4 antiaging ingredients that don't work

In a skincare world where every product promises to turn the clock back 20 years, have you ever wondered what anti-aging ingredients DON’T work? I started asking myself this question the day I saw my first crow’s feet.

I was in my bathroom, washing my face as usual. I glanced nonchalantly at the mirror and froze. What the heck were those fine lines around my eyes?! Surely, they couldn’t have been wrinkles? I was still in my late 20s, way too early for even the tiniest of fine lines. Or so I thought. Because wrinkles don’t wait for an invitation before showing up on your face.

And so it started. My quest to destroy those pesky wrinkles and get my smooth skin back. It took me on some dark paths where I met witches and charlatans that sold me anti-aging potions that promised miracles but didn’t even make the tiniest dent in my wrinkles.

It wasn’t until science shone a light on my path that I really discovered the 5 anti-aging superstars that really deliver. But that’s a story for another time.

Today, I want to warn you about the anti-aging ingredients that DON’T work. The ones that claim to do wonders for your skin but they just make you poorer. The charlatans that sold them to you laugh all the way to the bank while you’re wondering if you’re using them wrong.

Those days are over. Before investing even one more cent in another anti-aging potion, check out this short guide on anti-aging ingredients that don’t work. It’ll save you both money and heartache.

How Does Skin Age?

This is a complicated process, but I’ll try to explain it as simply as I possibly can. There are two main causes of aging: intrinsic aging and extrinsic aging.

Intrinsic aging is a fancy way of saying natural aging. When you’re young, your skin produces all the collagen, elastin, and antioxidants it needs to stay naturally young and healthy. It also exfoliates itself on its own, giving your complexion a youthful glow. But, as you start to grow older, these processes slow down. Your skin takes longer to exfoliate, it produces less collagen… You get the drill.

Extrinsic aging is the premature aging caused by external factors, including unprotected sun exposure, an unhealthy diet, pollution, smoking… all the usual suspects. Each one of them generates free radicals in your body. Free radicals hunt down collagen and elastin, destroy cellular DNA… all things that cause premature wrinkles and selling.

The bad news? You can’t stop intrinsic aging.

The good news? Intrinsic aging only accounts for 10% of premature aging. Extrinsic aging is to blame for the remaining 90% – and there’s so much you can do to prevent and slow it down. Like eating healthy. Wearing sunscreen every day. Quit smoking. And using anti-aging actives that work.

What Makes An Anti-Aging Ingredient Work?

The skincare world is full with anti-aging actives that promise to reduce wrinkles and tighten loose skin (nothing you apply topically can do the latter, by the way). But most of them don’t have what it takes to do the job. For an anti-aging ingredient to work, it must:

  • Be proven to work in humans: It’s incredible how many skincare actives are proven to work on mice or in-vitro (on a Petri dish), but not on real humans.
  • Be able to penetrate skin: Don’t believe the BS that anything you put on your skin penetrates skin. If that were true, you could get your medication by applying a topical cream instead of ingesting a pill. Your skin’s protective barrier does an outstanding job at keeping stuff out of the body. Most anti-aging ingredients don’t work because they stay on top of your skin, unable to penetrate it.
  • They can’t activate anti-aging processes: Even when an active can penetrate skin, it doesn’t mean it can go exactly where it needs to go to activate the anti-aging process. These are very complicated processes and there are so many layers of skin, cells to penetrate etc… Getting an anti-aging ingredient to go where it needs to go to do its magic is very hard – hence why most celebrities still go under the knife. Just saying…

What Are The Anti-Aging Ingredients That Don’t Work?

There are 4 anti-aging ingredients that don’t work. Ok, there are more. But these 4 are super common and I don’t want you to fall for the hype and waste your money on them. So let’s start here. Here’s what you need to avoid:

dhc astaxanthin collagen all in one gel

1. Collagen


Collagen is the protein that keeps your skin firm. But, as soon as you turn 21, you start losing 1% collagen a year. Once you hit menopause, the depletion accelerate. At first, the loss is so small, you can hardly see it on your skin. But as the years pass, and the damage accumulates, your skin starts to sag.


If collagen keeps skin firm, and loss of collagen makes it sag, it naturally follows that replacing lost collagen can firm skin and reverse, or at least, prevent sagging, right? RIGHT? Oh, if only skincare were that easy…


Collagen is a very big molecule. Too big to penetrate your skin. It sits comfortably on its surface, refusing to get in. And if it can’t get in, it can’t reach and activate those centers in your cells that firm skin.

