Anti-Ageing: The Ingredients - What Actually Works?

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Anti-ageing is one of the most popular areas of skin care, with thousands of products claiming to contain the “essence of youth”, but how can you identify the real miracle products to the ones that just smell nice? Whilst nothing short of surgery can erase profound wrinkles, there are some ingredients out there which can alter the appearance of aged skin, you just need to know what you’re looking for. To help you form a strategy on your next skin care shopping spree, we’ve researched the best anti-ageing ingredients so you can have faith that what you’re buying is the real deal.


AHA (not the Alan Patridge quote) stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid and is used in cosmetics as an exfoliant and is commonly listed in ingredients as Glycolic or Lactic Acid. In concentrations greater than 4% AHAs have been used to treat sun damaged skin. Skin damaged by the sun is often thinner than it should be and thin skin is more prone to developing fine lines and wrinkles (ever seen an elderly lady tanning on a beach? They’re probably younger than you think…) but the use of AHA can correct the thickness of skin damaged by the sun, leading to a more youthful complexion with fewer fine lines.

AHAs can also reverse keratinization, a problem caused by sun damage where dead skin cells get trapped in hair follicles and sebaceous glands resulting in bumps on the skin and even acne. Whilst AHA, in the right strengths, has been proven to yield positive anti-ageing effects, it is important to note that it is unlikely to be effective in wash-off products as it will not have sufficient contact with the skin to work. One of my favourite anti-ageing treatments which uses AHA is the Priori Advanced AHA Soothing Complex £54.50 which gently smooths and soothes skin for a younger looking complexion.

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Retinol is another name for vitamin A, which is an antioxidant which can interrupt damage being caused to skin by free radicals, reducing wrinkling and increasing collagen production which both result in younger looking skin. Retinol is also effective in dealing with acne, eczema and discolouration and can also reduce the size of pores which are enlarged due to trapped dirt. You can spot Retinol listed in the ingredients section as retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate and retinyl aldehyde/retinaldehyde.

If it is your first time using a vitamin A skin product, it can initially cause some mild irritation including redness and flaking and if these symptoms continue then it is best to stop using Retinol. If you have sensitive skin it may help to initially try adding some of the Retinol product into your usual moisturiser to slowly introduce vitamin A into your skin care routine. Vitamin A breaks down easily when repeatedly exposed to light or air, so it’s best to buy products that are packed in a way which reduces or blocks exposure to air (no jars!).

It’s important to remember that your skin requires many things, so it’s unlikely any one product will be 100% effective. Retinol has been found in studies to work best to treat aged and sun damaged skin when used in conjunction with products containing AHA, so make sure you’re smart when pairing the products you use. One great product on the market for those with sensitive skin is this Retinol Correxion Sensitive Eye Cream from ROC £22.82 which uses a weaker dose of retinol.

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Vitamin C

Vitamin C can play an important role in protecting skin from free radicals which is a leading cause of premature ageing in the skin. Free radical damage can come from environmental factors such as the sun, pollution and even oxygen and by giving you protection from the sun vitamin C can also reduce visibility and prevent formation of dark spots (or “age spots”) on the skin. Vitamin C can also improve the skin’s ability to heal, reducing formation of scar tissue and boosting collagen production which gives skin a more youthful appearance.

There are many forms of vitamin C but the most researched of these is Ascorbic Acid which, according to The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, when used in concentrations exceeding 15% has powerful effects on aged and damaged skin, especially if used in conjunction with other antioxidant ingredients. One professional product which harnesses the power of vitamin C on stubborn wrinkles, spots and dark marks is this Resist Anti-Ageing Vitamin C Spot Treatment £48.00 which fades brown spots, smooths fine lines and firms skin.

Other effective forms of vitamin C to look out for (you might want to write these down) are sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate, retinyl ascorbate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. These are all derivatives of vitamin C but they have not been as thoroughly researched as ascorbic acid, the research that has been carried out however has been positive regarding protection from free radical damage and repair. Again it is important to note that all antioxidant products, including vitamin C, are vulnerable to destabilizing in the presence of air so it’s important to choose products that are protected from air exposure.

When searching for effective anti-ageing treatments it can be easy to get fobbed off by expensive moisturisers which pose no benefits in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. To make sure you're getting the best possible quality for your money make a note of these ingredients the next time you go beauty shopping for a new, professional standard anti-ageing product.

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