The Science Behind Anti-Aging Skincare Products: What Really Works?

There's no turning back time! But, some skincare products can fight the clock to some extent. So, let's dive deeper into the science behind anti-aging skincare.

March 6, 2023 8 minutes read
Skin surface with droplets of anti-aging skincare product

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There's no magic bullet for reversing the aging process, and the effectiveness of anti-aging skincare products can vary greatly. That being said, there are some ingredients and techniques that have been proven effective in fighting and postponing fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging.

But how do they really work, and how to choose the right one for you?

To answer these questions, we need to first explain the five primary signs of aging, why they happen, and how to address them. Also, we're going to discuss the science behind anti-aging ingredients in skincare products and make it easier for you to pick the right ones for your specific issues in the future.

Understanding Aging: What Happens to Our Face and Skin?

Undoubtedly, there are so many anti-aging options out there, and one can easily find themselves overwhelmed, not knowing which option to go for. So, we hope to make it easier for you by breaking down the aging process and explaining what really happens to our skin and face as we age.

In essence, there are five main fundamentals of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles, loss of facial volume, loss of skin elasticity, changes in skin color, and changes in bone structure.

So, here's a short breakdown of each:

Fine Lines and Wrinkles

wrinkled skin

The human face has about 42 individual muscles. And whenever we're smiling, squinting, or doing any facial expression for that matter, these muscles move and form a furrow underneath the skin. Over time these facial movements develop fine lines and wrinkles because, as we age, the skin is less and less flexible and loses its ability to bounce back into place.

As a result, we're left with lines on our faces that could be more or less deep, making us look permanently worried, angry, or sad.

Loss of Face Volume

the breakdown of fat cells

Besides facial lines, our face also loses volume as we get older and wiser. This happens due to the loss of collagen, the main structural protein in our skin, as well as the loss of fat balance – for example, we lose fat in our cheeks and gain it in the lower areas of the face.

So, as the collagen starts to disintegrate, somewhen in our mid-20s, and as the fat distribution becomes unbalanced, our face changes its shape. So it essentially starts to drop, beginning around the periphery of the face, and going downwards, towards the area around the eyes and then the cheeks.

This is the main reason for marionette lines (deep creases that stretch from the corners of the mouth all the way down to the chin) as well as jowls (loose, sagging skin below the jawline).

Loss of Skin Elasticity

skin cells and saggy skin

As we age, our skin also loses elastin, another protein that gives our skin the ability to stretch and spring back into place after tugging or smiling, for example. So, less collagen and elastin equals thinner and less bouncy skin. Ultimately, the loss of elasticity will lead to more wrinkles and sagging.

Besides age, other factors will influence the loss of skin elasticity, such as genetics and sun damage.

Color Changes on the Skin

With age and due to the accumulated damage, our skin tone will become uneven, and there will be patches on the skin with changed color. Some of the most common issues related to skin color and aging are redness, sun spots, brown spots, and melasma.

penetrating sun rays through skin causing sun damage

These are to be differentiated from freckles because they usually occur as bigger, blotchy skin discolorations. An uneven skin tone with pronounced redness makes our skin look dull and tired.

Changes in Bone Structure

Another sign of aging that is most visible on the face is the change in the bone structure. The bones around our eyes, the so-called orbital rims, become broader and thinner. Also, the jawline recedes. And as the frame that held everything in place shrinks and thins, our skin also becomes looser and starts falling around the frame.

So, the bad and the good news. Skincare can't help with some of these signs of aging, like the loss of volume or the change in bone structure. However, some cosmetic procedures can be done to mitigate these, like Botox, fillers, laser treatments, or radio frequency therapy. The good news is you can treat, or even better, postpone fine lines, wrinkles, sagging, and uneven skin tone with proper anti-aging skincare products.

So stay tuned to find out more about skincare ingredients that fight, or postpone, signs of skin aging.

Anti-Aging Skincare Products: What Does the Science Say?

As we can see, one of the key causes of aging skin is the decline in collagen production, leading to the loss of skin firmness, wrinkles, and sagging skin. Another prominent cause of skin aging, which can lead to premature aging, wrinkles, and discoloration, is damaged skin due to pollutants, smoking, or sun exposure.

Luckily, there are many anti-aging skincare products that contain ingredients that boost collagen production and heal damaged skin, reducing fine lines and wrinkles and postponing skin sagging. Others can even out your skin tone and make your face more open, bright, and youthful.

Here are the most tried-and-tested skincare products and ingredients you can get over the counter or from your dermatologist that actually work:


a drop of retinoid cream in skin surface

Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives, and they have been shown to stimulate collagen production inside the skin and make wrinkles less prominent[source]. They can also even out the skin tone and reduce the appearance of age spots.

They prompt the skin to speed up cell turnover, hinder collagen breakdown, and support the thickening of the skin's deeper layers. So, basically, retinoids are a holy grail when it comes to anti-aging skincare as they have several functions and can target multiple skin issues at once.

There are several forms of retinoids, some of which are less potent and, therefore, less effective, like retinol, retinyl palmitate, and retinaldehyde. Other, more potent forms, like tretinoin, are only available with your doctor's prescription.


peptides interacting with skin cells

Peptides are smaller chains of amino acids that are thought to signal the skin to produce more collagen. When applied topically, for example in the form of serums, they interact with skin cells and trigger them to produce more collagen and elastin [source].

