or greater. We know that sunscreen isn't nearly as sexy or exciting as the latest antiwrinkle cream dressed up in slick packaging, but when applied correctly (meaning liberally, daily, and before your skin encounters any daylight, 365 days a year) it is your best defense against wrinkles, discolorations, loss of firmness, and dullness.
  • Exfoliants can remove built-up layers of dead, rough, thickened, uneven surface skin cells that make skin look wrinkled and dry; for example, sun-damaged skin causes the outer layer of skin to become thick. Some exfoliants also have research showing they can increase collagen production and improve the structure of skin's outer layer.
  • Antioxidants reduce inflammation, repair DNA damage, restore the skin's surface barrier, help defend against environmental stress, allow skin to build more collagen, and improve skin's ability to heal. All antioxidants also effectively help fight sun damage. You still need sunscreen, but skin needs all the help it can get!
  • Cell-communicating ingredients, at least in theory, can "tell" skin cells to behave in a normal (meaning younger and undamaged) manner, leading to healthier and more normal functioning skin cells.
  • Skin-identical substances, substances that are the same as the natural components in skin that hold skin cells together and protect them, can replenish and restore the skin‘s external barrier, making it soft and supple, diminishing and potentially eliminating dryness with repeated use, building collagen, and helping skin defend itself from environmental factors.
  • Novel ingredients, at least some of them, can protect a skin cell's membrane to keep it from being damaged by internal and external factors.

Abundant research makes it crystal clear that all of these ingredients are as good as it gets in the world of skin care to fight wrinkling and skin aging. These state-of-the-art ingredients, especially when combined in a cocktail approach, mixing an assortment of these elements into one product, are without question, the types of ingredients you need, regardless of the name on the label or the product category: lotion, cream, gel, serum, moisturizer, anti-aging, or antiwrinkle. If the product doesnt contain these ingredients, then why bother?

The sticker price won't help you. There are lots of expensive products that cheat your skin and lots of inexpensive products that generously serve up what your skin needs, and vice versa.

You don't necessarily need an eye cream and don't buy jar packaging. There is no research showing that eye-area skin needs something different from skin on the rest of your face (though there are many great eye creams on the market, but they contain ingredients that make them good moisturizers, regardless of whether you use them for your eye area). And do not buy any "anti-aging" product in jar packaging because if it does contain state-of-the-art ingredients, they wont remain stable once you've opened the jar and exposed the contents to air and light.

There Isn't One Ultimate "Best" Ingredient…

…there are just lots of great ones. All of the ingredients listed above—antioxidants, skin-identical ingredients, and cell-communicating ingredients—are the leading elements that contribute to making a state-of-the-art moisturizer. And there are many brilliant formulations in stable packaging that include these substances. But, contrary to what cosmetics companies want you to believe about their products, there is no single miracle ingredient for skin. Month after month, new ingredients appear one after the other in the world of skin care, all claiming superiority over their predecessors. Even when there is research showing that the ingredient can be effective for skin, that doesnt make it better or more essential than hundreds of other ingredients—it's just another option, not a must-have.

Think about it like your diet. Although broccoli or grapes may be incredibly healthy to eat, if you eat only those foods your health will suffer. Skin is a complex structural organ that requires many substances to function in a younger and healthier manner. And by that, we mean to function the way it did before it became damaged by the sun.

AHAs and BHA: Take Skin Beyond Smooth

What they do: For all skin types, it is extremely helpful to exfoliate the surface layers of skin. Sun-damaged skin causes the outer layer of skin to become abnormally thick. For those with blemish-prone skin, the outer layer of skin is genetically thicker. Whether you use a product with glycolic or lactic acids, these alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) or beta hydroxy acids (BHA or salicylic acid, which is exceptional for normal to oily/combination skin), remove the outer layer of built-up dead skin cells, allowing healthier cells to come to the surface and smoothing the surface, thus eliminating some wrinkling. There also is a good deal of research showing that using a well-formulated AHA product can increase collagen production. AHAs in skin-care products are effective in concentrations ranging from 5% to 15%; salicylic acid is effective in 1% to 2% concentrations.

