Ever wondered, “What the heck really works against wrinkles? What are the best wrinkle treatments?”
Pretty much every skincare product out there promises to make your fine lines and wrinkles disappear. And for a while, they seem to work. But… somehow, those pesky wrinkles always seem to find their way back! Is there no hope?
Truth bomb: once wrinkles have made an appearance, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them for good. Especially with topical skincare alone. 🙁
Only a handful of ingredients can do the deed. Most of what’s lurking in your cosmetics can only make them look smaller or prevent them. That’s not a bad thing. Your skin needs those too.
But how can you tell the difference? Here’s the complete guide on what really works to treat wrinkles, what can only minimise them and what can prevent them (and where to invest your hard-earned money to get the younger-looking skin you deserve):
How To Reduce Wrinkles (Best Wrinkle Treatments)
A.k.a. what really works to get those wrinkles off your face. If something isn’t on this list, it’s just marketing hype. So what should you invest your money in?
1. Retinoids (A.K.A. Vitamin A)
Retinoids are the real deal. Everything else can only make your wrinkles look smaller or prevent new ones from forming.
So what the heck are they? Retinoids forms of Vitamin A. You can spot them easily. They have “retin” somewhere in the name:
- Hydroxypinacolone retinoate
- Retinyl Palmitate
- Retinyl Retinoate
- Retinoic acid (prescription only)
They do their wrinkle-reduction magic in three ways:
- Retinoids fight free radicals: Free radicals are nasty molecules, generated mostly by UV rays and pollution, that destroy collagen, elastin, cellular DNA and anything else they find in their path, resulting in wrinkles, saggy skin, and dark spots. Antioxidants patrol your skin looking for free radicals. When they spot one, they neutralise it before it can do its damage. This action is preventative. Destroying free radicals only prevents wrinkles, it doesn’t reduce those you already have.
- Retinoids speed up cellular turnover: The skin’s cellular turnover is the skin’s natural exfoliating process, so old and dull dead cells are replaced by newer, smoother ones at a faster pace. Note that this is different from exfoliation with scrubs or acids, like glycolic and salicylic acid. Exfoliating with scrubs or acids removes dead cells from the surface of your skin. Retinoids don’t do this. They just tell your skin cells to exfoliate more rapidly on its own. The result may be similar, but the mechanism of action is different.
- Retinoids boost the production of skin-firming collagen: Collagen is the protein that keeps your skin firm. After you turn 21 (so young!), your skin loses 1% of collagen a year. UV rays, pollution, and processed foods only speed up the process. At first, this depletion is so small, you’ll barely notice a difference in your skin. But as the years go by, skin starts to sag and wrinkles start to form. By boosting the production of collagen, retinoids can reduce the wrinkles you already have – and prevent new ones from forming.
The catch? Retinoids are irritating. They can dry out, sting and peel off your skin if you’re not used to them. That’s why the strongest (i.e. most effective) retinoid (that’s retinoic acid, a.k.a. Tretinoin) is available by prescription only.
The most effective retinoid in OTC skincare products is retinol. But even this can be irritating, especially if you have sensitive skin. That’s why it’s best to start with a small dose and build your way up gradually (I’ve explained how to do that step-by-step in this post).
If you’re already an intermediate or advanced retinol user, check out the picks below for my fave anti-wrinkle retinol picks.
- Indeed Retinol Reface (£19.99): This powerhouse contains proper retinol, a peptide that’s said to work like retinol but it’s not as powerful, and natural (if less effective) retinol alternative bakuchiol. Retinol does the anti-wrinkle job, but they others provide some support. Available at Look Fantastic
- Paula’s Choice Resist 1% Retinol Booster ($52.00): This booster contains a whopping 1% retinol. That’s very strong. It works wonders but can cause irritation and dryness. If you experience side effects, mix it with your moisturiser to make it gentler. Available at Sephora and Paula’s Choice
- Skinceuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream ($64.00): One of the most powerful formulas on the market, this medium-strength retinol fights premature wrinkles and smoothens out the complexion. It’s very strong, so moisturise well afterwards. Available at Dermstore
Related: The Complete Guide To Retinol
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):
How To Reduce The Appearance Of Wrinkles
A.k.a ingredients that mask wrinkles so they look (not become) smaller. They’re good as a quick fix – after all retinoids take their sweet time to work, so what are you supposed to do in the meantime? Mask those pesky wrinkles. Just be aware that, once their effect is over, your wrinkles are still there.
