Are Anti-Aging Creams Worth the Big Bucks?

Anti-aging creams containing retinol, hydroxy acids, and all kinds of enzymes and botanicals crowd drugstore shelves and pharmacies. You can't turn on the TV or open a magazine without seeing a new "revolutionary" product that promises to turn back time. Before you blow your paycheck on a 3 oz jar of anti-aging cream, be sure you understand what these topical treatments can do.

Why Skin Ages

As we get older, our skin loses moisture, thickness, elasticity, and it regenerates at a slower rate. These changes can lead to wrinkles, unevenness, and changes in texture. Sun exposure and heredity can also impact how each person will be affected. There is no known way to stop this process, but topical treatments can improve the appearance of older skin and stimulate it to appear younger.

Key Ingredients in Anti-Aging Creams

Here are some common ingredients in skin creams and how they work:

  • Retinol is one of the most widely-known treatments. It has a vitamin A compound that combats damaging free radicals.
  • Tretinoin is a prescription-only treatment derived from vitamin A like retinol, but is more potent.
  • Hydroxy acids are derived from different fruits and stimulate skin exfoliation.
  • Copper peptides help skin to heal and stimulate collagen production.
  • Coenzyme Q10 can help balance skin cells energy production and is a popular ingredient in eye creams.
  • Various botanicals like tea extracts, caffeine, and kinetin are often used in anti-aging creams for their antioxidant and moisturizing qualities.

The Price of Anti-Aging Products

Anti-aging creams and products can cost hundreds of dollars. But remember that you're not just paying for the product itself, you're paying for all of the scientific and market research that goes along with developing the product. However, experts will tell you that a high-price does not mean a product is the best. The price also reflects what kind of consumer the manufacturer is looking to target. That's not to say that an expensive product won't be effective, but if you're looking for a more economical alternative, look for products that contain ingredients that have been around for awhile, so you're not blowing money on a clever marketing campaign.

Over-the-Counter vs. Prescription Products

The main difference between these is the potency of anti-aging elements they contain. While in many cases more is better, the stronger formulas in prescription creams may have stronger side effects and will not be covered by insurance like medical prescription. However, the results of over-the-counter products may be temporary and require ongoing application. Additionally, they are considered cosmetics by the FDA so they're not as strictly regulated. The best place to start is by talking to your dermatologist, who can recommend the best approach for your skin, whether it's a topical product or even a different treatment like a peel, microdermabrasion, or injection.

Lifestyle Choices—the Cheapest Option

Bottom line: The best things you can do to fight pre-mature aging do not come in a bottle. Eat a healthy diet, don't smoke, stay hydrated, and be diligent about applying moisturizer, especially to your face, neck, and décolletage. Most importantly, protect your skin from the sun every day with a broad spectrum sunscreen.




Mayo Clinic. "Skin Care: 5 Tips for Healthy Skin" Web. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Nov. 12, 2009.

Mayo Clinic. "Wrinkles" Web. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Jan 27, 2009.

Mayo Clinic. "Wrinkle Creams: Your Guide to Younger Looking Skin." Oct 12, 2010.