The two main forms of peptides in skincare products are tetrapeptides (containing four amino acids) and hexapeptides (with six amino acids). The former causes collagen to build inside the skin, boosting skin firmness and decreasing wrinkles and sagging. While the latter is effective in skin brightening, evening out the skin tone, and reducing blotchiness.


the action of antioxidant skincare on the skin

Antioxidants are another popular ingredient in anti-aging skincare products. These substances protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals, which are, essentially, unstable, aggressive molecules that can create damage on the cellular level and contribute to aging [source]. Antioxidants include vitamin C and E, as well as other compounds such as ferulic acid and green tea extract. These ingredients reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots and improve the skin's overall texture and tone.


sunscreen shielding the skin from sun rays

Sometimes, your best bet against skin aging is to protect your skin against environmental factors before you start noticing wrinkles. And one of the most harmful environmental influences is UV radiation from the sun, causing the so-called photoaging, which amounts to almost 80% of all visible signs of skin aging [source].

The most damaging UV rays are UVA rays because they can penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and break down collagen and elastin, leading to wrinkles, sagging skin, and hyperpigmentation. In addition, these can cause DNA mutations, again causing premature skin aging and, sometimes, skin cancer.

So, your No.1 anti-aging skincare product should be sunscreen. Sunscreen ingredients such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, and others act as physical or chemical blockers against UV rays, shielding the skin and preventing damage.


the action of AHAs on the skin surface

A group of ingredients that certainly deserves their spot on this list is AHAs or alpha hydroxy acids. In short, these are naturally occurring acids found in foods such as citrus fruits, dairy products, and sugar cane. When used in skincare products, AHAs act as exfoliants, stimulating cell turnover and helping shed dead skin cells from the surface layer of the skin, which paves the way for the new healthy cells from underneath.

They are used to improve the appearance of sun-damaged, aging skin. They can smooth the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve the overall skin texture and tone, strengthen skin elasticity, and remove dark spots and acne scars [source].

Common AHAs include glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, mandelic acid, and malic acid, to name a few.


ceramides drops interacting with skin cells

Ceramides are lipids (or fats) that our skin naturally contains. They play an important role in maintaining the skin's barrier function, retaining moisture and protecting the skin from external aggressors such as harmful sun rays and pollution.

As we age, the skin's natural ceramide levels can decline, leading to dryness, wrinkles, and a weakened barrier. This can make the skin more susceptible to damage and inflammation, contributing to the visible signs of aging.

Topical skincare products containing ceramides can replenish the skin's ceramide levels, strengthening the barrier function. This, in turn, improves the skin's overall hydration levels, reducing fine lines and wrinkles and giving the skin a more youthful and plump appearance. Additionally, ceramides can help with irritated, sensitive, or eczema-prone skin.


humectants drawing water drops into the skin

And lastly, hydration is essential for maintaining youthful-looking skin for multiple reasons:

Overall, drinking enough water and using skincare products that contain humectants will help support skin hydration. Humectants are skincare ingredients that attract and retain moisture in the skin. They work by drawing water from the air or deeper layers of the skin and binding it to the skin's surface. This improves the skin's hydration levels and keeps it feeling soft, smooth, and plump.

Common examples of humectants include glycerin, propylene glycol, sorbitol, urea, and hyaluronic acid [source]. However, it's important to note that, when used alone and in high concentrations, humectants, especially sodium hyaluronate, can draw more moisture from the deeper skin layers than the environment, which can lead to dryness. So it's recommended to use them on damp skin and together with occlusive, emollient, and moisturizing ingredients that can seal in that moisture.

Other Anti-Aging Tips

In addition to using anti-aging skincare products, there are other things you can do to slow the aging process and maintain healthy, youthful-looking skin. These include:

It's also vital to keep in mind that while certain skincare products can help improve the appearance of your skin, they won't be able to completely reverse the aging process. A healthy lifestyle and good skincare routine can help you look your best at any age, but it's also important to embrace your natural aging process and be comfortable in your own skin.


In sum, anti-aging skincare products can effectively reduce wrinkles and other signs of aging. By boosting collagen production, protecting the skin from sun damage, and keeping it hydrated, these products can improve the overall appearance and health of the skin.

However, it's vital to select products that are appropriate for your skin type and to use them as directed. It's also important to note that some products take a longer time to show the visible result, so be patient and consistent with using anti-aging skincare to see the best outcome.


What are scientifically proven anti-aging products?

Science says that anti-aging products containing ingredients such as retinoids, AHAs, ceramides, peptides, and antioxidants effectively reduce skin signs of aging and improve its overall health. In addition, prevention is the key, so using sunscreen daily should be an essential part of your anti-aging routine.

How do anti-aging products work?

It depends on the active ingredients they contain. So, for example, antioxidants prevent free radicals damage; retinoids smoothen wrinkles and thicken the skin; AHAs increase skin cell turnover; ceramides strengthen the skin's natural barrier; and peptides boost collagen production.

Do anti-aging creams actually work?

Yes, there are many anti-aging creams on the market that actually help with skin aging. They usually contain actives, such as retinol, ceramides, peptides, exfoliating acids (like glycolic acid), and the like. However, their effectiveness varies from person to person, and they take time and consistency to work.

What is the main ingredient in anti-aging serum?

You can include serums with antioxidants into your anti-aging skincare routine, like vitamin C, for example. This will protect your skin from further damage caused by free radicals. Or you could opt for serums containing retinoids, like retinol or retinaldehyde, to lessen the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

Is hyaluronic acid anti-aging?

Yes, hyaluronic acid is a humectant, keeping the skin well-hydrated and plump. And when the skin's hydration levels are on point, it will be better able to protect itself from damaging environmental factors, like pollution or the sun. Also, the skin will be more bouncy and less prone to wrinkling.

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