P.S. Most wrinkle “treatments” fall in this category:
Have you ever put on moisturiser or serum in front of the mirror and seen your wrinkles become way smaller under your very eyes… only for them to come back with a vengeance a few hours later?
That’s the (temporary) power of moisture. When skin has all the moisture it needs, it plumps up so that your wrinkles look smaller. But as soon as moisture content in your skin decreases, your wrinkles go back to their original size.
So, who performs the moisture trick? Usually, humectants. They’re a bunch of moisture magnets that attract water from the air and deliver it into your skin. Hyaluronic acid is the most famous member of the family. Other notable members include glycerin, urea and honey.
Humectants may be a temporary fix but they’re worth having in your skincare routine. Your skin can never get enough moisture (especially if it’s dry).
P.S. This is how 80% of moisturisers out there “work”.
- La Roche Posay Heal B5 Hyaluronic Acid Serum (£27.75): This hyaluronic acid serum contains B5, a soothing agent with hydrating properties. Available at Sephora and Look Fantastic
- Niod Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Acid (£25.00): The most hydrating formula ever, it contains a gazillion forms of Hyaluronic acid to hydrate every layer of skin. It plumps up your fine lines and wrinkles, so they look smaller. Available at Beauty Bay and Cult Beauty
- Paula’s Choice Resist Hyaluronic Acid Booster ($34.00): It features two forms of Hyaluronic acid to hydrate skin and ceramides to strengthen ceramides and prevent water loss. Available at Dermstore, Nordstrom, Paula’s Choice and Selfridges
Related: What The Heck Are Humectants And Why Should You Add Them Into Your Skincare Routine?
2. Silicones (A.k.a. Cosmetic Wrinkle Treatments)
Ah, the ones everyone loves to hate. You can spot a member of the silicone family a mile away. Their names usually end in “cone” or “siloxane”
- Phenyl trimethicone
Silicones fill in fine lines and wrinkles so they look smaller. Remove them and your wrinkles look as deep as before.
This is another common trick used in most moisturisers. Nothing wrong with it. You do want something to make those wrinkles look smaller while retinoids fade them away and antioxidants (more on them later) keep them at bay. But it’s so disappointing when an “antiaging” moisturiser uses silicones as the key ingredients, isn’t it?
By the way, silicones DON’T suffocate skin. They have a particular molecular structure made up of large molecules with wide spaces between them. These holes allow skin to perspire and active ingredients (like antioxidants) to get through.
Still, I’m not recommending any products with silicones. It’s not because I don’t like them (I do). It’s because I don’t think you need them. If your moisturizer has them and you like the silky texture they give it, cool. But if you prefer to use oils or silicones-free creams, that’s cool too.
Related: Are Silicones Bad For Skin?
Remember when we were all scrubbing our faces like there was no tomorrow? Now we’re burning our skin with acids to get rid of wrinkles. But, does it work?
Exfoliation removes the dead cells on the surface of your skin. When you remove one layer of skin, your wrinkles look softer.
But there are only so many layers you can remove before you destroy your protective barrier and irritate your skin. So yes, it helps but to an extent. That’s why I’ve put it in this section.
Now, if you know your skincare stuff, you’ll ask, “But Gio, what about glycolic acid? That can boost collagen production so it can get rid of wrinkles, right?”
Ah, if only skincare were that easy! Yes, glycolic acid boosts collagen production BUT only when you use enough of it. You need 10% free glycolic acid to do the trick.
So your beloved Pixi Glow and The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution aren’t enough to do the collagen-boosting job (they’re still great at exfoliating skin so don’t throw them in the bin!).
By the way, when I say 10% glycolic acid, I mean FREE glycolic acid. In plain English, it’s not just the concentration that matters. pH does too.
The Ordinary may have 7% glycolic acid but at a 3.5/3.7 ph, only 4.4% survives unscathed! (If you want to know more about how pH affects acids, check out this post by Michelle from Lab Muffin).
Problem is, it’s hard to find 10% FREE glycolic acid in skincare products because that much can be irritating, especially if you have sensitive skin.
My advice is that you keep using your fave glycolic acid exfoliant (find my fave picks here) and supplement with professional peels at your doctor’s office to boost collagen.