Collagen drinks don’t work that well, either. Your body needs collagen for everything. So when you drink collagen, most of it will go to your joints and other places that need it most. Only a sprinkle will be used to firm skin. That’s not a big priority for your body as it is for you. *sighs*

So is collagen useless? Not completely. Collagen is moisturising and that’s something it can do even while it stays on the surface of your skin. When skin is well-moisturises, skin is softer, smoother, and plumper so fine lines and wrinkles look smaller. But they aren’t. Don’t be fooled!


  1. Eat it: Muscle and body organs have plenty of collagen, so if you’re a meat eater, you’re all settled. If not, no worries. You don’t have to compromise your beliefs to avoid wrinkles. Your body can make collagen on its own. It just needs a helping hand from vitamin C. Munch on strawberries and oranges and you’ll be fine.
  2. Wear sunscreen: UV rays are the number one cause of collagen loss (and any other skin woe you’re experiencing). Your natural collagen will deplete a lot more slowly if you wear sunscreen every single day, rain or shine.
  3. Use retinol, vitamin C + copper peptides: These skincare superstars all help boost collagen production. Check out my fave collagen-boosting products here.


  • NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 3:1 (£38.00): Unlike the old versions of this serums, you don’t have to mix it yourself. It works out of the box and keeps skin in a constant state of repair, making sure everything works as it should. The result? Your best skin day, every day. Available at Beauty BayCult BeautyNiod, and SpaceNK
  • Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Booster ($52.00): This high-strength 1% retinol booster has a moisturising base and plenty of skin-soothers to counteract the irritating effects of retinol. Use it on its own for maximum effect or dilute it with moisturiser if it’s too harsh for you. Available at Cult BeautyNet-A-PorterPaula’s Choice and SpaceNK.
  • Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65.00): A micro encapsulated 1.5% retinol serum in an oily, moisturising base to fight wrinkles and fade away dark spots. Available at Beauty BayCult Beauty, and Peter Thomas Roth.

Related: 8 Ways To Rebuild Lost Collagen

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

2. Elastin


Elastin is the protein that keeps skin elastic. It helps it return to its original position when it’s pinched. But, like collagen, it depletes with age, leading to premature wrinkles. Overtime, instead of going back to its original position, skin creates wrinkles along the lines where it was stretched. *sighs*


Same as collagen. If loss of elastin contributes to wrinkles, then adding elastin back in can help keep your skin elastic for longer. You’ve guessed it, it’s not that easy.


Same as collagen. Elastin’s too big to penetrate the skin. If it can’t penetrate skin, it can’t replace the elastin you’ve lost. It’s as simple as that. And that’s why so few actives actually help with anti-aging. It’s really hard for an ingredient to penetrate skin that deep to influence biological anti-aging processes.

Still, elastin is not completely useless. Just like collagen, it stays on top of your skin and moisturizes it. It’s a trick that makes fine lines and wrinkles look smaller for a few hours, but it doesn’t reduce their size and depth.


  1. Eat smart: Fruits rich in vitamin C, lean meats with amino acids, and anything with omega 3 – such as nuts, salmon and avocado – make your body produce more elastin.
  2. Wear sunscreen: Yes, again. I’m a broken record when it comes to sunscreen, for a reason. UV rays destroy everything, including elastin. The more diligent you are with sunscreen application, the more damage you can prevent in the first place.


  • Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense SPF 30 ($36.00): A tinted mineral sunscreen that protects you from all UV rays without leaving a white cast behind. Best suitable for dry skin. Available at BootsCult BeautySpaceNK, and Ulta.
  • Paula’s Choice Defense Essential Glow Moisturiser SPF30 ($26.40): Suitable for all skin types, this tinted mineral sunscreen provides broad spectrum protection, fights premature wrinkles, and dries to a luminous finish. Available at Cult BeautyPaula’s ChoiceSephoraSelfridges, and SpaceNK.
  • Supergoop! Mineral Mattescreen SPF 40 ($38.00): A mineral sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection and dries to a silky matte finish. It also minimises the look o pores. It’s best suitable for oily and combination skin. Available at Blue MercuryNordstromRevolve, and Ulta.