Sources: Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, April 2005, pages 1156-1162; Skin Pharmacology and Applied Skin Physiology, May-June 1999, pages 111-119; Archives of Dermatologic Research, June 1997, pages 404-409; and Dermatologic Surgery, May 1998, pages 573-577; Dermatologic Surgery, January 2008, pages 45-50; Archives of Internal Medicine, July 2002, pages 1531-1532; Annals of Dermatology and Venereology, January 2002, pages 137-142; Archives of Dermatology, November 2000, pages 1390-1395; Dermatology, 1999, volume 199, number 1, pages 50-53; and Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, volume 175, issue 1, pages 76-82.)

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice product recommendations with AHAs or BHA.

Retinol: Vitamin A for Anti-Aging

What it does: Retinol is the term used for the entire vitamin A molecule. Applied to skin, retinol is a beneficial cell-communicating ingredient and an antioxidant. Simply put, it helps skin cells create better, healthier skin cells and increases the amount of skin-support substances. Retinol has been shown to increase the skins collagen production and glycosaminoglycan content, resulting in firmer skin with an improved texture and enhanced barrier function. Although it is not the only ingredient to look for in an anti-aging product, it deserves strong consideration by anyone who wants to keep their skin in top shape through the years. In skincare products, it is found in the form of retinol, retinyl palmitate, and retinylaldehyde. In prescription-only skin-care products, it is in the form of retinoic acid (also called tretinoin).

Sources: Archives of Dermatology, May 2007, pages 606-612; Cosmetic Dermatology, supplement, Revisiting Retinol, January 2005, pages 1-20; Dermatologic Surgery, July 2005, pages 799-804; Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, April 2005, pages 1156-1162; Mechanisms of Ageing Development, July 2004, pages 465-473; and Journal of Dermatology, November 2001, pages 595-598.

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice product recommendations with retinol.

Vitamin C: "C" the Difference It Makes

What it does: One of the most well-researched and beneficial vitamins you can apply topically is vitamin C. It has been shown to increase collagen production (including dermal collagen, which is significant for wrinkle reduction), reduce the appearance of skin discolorations, strengthen skins barrier response, enhance skin's repair process, reduce inflammation, and help skin better withstand exposure to sunlight, whether protected by sunscreen or not.

Vitamin C comes in many forms, with ascorbic acid being the most common. Other forms of vitamin C include magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, L-ascorbic acid, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate, ascorbyl glucosamine, and ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate.

Sources: International Journal of Toxicology, volume 24, supplement 2, 2005, pages 51-111; Experimental Dermatology, September 2005, pages 684-691, and June 2003, pages 237-244; Dermatologic Surgery, July 2005, pages 814-817; Nutrition Reviews, March 2005, pages 81-90; Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, November-December 2004, pages 298-303; BMC Dermatology, September 2004, page 13; International Journal of Dermatology, August 2004, pages 604-607; and Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, volume 5, issue 2m, March-April 2003, pages m145-m149.

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice recommendations with stabilized vitamin C.

Vitamin E: In a League of Its Own

What it does: Vitamin E (technical name tocopherol) is considered an antioxidant superstar in its own right. This fat-soluble vitamin is available in various forms with eight biologically active components, such as alpha tocopherol and beta tocopherol, or combined in an ingredient called tocotrienols. Simply put, vitamin E in all of its forms works in several different ways to protect cell membranes from oxidative damage and to prevent collagen from being destroyed. It also works in powerful synergy with vitamin C. Vitamin E on an ingredient label can be tocopheryl acetate, tocopheryl linoleate, tocotrienols, alpha tocopherol, and tocopheryl succinate.

Sources: Dermatologic Therapy, September-October 2007, pages 314-321; International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, July-September 2005, pages 497-502; Experimental Dermatology, September 2005, pages 684-691; International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, July 2005, pages 116-119; Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, January-February 2005, pages 20-26; Journal of Investigative Dermatology, February 2005, pages 304-307; Photochemistry and Photobiology, April 1993, pages 613-615; and Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, January 2005, page 4.

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice product recommendations with various forms of vitamin E.

