In the world of beauty products, there’s perhaps no category more saturated than the anti-aging market. Serums and eye creams and lotions galore promise to do everything from smooth fine lines to fade dark spots to restore our youthful glow of years past. And sometimes those promises are more, shall we say, unrealistic hopes rather than truly possible achievements. So who better to help weed through all the youth-boosting lotions and potions out there than dermatologists? After all, they have access to anything and everything, and know first-hand what does and doesn’t work.
That’s why we decided to ask top derms to share the anti-aging products they actually use on themselves. As in, the stuff that’s in their medicine cabinets and is going on their skin daily. While the picks were varied—don’t worry, we’ll get to those—the overarching theme was that it’s best to take a three-pronged anti-aging approach. One, prevention products—that means sunscreen, of course, plus antioxidants such as vitamin C and E to ward off signs of aging in the first place. Two, hydration, a mainstay of any skincare routine, but particularly important for anti-aging purposes. And finally, treatment, where you bring in anti-aging workhorse ingredients; retinoids, growth factors, and peptides repeatedly came up when we spoke with these skincare experts.
So without further ado, check out the best anti-aging products that dermatologists rely on, the ones you can feel confident will actually deliver on their promises.
Chicago-based celebrity dermatologist Dr. Jordan Carqueville lauds this zinc oxide-based blocker not only for its sun protection abilities but because it also has added benefits. Namely, antioxidant-rich vitamin E and DNA repair phytase enzymes to help undo the damage UV rays have on skin cells’ DNA. She gives it added bonus points for the weightless feel that’s nearly undetectable on the skin.
“I use this hyaluronic acid serum under my moisturizer to enhance water retention at the skin’s surface throughout the day,” says Dr. Carqueville. The other upshot? It makes for smooth makeup application, keeps your complexion looking fresh, and helps minimize the look of fine lines, she says.
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally-occurring molecule found in the skin and body. It’s a humectant, meaning it has an incredible ability to both attract moisture and hold it in the skin. In fact, hyaluronic acid can retain up to 1000 times its own weight in water.
Dr. Carqueville describes this formula as, “light, yet very hydrating,” and says she uses it to keep her skin dewy. It’s especially choice for those with normal to oily skin, given that it touts botanical extracts to reduce the look of large pores.
Antioxidants were universally-recommended as topnotch topical ingredients by the derms we spoke with; look for them in serums to get the most bang for your buck (they’re more concentrated than creams or lotions). Dr. Carqueville likes this one in particular, which touts a whopping 19 different antioxidants to help counteract the damage caused by free radicals.
Dermatologists agree that retinol smooths fine lines and wrinkles, but it’s important to find one that’s the right strength for your skin. This hydrating serum uses 2.2% encapsulated retinol to deliver effective anti-aging results without experiencing the irritation caused by many other retinol products. It also contains lactic acid, which helps brighten and smooth skin, so you can get both long term and immediate results.
Scottsdale-based dermatologist Dr. Jen Haley applies this to her face, neck, chest, and back of her hands every morning. (Take a page out of her book and keep in mind that sun protection is paramount for all these exposed areas of your body, and not just your complexion). With mineral-based blockers, it’s ideal for sensitive or easily irritated skin and has the added benefit of a subtle tint that makes it especially ideal for no-makeup makeup days.
Dr. Haley reaches for this serum nightly; it contains a long list of proven anti-aging ingredients. “Kojic acid brightens and lightens, niacinamide reduces inflammation, and retinol encourages cell renewal and collagen formation,” she says.
The alpha-hydroxy acids in this formula remove dirt and dead skin cells, unclogging pores so that skin can be blemish-free, says Dr. Haley of one of her go-to face washes. The other benefit? It also helps skin maximally absorb active ingredients in the products you use afterward, she points out.
Dr. Haley applies this after her fave antioxidant serum every morning, post-cleansing. “Along with delivering some additional vitamin C, it also has exfoliating glycolic acid to gently remove adherent unnecessary dead skin cells,” she says.
Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from sugar cane. As a chemical exfoliator, it helps shed dead skin cells on the surface to reveal brighter, more even-looking skin.
