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The 10 ultimate anti-ageing ingredients that really get results

Healthy living 27/04/2015
© Getty Take a few years off your appearance and get your glow back with these scientifically-proven youth-enhancers

You probably roll your eyes thinking, “yeah, right,” whenever you hear about the latest 'wonder' ingredient. Whether it's bee venom, snail slime or some other dubious hyped-up and mega-pricey chemical or concoction, being sceptical about what you put on your skin and not falling for the marketing spiel is a smart move. But superstar ingredients do exist. Proven by science, these age-defying marvels are pretty much guaranteed to improve the condition of your complexion and make you look younger. Of course, applying potions and lotions won't turn back the clock and transform your skin as dramatically as procedures like laser skin-resurfacing, Botox or dermal fillers, but the right formulations can make a noticeable difference.

Before we reveal the 10 real-deal anti-ageing ingredients, it's worth remembering these three important tips when you're shopping around for products.

Suss out the list

Know how to decipher a list of ingredients. The higher up on the list an ingredient appears, the stronger its concentration, so make a point of noting where the active is placed. If it's languishing down the bottom, it may not be as potent and effective. You may find it time-consuming but it's a good idea to look up the ingredients of products you're interested in when you're at home or out shopping on an app like the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Beware of common irritants like alcohol, sodium lauryl sulfate and artificial fragrance high up on the list of ingredients. These nasties won't do your skin any favours and are best-avoided, even if they feature alongside decent anti-ageing actives.

Forget about the price-tag

When it comes to effective anti-ageing ingredients, never assume that a high-end product will always be better than a cheapy you've grabbed at the local pound shop. “We've seen lots of expensive products that are little more than water and wax, and inexpensive products that are beautifully formulated,” says world-renowned skincare ingredients guru Paula Begoun. “Spending less doesn't hurt your skin, and spending more doesn't help it. Again, it's all about the formulation, not the price.”

Know your packaging

Air and light break down and oxidise skincare ingredients, making them less effective, so only opt for products in opaque, air-tight containers. Think tubes or tinted glass bottles with a pump lid. Jars or tubs are a big no-no. They don't just expose the product to air and light, they're unhygienic, too. Storage is also key. The fridge is ideal, but if you can't be asked to keep having to pop into the kitchen whenever you need your products, a bedroom drawer is the next best thing.

If you really want to look more youthful without resorting to the needle, laser or scalpel, here are the 10 skincare ingredients that should do the job:

© SkinCeuticals Protect Ultra Facial Defense SPF 50 Zinc oxide

Why it's so amazing:  the sun is responsible for a whopping 90% of premature skin ageing, so wearing a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen when you're out and about is essential. “The most important thing you can do for your skin is to wear a sunblock,” says Dr Bav Shergill, a consultant dermatologist at Brighton General Hospital. And the only ingredient that protects the skin against 100% of damaging UVA and UVB rays is zinc oxide, a physical sunblock. It sits on the skin and reflects light, rather than chemical sunscreens like avobenzone, which absorb the sun's rays instead. Ideal for sensitive skin types, zinc oxide is better-tolerated and less irritating than the chemical alternatives.

The hard evidence: an Australian study published in 2013, which involved 900 participants over a four-year period, found that the sunscreen users were 24% less likely to show increased signs of ageing.

Wonder products with zinc oxide: Zinka SPF 30 Clear Zinc Oxide All Natural Sunscreen (28g, £7.99), SkinCeuticals Protect Ultra Facial Defense SPF 50 (30ml, £31)


Why it's so amazing: “The first-line treatment for anti-ageing and spots is a topical vitamin A derivative, over-the-counter retinol,” says top Harley Street skin care specialist Dr Sam Bunting. Retinol works by speeding up cell turnover and boosting collagen production. Though it's been around since the 1930s, it's only recently become available in stabilised form and dermatologists as well as beauty experts are gushing about the new formulas. As a precaution, if you're pregnant, retinol is best-avoided. There's no conclusive evidence that topical retinol is harmful to an unborn child, but doctors err on the side of caution and advise against using it.