Niacinamide: Vitamin B at Its Best

What it does: Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is the active component of vitamin B3. When applied topically, niacinamide has been shown to increase ceramide and free fatty acid levels in skin, prevent skin from losing water content, and stimulate microcirculation in the dermis. It also has a growing reputation for being able to address skin discolorations (often in tandem with other proven skin-lightening agents such as vitamin C and glucosamine) and to reduce acne. It definitely belongs on the A-list of great skin-care ingredients regardless of your skin-care concern.

Sources: British Journal of Dermatology,October 2003, page 681, and September 2000, pages 524-531; Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, April 2004, page 88; Dermatologic Surgery, July 2005, pages 860-865; Experimental Dermatology, July 2005, pages 498-508; Journal of Radiation Research, December 2004, pages 491-495; and Journal of Dermatological Science, volume 31, 2003, pages 193-201.

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice recommendations with niacinamide.

Green and White Tea

What they do: Whether you drink green or white tea, both contain excellent antioxidants from the plant Camellia sinensis and both deserve your attention. There are four major antioxidant components of green and white tea, of which Epigallocatechin 3-gallate (EGCG) is the most abundant and biologically active. Green tea is found more commonly in cosmetics than white tea, but both work quite well to reduce inflammation, build collagen, and reduce cell damage by impeding the harmful effects of sun exposure. EGCG also is found in cosmetics and is probably a more potent stable way to get the antioxidant benefit on skin.

Sources: Histology and Histopathology, April 2008, pages 487-496; Journal of Medicinal Food, June 2007, pages 337-344; Photodermatology, Photoimmunology, and Photomedicine, February 2007, pages 48-56; Phytochemistry, September 2006, pages 1849-1855; and Journal of Dermatological Science, December 2005, pages 195-204.

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice recommendations with green and white tea.


What it does: Like any antioxidant, resveratrol has incredible protective benefit for skin. In nature it is found in foods such as grapes, nuts, fruits, and red wine. When applied topically, resveratrol protects against sun damage, improves collagen synthesis, and reduces cell damage. It is a stable, potent antioxidant worth finding in a skin-care product. In addition, studies have shown that resveratrol inhibits tumor development.

Sources: Anticancer Research, September-October 2004, pages 2783–2840; Medicinal Chemistry, November 2005, pages 629–633; Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, May 2005, pages 405–430; Antioxidant Redox Signal, December 2001, pages 1041–1064; and Mutation Research, Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis, September 2001, pages 171–180).

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice recommendations with resveratrol.

Grape Seed

What it does: Grape seed has been shown to be a potent antioxidant that significantly reduces free-radical damage. Combining it with other antioxidants greatly enhances its efficacy. It also has wound-healing properties. Regardless of the type of grape, it has antioxidant potential. For fighting wrinkles, it is one of the superstars.

Sources: Phytotherapy Research, September 23, pages 1197-1204; Carcinogenesis, June 2009, pages 1008-1015; Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, June 2001, pages 187–200; and Toxicology, August 2000, pages 187–197; and Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, April 2000, pages 1076–1080).

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice product recommendations with grape seed.


What they do: Curcuminoids are various compounds derived from the spice turmeric. Turmeric is the major ingredient in curry powder, a spice used to flavor many types of food. The curcuminoids are the major active constituents of turmeric. Curcumin is but one of these components, and is chemically known as diferuloylmethane. Curcumin has potent anti-inflammatory properties, both internally and externally (applied to skin). It also has activity against tumor formation. It is capable of causing cancerous cells to die while preserving healthy cells. The curcuminoids also have potent antioxidant ability and work to suppress excess melanin production in the presence of sunlight. Curcuminoids are considered safe for use on skin. They gain anti-aging superstar status due to their multiple benefits in addressing the underlying factors (chronic inflammation, irritation, sun damage) that cause skin to look older and become less able to repair itself.

Sources: Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods, September 2009, pages 447–460; Cell Biology and Toxicology, March 2009, Epublication; Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry, April 2008, pages 127–149; Food Chemistry and Toxicology, August 2002, pages 1091–1097; Planta Medica, December 2001, pages 876–877;Japanese Journal of Cancer Research, April 1998, pages 361–370; and

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice product recommendations with curcuminoids.