It’s easy to deliver big anti-aging promises, but this highly active serum is clinically proven to improve the delicate skin around the eyes. It’s quite the splurge, but within 28 days of use, natural oils and botanical extracts visibly help to reduce bags and puffiness, and increase firmness.
Dermatologists are just like the rest of us, in that they too have to battle dark undereye circles after a late night or early morning. To do just that, Dr. Haley reaches for this “very elegant formulation” that simultaneously brightens dark circles and hydrates—both right away and over time.
“As we age, there’s a breakdown in both collagen and elastic fibers in the skin, causing thinning, wrinkling, and laxity. Alastin products contain peptides, small protein chains, that stimulate both,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr. Daniel Belkin. He likes this pick, which also touts both moisturizers and antioxidants, though notes there’s also a simpler version, the Regenerating Skin Nectar, for those who might be prone to acne or irritation.
Of all the antioxidant serums out there, this is arguably the tried-and-true derm favorite, and Dr. Belkin agrees. “It has both vitamin C and E, which the body cannot produce on its own, and ferulic acid, an antioxidant that improves the efficacy of the other two,” he says of the formula.
Dr. Haley is a fan, too, applauding the trifecta of specific antioxidants, and telling us that she uses it daily. “These antioxidants help reverse and prevent DNA damage caused by the environment, aging, and sun exposure,” says Dr. Belkin, a win both for the appearance and health of your skin.
The star of the show here? Growth factors to stimulate tissue regeneration. It’s one of Dr. Belkin’s picks due to the impressive, proven efficacy: “SkinMedica’s studies show a reduction in fine lines and improvement in tone and texture after a couple of months of regular use.” He likes this particular product, though notes that the TNS Essential Serum also contains the growth factors and contains antioxidants as well, a good pick for anyone looking to minimize the number of products in their routine.
Dr. Haley also likes the serum, calling the growth factors the brand uses, “the highest quality ones on the market,” and notes that it can be used both morning and night.
There’s no easier way to get a dermatologist’s backing on a product than to use a dermatologist formulated product. This concentrated yet non-irritating retinol serum combined with Dr. Rose Ingleton’s signature Jamaican blend targets fine lines and wrinkles for smoother, younger looking skin.
Ask any dermatologist what the single most effective anti-aging ingredient out there is and we’re willing to bet they’ll say retinoids. These vitamin-A derivatives have a long track record of proven efficacy, working both on the surface of the skin to help with things such as tone and texture, as well as deeper in the skin to boost collagen production and smooth wrinkles. Dr. Belkin likes this particular retinol serum, thanks to the addition of, “hyaluronic acid and a similar molecule called heparan sulfate, which moisturizes and prevents irritation from the retinol,” he says.
Glycolic acid is one of Dr. Belkin’s favorite anti-agers: “Though this is generally used for exfoliation of the top layer of the skin, it is the only peeling agent that has been shown to create new collagen formation deeper in the dermis,” he says. He likes it in this inexpensive toner that can be used nightly.
Wouldn’t you know it, another antioxidant serum. “I use this serum every morning after cleansing as it contains a synergistic combination of vitamin C, phloretin, and ferulic acid. It combats environmental and UV damage resulting in more even tone, texture and a reduction of fine lines,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr. Marnie Nussbaum.
The thin skin around your eyes is the most susceptible to signs of aging, making a dedicated eye cream an anti-aging essential. Dr. Nussbaum says she “could not live without” this multi-tasking option, which she applies twice daily. “It contains neuro-calming peptides to relax crow’s feet, vitamin C which provides antioxidants and skin brightening effects, caffeine to depuff, and humectants for intense hydration,” she tells us.
This dermatologist-created night treatment enhances skin’s clarity and diminishes fine lines while you sleep. Retinol smooths wrinkles while licorice extract fades dark marks, and linoleic acid provides calming benefits. The results? Skin that is brighter and smoother.
There’s no need to shell out big bucks on a moisturizer, particularly one that’s fairly simple. “I have long been using this moisturizer to increase hydration without causing acne. It contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide which hydrates and minimizes redness. I can titrate my use up to three times a day and down to once a day depending upon the season without worrying about breaking out,” says Dr. Nussbaum.
