What the best wrinkle creams have

  • Retinol. Also known as vitamin A, retinol is an antioxidant that neutralize free radicals to repair existing damage and prevent further damage. The most powerful formulas have up to 2 percent retinol. But the best creams also have other ingredients to smooth, soothe and moisturize skin. Retinol can cause irritation, so those who can't tolerate it should look for other antioxidant compounds. It's also best used at night since retinol can break down under sunlight and even make your skin more prone to sun-induced damage.
  • Other antioxidant compounds. If your skin can't tolerate retinol, look for other antioxidants such as, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), alpha hydroxyl, tea and grape seed extracts and niacinamide, to name just a few.
  • Opaque packaging. Several anti-aging ingredients, namely antioxidants and retinol, can become ineffective and damaged when they come in contact with light and air, so look for containers that limit exposure. The best are packaged in pump-style containers or squeeze-type tubes. Screw-lid jars not only can degrade; putting fingers into jars to "scoop" products out can introduce bacteria. Some serums that are targeted at deep wrinkle repair come in eye-dropper type packaging, which can be awkward to use until you get used to it.
  • No fragrance. There are plenty of facial creams out there that still have fragrances even though experts say fragrances are never preferred. Many people don't mind light fragrances, but many others say they absolutely will not buy a product with fragrance as an ingredient. Not only are fragrances more apt to cause irritation, either of the skin or the respiratory tract, multi-fragranced products can result in a bewildering array of different odors. The lack of fragrance can also make the product more suitable for men.

Know before you go

Do you have to spend a lot to get results? The answer to that is an unequivocal no! Experts say that the ingredients list -- and not the price tag -- is the best indicator of quality and that some of the best wrinkle creams can be found at the drugstore for a fraction of the cost of department store brands, yet with the same ingredients.

What degree of wrinkle fighting do you need? If your main goal is to prevent future fine lines and wrinkles, a good antioxidant cream and daily applications of sunscreen are your best bet. If you're just starting to show some signs of aging, an over-the-counter retinol cream -- with additional preventative ingredients -- is a good place to start. Stronger over-the-counter or prescription-strength retinol creams may be needed for more prominent lines and wrinkles.

Is your complexion starting to look dull? A wrinkle cream containing vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and alpha or beta hydroxy acids can help smooth skin texture and brighten your complexion.

Do you have dark spots and uneven pigmentation? Look for a cream that contains hydroquinone to even out your skin tone.

Do you have sensitive skin? The more powerful antioxidants, like retinol, can be irritating. You may want to try it out on your inner arm first to be sure it doesn't cause problems for you before you slater it all over your face. Or, try it out on a Friday night if you have a weekend off to recover.

Try to obtain sample sizes. This can save you a lot of money in wasted product. If you try it and don't like it -- or it makes you break out -- you're out very little. Many higher-end departments store brands, which tend to cost more, have sample packets. Drugstore brands are fairly inexpensive to begin with, so you won't feel as bad if those don't work for you.

Can you be realistic? Wrinkle creams won't work miracles. Instead, results are often very subtle, and any changes take time. Fast, dramatic results are only available through cosmetic procedures. In addition, results can vary. Not everyone experiences the same reaction to a specific product, so it might take some trial and error to find a product you're happy with.

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