Soy Isoflavones/Extract (Genistein)

What they do: Soy and its components have an amazing amount of research showing them to be powerful antioxidants and beneficial for skin. Studies show that these derivatives inhibit environmental damage, reduce irritation, improve skin texture, build collagen, and fight sun damage. Genistein (a component of soy) benefits skin's elasticity, strengthens the skin's dermis, and prevents DNA damage. There is also research showing it improves the appearance of scars.

Sources: Journal of Medicinal Food, April 2009, pages 429-434; Burns, February 2009, pages 89-97; Carcinogenesis, August 2006, pages 1627-1635; Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, June 2005, pages 1049-1059; Skin Pharmacology and Applied Skin Physiology, May-June 2002, pages 175-183; Cosmetics & Toiletries, June 2002, pages 45-50; Photodermatology, Photoimmunology, & Photomedicine, April 2003, page 56; and Journal of Cosmetic Science, September-October 2004, pages 473-479).

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice product recommendations with various forms of soy.


What it does: Pomegranate and its extracts have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties that, while not conclusively demonstrated on human skin, show promise in animal and in vitro studies. Topical application of products containing pomegranate may improve the appearance of wrinkled skin by reducing inflammation and forestalling further damage. Research also shows that an extract from pomegranate peel has an inhibitory effect on the collagen-depleting substance MMP-1.

Sources: Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, June 2009, pages S5-S9; International Journal of Cancer, January 2005, pages 423-433; Journal of Medicinal Food, Fall 2003, 157-161; Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, January 2002, pages 81-86, and pages 166-171; International Journal of Oncology, May 2002, pages 983-986; and

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice product recommendations with pomegranate.


What they do: Ceramides make up about 20% of the skin's intercellular matrix, the "glue" that holds skin cells together, helping skin maintain its appearance and protecting it. When the skin's "matrix," also known as the skin's outer barrier, is impaired, whether from sun damage, a dry environment, or irritating skin-care products, ceramides decrease and leave the skin vulnerable. Replenishing the skin's ceramide content is a powerful way to protect skin and help it act and look younger.

Sources: Journal of Lipid Research, September 2007; International Journal of Pharmaceutics, January 2006, pages 232-238; Journal of Investigative Dermatology, November 2001, pages 1126-1136; and Experimental Dermatology, October 2005, pages 719-726.

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice product recommendations with various ceramides.

Linoleic / Linolenic Acids / Phospholipids

What they do: These fatty acids replenish the skin's intercellular matrix, preserving its appearance. In addition, all of them function as cell-communicating ingredients, working to "tell" the appropriate skin cells how to function in a healthier manner. They also help reduce inflammation, believed to be a key factor in how the skin ages.

Sources: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2007, pages 1225-1231; Archives of Dermatological Research, July 1998, pages 375-381; Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, March 1998, pages 56-58; Journal of Investigative Dermatology, May 1996, pages 1096-1101, and July 2001, pages 44-51; Seminars in Dermatology, June 1992, pages 169-175; and

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice product recommendations with linoleic/linolenic acids and/or phospholipids.

Hyaluronic Acid: Moisture Master

What it does: Hyaluronic acid, also included in skincare products in its salt form, sodium hyaluronate, is a natural structural component of skin that has an amazing ability to retain moisture; in fact, it's considered to have a greater capacity to hold moisture than any other natural or synthetic polymer. In addition to helping repair skin's barrier with its moisturizing properties, it also provides antioxidant defense against free radical damage and reduces inflammation.

Sources: International Journal of Toxicology, July/August 2009, Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 2012, and Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 2012.

Please see the list below for Paula's Choice product recommendations with hyaluronic acid.

The A-List: Recommended Products

AHA and BHA (Topical Exfoliants)




Vitamin C


Vitamin E




Sunscreen Actives for Normal to Oily Skin

Sunscreen Actives for Normal to Dry Skin

Sunscreen Actives for Sensitive Skin


Green/White Tea




Grape Seed




Soy Isoflavones/Extract






Linoleic/Linolenic Acids/Phospholipids


Hyaluronic Acid

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Anti-Aging Products.

Recommended Products For Anti-Aging

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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