I feel like there's a new skincare product coming out every day. I don't really know what to pick because I don't understand how new ingredients work. What is effective and what's not?
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the different products that keep getting touted as the new and advanced versions of hope in a jar at the cosmetics counter. Pretty packaging and effective advertising may convince you that these new ingredients and science-heavy labels are the real thing. Words such as "cosmeceutical" and "bio-energetics" can create the implication that these cosmetics can work as drugs, altering and improving the structure of our skin.
Unfortunately, advertising simply masks the fact that our options for better skin are limited to just a few tried-and-true ingredients and procedures.
As a rule, the FDA's Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act defines a cosmetic as a product intended for use in "cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance" while a drug aims to "affect the structure or any function of the body of man." While it's possible for a product to act as both a cosmetic and a drug (e.g., lotions with SPF), the FDA does not recognize the word "cosmeceutical" in any of its definitions and the only ingredients in a strictly cosmetic, over-the-counter product that require FDA approval are color additives.
Bottom line: Most of those new-fangled ingredients in skin creams and moisturizers are not able to penetrate to the molecular level to change the structure or function of your skin. There is, however, one well-known exception. Retinol, better known by prescription brand names such as Retin-A, Tazorac, Renova, does affect skin structure and function by helping to create new collagen at the molecular level.
In addition to the topical benefits of retinol, the other two elements that can create positive structural and functional change to your skin are carbon dioxide laser resurfacing and hyaluronic acid injections. According to the Archives of Dermatology, a monthly journal published by the American Medical Association, the common thread running through all three of these clinically proven skin enhancers is their ability to increase new collagen production.
While retinol is fairly easy to incorporate into your daily beauty regimen, carbon dioxide laser resurfacing and hyaluronic acid injections require a trip to the dermatologist's office as well as a bit of recovery time. In the case of hyaluronic acid injections, they are not interchangeable with over-the-counter products that feature hyaluronic acid in topical formulas. If these doctor's office procedures are not feasible for you, stick with retinol.
Retinol is effective in concentrations of 0.2 to 0.6 percent and you can ask your doctor for a formula that is appropriate for your skin type. Those with oily skin can use a gel-based formula while those with dry skin can use a cream formula at a lower concentration. Always remember that, while retinol will improve the appearance of skin and smooth fine lines, it also makes your skin more sensitive to the effects of ultraviolet light. In order to preserve your smoother skin, wear sunscreen every day.