We can preach the benefits of sunscreen until we’re blue in the face, but we’ll let you hear it straight from the pro: “A broad-spectrum SPF is essential to prevent fine lines, wrinkles and of course skin cancer,” says Dr. Nussbaum, who raves about this guy. “It contains transparent zinc oxide, which is extremely effective at blocking rays but also gentle enough for sensitive skin. Plus it’s oil-free and won’t cause breakouts,” she explains. And speaking of sensitive skin, it also has niacinamide to calm any redness and inflammation.
What Our Testers Say
“This is easily the most non-irritating, absorbent, and low-maintenance facial sunscreen I’ve come across; it’s essentially a nice mid-range moisturizer that happens to have SPF 46.” — Kelsey Clark, Product Tester
What to Look for in an Anti-Aging Product
An antioxidant powerhouse, vitamin C is directly involved with collagen production in the body. Vitamin C is beneficial in anti-aging products for several reasons: It protects skin from environmental stressors, promotes the production of collagen, and can fade dark spots, which contribute to the appearance of aging skin. Products containing vitamin C can irritate very sensitive skin, so be sure to start out using a low concentration if your skin is reactive.
Vitamin E is also commonly used in sunscreen to enhance SPF protection–that’s important considering how much the sun ages our skin. Vitamin E is particularly beneficial when combined with vitamin C. Celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau says that “When vitamin E is combined with vitamin C and used under sunscreen, it can provide four times the protection of sunscreen alone.”
Retinoids are a category of ingredients, and retinol products for lines and wrinkles are available over the counter. Retinol functions as an antioxidant that regulates oil production, boosts the production of collagen, and helps increase the speed of cell turnover. Rouleau tells Byrdie that “Using a well-formulated and stable product with retinol will visibly reduce the appearance of sun damage, brown spots, lines, wrinkles, and large pores. It can stimulate the metabolism of skin cells and encourage collagen production.”
Even though hyaluronic acid doesn’t exactly turn back the clock, it is a powerful moisturizer that can hydrate skin and in turn help smooth the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It absorbs quickly and can make skin look plump and hydrated. It’s a key ingredient used in fillers, the dermal injectable used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Once you’ve hit adulthood, it’s really never too early to begin with anti-aging skincare. It’s recommended for anyone in their twenties or older, and the sooner you start, the more on track you’ll be to stave off wrinkles. At a younger age, you can focus more on moisturizing properly and keeping out of the sun, versus using ingredients designed to minimize fine lines, since you likely won’t have many yet.
The best thing you can do to keep your skin looking glowing and healthy is tomoisturize your face morning and night. Beyond that, using a sunscreen is also key. Ideally you should apply sunscreen every day, even if you don’t plan on going out in the sun for a long period of time. Dermatologist Diane Madfes, MD, FAAD tells Byrdie that “we are exposed to ultraviolet and infrared light every day that produces free radicals in our skin. These free radicals inhibit collagen production and decrease our elastin. This leads to premature aging, wrinkling, brown spots, and sagging.”
Vitamin E is an antioxidant and a great choice to counteract the effects of aging. You’ll often find it included in hydrating serums and lotions.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. While she is not a dermatologist, it just so happens that many of the derms’ favorite anti-agers on this list are some of her top picks, too.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Jordan Carqueville is a celebrity dermatologist in Chicago. With a specialty in cosmetic dermatology, she’s an expert in the assessment and treatment of the aging face. From gentle exfoliators to microdermabrasion and micro-needling—Dr. Carqueville’s clients look to her for individualized care that will keep their skin looking fresh and feeling healthy.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Jen Haley is a dermatologist in Scottsdale, AZ. With a holistic approach to skincare, she believes that you don’t need a gimmick or complicated routine to attain beautiful skin, just good information and a commitment to making simple changes that will have dramatic long-term benefits.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Daniel Belkin is a dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York, and a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University. He is fellowship-trained in cosmetic dermatology, laser surgery, and Mohs micrographic surgery.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Marnie Nussbaum is a New York City dermatologist specializing in non-invasive aesthetic rejuvenation. With expertise and passion in anti-aging correction and prevention, her goal is not only to correct any signs of aging but to reset your skin’s course to evolve as naturally, gracefully and youthfully as possible.