The hard evidence: one of the most researched and proven anti-ageing ingredients, several thousand peer-reviewed studies show that topical Vitamin A stimulates collagen production and increases turnover of skin cells.

Wonder products with retinol: Indeed Labs Retinol Reface Retinol Skin Resurfacer (30ml, £19.99), Murad Time Release Retinol Concentrate for Deep Wrinkles (15ml, £65)

© Ole Henriksen Truth Serum Collagen Booster Vitamin C

Why it's so amazing: topical vitamin C is a bona fide anti-ageing marvel. A potent antioxidant, it reverses sun damage, boosts collagen production to plump the complexion and protects the skin against free radicals. “It's the best antioxidant in my opinion,” says Dr Bunting, “but it must be properly stabilised and stored, as it's easily degraded by light.” The L-ascorbic acid form of the vitamin in a serum at a concentration of between 10% and 20% is most effective, but L-ascorbic acid is prone to oxidisation in light, so unless you fancy mixng your own DIY serum, it's best to look for serums that contain more stable forms of vitamin C such as ascorbyl palmitate or sodium ascorbyl phosphate.

The hard evidence: a 2002 American study reported that a formulation of 10% vitamin C effectively stimulated collagen production when applied daily for 12 weeks, resulting in a clinically visible improvement in wrinkling.

Wonder products with vitamin C: Oz Naturals Vitamin C 20% Serum (30ml, £15.95), Ole Henriksen Truth Serum Collagen Booster (30ml. £47)

Glycolic acid

Why it's so amazing: glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) naturally found in sugar cane. AHAs make for the best exfoliators. The acids remove the outer layer of dead skin cells, smoothing the surface of the skin and improving radiance. They also stimulate collagen and elastin production to minimise fine lines and blemishes. Glycolic acid boasts the smallest molecules of any AHA and absorbs into the skin most effectively, so it should be your go-to. Plus, it works well on sensitive and dry skin types. For optimal results, look for products that contain between a 5% and 15% concentration.

The hard evidence: a slew of independent and peer-reviewed research has shown that AHAs break down dead skin cells, while several studies have suggested that they also increase collagen and elastin production.

Wonder products with glycolic acid: 12% Alpha Hydroxy Souffle (45ml, £14.19), Alpha-H Micro Cleanse With 12% Glycolic Acid (100ml, £26.50)

© Eve Lom Sodium hyaluronate

Why it's so amazing: humectants, which include glycerin, lecithin and propylene glycol, draw water into the epidermis, plumping the outer layer of the skin and reducing the appearance of fine lines and other flaws. Hyaluronic acid, found naturally in skin cells, is the ultimate humectant. “What makes the hyaluronic acid molecule unique is that it can hold 1,000 times its own weight in water,” says Dr Stefanie Williams, medical director at European Dermatology London. Sodium hyaluronate, the sodium salt form of the acid, has a smaller molecule size, so it penetrates the skin better. Look for this form on ingredients labels if you're keen on getting the best results.

The hard evidence: a number of studies published in respected American scientific journals indicate that hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate applied topically increase skin's moisture content and possess cell-communicating properties, signalling the skin cells to repair damage.

Wonder products with sodium hyaluronate: Dr. LeWinn’s Line Smoothing Complex S8 Super Hydrator (30ml, £20), Eve Lom Intense Hydration Serum (30ml, £75)


Why they're so amazing: ceramides are lipids (fats), which along with cholesterol and free fatty acids are a major component of cells in the outer layer of the skin. They help form the skin's protective barrier, locking in moisture and protecting against environmental damage. As we age, our skin's ceramide content decreases. Applying synthetic or plant-derived ceramides mimics the naturally occurring lipids and stops the barrier breaking down, leaving wrinkles looking less pronounced and bolstering the skin's protection. There are nine types of ceramides ranging from ceramide AP to phytosphingosine, so be aware of this when you're checking labels.

