The Defenders

1. Retinol
The granddaddy of the antiaging avengers, this vitamin A derivative has been around since the '70s, which means there are mountains of data on its efficacy. It works its magic by stimulating collagen production, giving you smoother, firmer skin—and lessening the appearance of fine lines. "Besides sunscreen, retinol is the number one product I recommend to my patients," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "It's the foundation for any wrinkle-treating regimen."

2. Niacinamide
This topical ingredient—a form of vitamin B3—tackles excess pigmentation and brown spots by inhibiting melanin's travel from the melanocytes (where it's made) to the keratinocytes (the predominant cell type in the skin's outer layer). Bonus: Niacinamide has also been found to have some antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help promote

3. Resveratrol
A powerful antioxidant, it helps prevent collagen breakdown due to free radical damage. However, since resveratrol is highly photosensitive, it's best applied in the evening. That way it can ramp up the body's antioxidant activity overnight and leave your skin better protected come morning.

The Pretenders

1. Stem Cells
Human stem cells have shown antiaging potential when injected into the skin. The problem? "Topical skincare products don't contain the stem cells themselves," says Zeichner. "Rather, they're formulated with growth factors derived from stem cells." And these extracts can have a high molecular weight that may make them unable to penetrate the skin and do the job.

2. Exotic Botanicals
Not all plant extracts are created equal. Some, such as green tea, are quite effective. "But many promise skin brightening and wrinkle fighting without much research behind them," says Zeichner. "They're often the ones that are proprietary to specific brands." If a botanical lives up to the hype, you'll find it in peer-reviewed studies and a number of products from a variety of manufacturers. If you can't locate it in more than one cream, you may want to think twice.

3. Collagen
Once again, when shot through a syringe, it's a miracle worker for filling wrinkles and grooves. And once again, "collagen is a large molecule that cannot penetrate through the outer skin layer," says Zeichner. "That's why most topical creams that contain collagen haven't been shown to be particularly effective in treating aging skin."


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