Some cosmeceuticals exfoliants also have a much higher concentration of glycolic acid to boost collagen but these are for people who’ve used acids for years and can tolerate high doses. Talk to your doctor about your options here. Don’t DIY or you could BURN your skin (literally!).
Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid
How To Prevent Wrinkles
A.k.a. how to keep those wrinkles from making a premature appearance on your face.
Did you know that UV rays are responsible for up to 90% of premature aging? There’s no way around this one: you can use all the best anti aging ingredients in the world but if you don’t put on sunscreen, it’s all for nothing. 🙁
By the way, it’s not enough to wear sunscreens at the beach. UVA rays, the pesky rays that destroy your collagen and give you wrinkles, are present from the moment the sun comes up to the moment the sun comes down, can get through clouds and windows and are even reflected on snow!
Translation: as long as the sun is up, your skin’s not safe. It doesn’t matter if you can’t see the sun because it’s hiding behind the clouds, its rays can still get through and hit your skin.
It doesn’t matter if you’re driving, UVA rays can get through the windows. You’re not even safe indoors if your office/workplace/house has plenty of windows and you’re spending way too much time in front of them.
Put on that sunscreen. Reapply it every few hours. Every day. It’s a pain, I know. But it will save you from a much bigger pain later on. Trust me on this one.
P.S. I know that finding a good sunscreen is a pain. Below, I’ve listed a few guides to help you find the perfect sunscreen for you, no matter your skin type:
Ah, the big wrinkle fighters. Everyone’s telling you to use them. The more, the merrier, right?
Yep. Antioxidants do help you fight wrinkles. They’re the good cops patrolling your body for free radicals, those nasty criminals that destroy your collagen, elastin and anything else they find on their path. When antioxidants spot one, they neutralise it before it can do any harm.
Translation: they destroy free radicals BEFORE they can give you wrinkles. In another words, they can only prevent them.
It’s true some antioxidants do double and triple duty. Vitamin C (in high enough doses), for example, boosts the production of collagen while green tea soothes inflammation (another cause of free radicals).
The combo of vitamin C + vitamin E + ferulic acid is particularly powerful because it can also boost your sunscreen’s effectiveness and protect you against sun damage.
Still, their job is preventative. Antioxidants help your skin stay younger for longer (and they more you use, the better they do it) but they won’t rid you of wrinkles.
- Paula’s Choice C15 Booster ($49.00): My fave dupe for Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, it features 15% Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and ferulic acid to brighten the complexion, prevent wrinkles, and boost the effectiveness of your sunscreen. Available at Sephora, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice
- Paula’s Choice Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum ($38.00): This serum contains every antioxidant you can think of to help you prevent premature aging. Available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, and Paula’s Choice
- Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($165.00): The original CEF serum (Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Ferulic Acid), it’s still the most powerful Vitamin C serum on the market. It fights wrinkles, brightens the complexion, and boosts sun protection. Available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore
The Bottom Line
Now you have it, the best wrinkle treatments, according to science. Use sunscreen + antioxidants to prevent wrinkles, silicones and humectants when you need to make them temporarily smaller, and retinoids to reduce their size and depth. I personally use all three in my skincare routine and I recommend you do the same.
What do you think about Avene Ystheal Intense (Anti-wrinkle skin rewal concentrate) with retinaldehyde?
Ana, I think it’s a basic formula but I like that it uses retinaldehyde. It works just as well as retinol but is gentler and less irritating.
Thank you for the information. Although my personal peeves are age spots and pigmentation, not wrinkles, still it’s a good idea to try to prevent them from showing up or to soften them when they do appear. I’m now using retinol, although I put the product only around and under my eyes to target wrinkles and age spots.
JD, retinol can help with pigmentation too so if your skin can tolerate it well, you can apply it all over.
What are your thoughts on Curology?
Love that you are always so responsive.
Cindy, I think it’s great that they customise the products to your needs. But unfortunately that means no ingredient list on the website so I don’t know if they use any active ingredients that can really treat acne.
Hi Gio, is the Olay Regenerist Serum a very good serum to use?
Thelma, again it depends on what your needs are. The Ordinary Niacinamide +Zinc for example is a very good product – if you have oily skin. If yours is dry, you’d hate it. I think the Renegerist Serum is good if you’re on a budget and just want somethng basic.