The hard evidence: a 2002 Belgian study reported that ceramides applied on the skin can improve barrier repair after damage, and several Japanese studies have showed that ceramides increase moisture levels in the epidermis.

Wonder products with ceramides: CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM (90ml, £11.88), Elizabeth Arden Flawless Future Caplet Serum Powered by Ceramide (30ml, £48)

© Olay Regenerist 3 Point Super Serum Matrixyl

Why it's so amazing: Matrixyl or the rather less catchy palmitoyl-pentapeptide-4 to give it its scientific name, is a peptide that stimulates collagen production in the skin. Peptides are protein fragments that 'tell' the skin to produce collagen. Applying peptides to the skin surface can trick the skin into producing more, effectively slowing down the ageing process. Matrixyl is the only peptide that is proven in a peer-reviewed scientific study, so that's the one to look out for.

The hard evidence: a 2013 study conducted by Professor Ian Hamley and his team at Reading University found that Matrixyl doubled levels of collagen in the skin. “Studies like this  are very important for the consumer,” says Professor Hamley, “as cosmetic companies rarely publish their work.”

Wonder products with Matrixyl: L'Oreal Collagen Filler (30ml, £10), Olay Regenerist 3 Point Super Serum (50ml, £29.99)


Why it's so amazing: this component of vitamin B3 has found its way into a wide range of beauty products and for very good reason. Niacinamide benefits the skin in numerous ways. It enhances collagen and elastin production, it acts as an anti-inflammatory, calming problem skin, and it helps fade hyperpigmentation to even out skin tone. “Niacinamide is good at interrupting the formation of dark spots in the deeper layers of the skin,” says Dr Nick Lowe, dermatologist at London’s Cranley Clinic.

The hard evidence: proper peer-reviewed scientific studies – not those funded by the cosmetic companies – have found that niacinamide stimulates collagen, minimising the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation spots, texture, and red blotches.

Wonder products with niacinamide: Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula Eventone Body Milk (250ml, £5.89), Clinique Super Rescue Antioxidant Night Moisturizer (100ml, £40)

© Malin + Goetz Vitamin E Face Moisturizer D-alpha-tocopherol

Why it's so amazing: as you've probably realised by now, vitamins make for potent anti-ageing ingredients, and vitamin E is no exception. But it's the D-alpha-tocopherol form of the vitamin that is most useful. D-alpha-tocopherol can work wonders perking up the complexion. It has skin-calming anti-inflammatory properties and helps the epidermis retain moisture, minimising  the appearance of wrinkles and smoothing away blemishes. And if that isn't enough to get you reaching for a D-alpha-tocopherol-packed product, this form of vitamin E repairs and protects against UV damage, particularly when combined with vitamin C.

The hard evidence: study after study has shown that vitamin E, especially when it's in the form of D-alpha-tocopherol has anti-inflammatory, moisturising and UV protective properties that benefit the skin and fight the signs of ageing.

Wonder products with D-alpha-tocopherol: Health Aid Vitamin E Cream (75ml, £5.99),  Malin + Goetz Vitamin E Face Moisturizer (118ml, £37)


Why it's so amazing: resveratrol is an antioxidant found in red grapes with powerful free radical and sun damage-fighting properties. It works in both protective and rejuvenating ways by blocking dangerous UV light and protecting against free radicals, as well as stimulating collagen production and acting as an anti-inflammatory to promote wound healing. Like many antioxidants, resveratrol is also beneficial taken in supplement form, and a portion of grapes or a cheeky glass of red wine will up your levels and help ward off the signs of ageing, too.

The hard evidence: several studies have noted that resveratrol protects the skin against oxidative stress and UV radiation, and helps repair free radical and sun damage.

Wonder products with resveratrol: MooGoo Anti-Ageing Cream With Resveratrol (75g, £23.90),  Caudalie Broad Spectrum SPF15 Radiance Day Fluid (40ml, £39)

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