Related: I Went On The Low Glycemic Diet And It Transformed My Skin

3. Stem Cells


Stem cells are mother cells with the potential to become any type of cell in that organism. They then reproduce and make more of those cells. For example, apple stem cells can become branches, leaves, fruits… Human stem cells can become organs and, one day, be potentially used for transplants.


Technically, from a human stem cells, you can regenerate entire well-functioning organs. So, these stems cells could potentially turn into healthier, younger-looking skin. And one day, this may likely happen. For now, we’re still in the realms of science fiction.


The most common type of stem cells used in cosmetics is apple stem cells. There’s no way an apple stem cell can turn into human skin. And if they can’t do that, how can they rejuvenate skin? Plant stem cells are antioxidants. They help you fight free radicals, but don’t explain anything more than that.

But how about human stem cells? Those won’t work, either. Stem cells need to be alive to work their magic. Put them into a cream, they’ll die pretty quickly. Maybe one day we’ll have the technology to make human stem cells work. For now, they’re pretty much useless in skincare products.


Use an antioxidant-rich serum: Stem cells are just glorified antioxidants that cost an arm and a leg. By using a regular antioxidant serum, you’ll save quite a bit of money and stave wrinkles off too.


  • MaeLove Glow Booster ($27.95): The cheapest Vitamin C serum in this list, it does everything the others do, but it contains a citrus extract that may be irritating for sensitive skin. Available at Maelove.
  • Paula’s Choice C15 Booster ($46.75): It’s enriched with Hyaluronic Acid and glycerin to deeply hydrate skin. Available at Cult BeautyDermstoreNet-A-PorterPaula’s ChoiceSephora, and SpaceNK.
  • Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($169.00): The original Vitamin C serum, it costs an arm and a leg, but it works wonders and delivers what it promises. Available at Dermstore and Skinceuticals.

Related: What Are The Best Antioxidant Serums?

4. EGF


EGF is short for Epidermal Growth Factors. Naturally present in your body, they’re large proteins your cells make to send messages to other cells about healing and growth. When these “signaling proteins bind to receptors on cell surfaces, they can send commands to replicate, repair, and rejuvenate,” says New York City dermatologist Estee Williams. But, as all things, they deplete with age.


They stimulate cell growth, boost collagen production and thickness, and help skin repair itself. All things your skin needs to stay young.


Well, they sort of do. It’s their safety, or better lack of it, that got them on this list. Here’s the deal. EGF’s job is to help cells proliferate. So, if you have any pre-cancerous cells or cancerous lesions on your skin, EGF will make them multiply.

Let’s be clear. EGF do not cause cancer. At least, there’s no proof they do. But, they can help cancer, or pre-cancerous cells, spread. Problem is, we don’t always know we have pre-cancerous cells. If you do and you use it, you could end up in trouble.

A derm I spoke to last month said that’s why research on them has been quietly dropped (yet, you can still find products with EGF selling at Harrods for a small fortune!).


Use retinol: Retinol and other forms of vitamin A can boost collagen production and thicken skin, too. If they don’t agree with your skin, they’ll just make it flake. I’ll take that over the risk of cancer any day.


  • Paula’s Choice Resist Wrinkle Repair Retinol Serum ($42.00): An anti-aging serum with 0.1% retinol. It also includes antioxidants, like Vitamin E, to prevent premature aging, and soothing ingredients to reduce irritations. Available at Paula’s Choice and Sephora.
  • Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3 Night Cream ($62.00): This cream contains only 0.3% retinol but it packs an anti-aging punch. It comes in a moisturising base, but you need to use a separate moisturiser to counteract the dryness of retinol. Available at Dermstore and Skinceuticals.
  • Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Booster ($52.00): This high-strength 1% retinol booster has a moisturising base and plenty of skin-soothers to counteract the irritating effects of retinol. Use it on its own for maximum effect or dilute it with moisturiser if it’s too harsh for you. Available at Cult BeautyNet-A-PorterPaula’s Choice and SpaceNK.

Related: The Complete Guide To Retinol

The Bottom Line

There are plenty of anti-aging superstars that help you keep wrinkles off your face. Don’t waste your money on these anti-aging ingredients that don’t work. As a rule, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Stick to what’s been proven to work and eat as healthy as you possibly can (exceptions allowed!) and you’ll naturally age slowly.