An awful lot of women—on TV, on the street, in the next office—are suddenly looking remarkably smooth-cheeked, uncannily fresh-faced, suspiciously rested. How did everyone (including certain people whom we know graduated six years ahead of us) get so young? The answer is that somewhere between throwing a few AHAs into your skincare routine and going for a total surgical overhaul, there's been an explosion of not-quite-drastic treatments aimed at keeping the bloom on. But not so fast: All of them come with some sort of price—in pain, in scabs and bruises, and, of course, in dollars. Plus, the results won't last forever (none of these procedures have the power to stop time), so in a few months or years you'll be right back where you started. Are these procedures worth it? That's your call. We're just here to present the facts.

One anti-aging avenue to explore is topical treatments. To prevent the formation of lines and discoloration—and to minimize the ones you already have—look for lotions, creams, and serums that contain one or a combination of these ingredients:

Sunscreen (chemical blockers like avobenzone and the recently FDA-approved Mexoryl, and physical blockers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), to absorb the UVA and UVB rays that break down collagen and alter the skin's pigmentation. Since unprotected sun exposure is the leading cause of skin aging (not to mention skin cancer), use a moisturizer that has at least an SPF of 15 (as far as we know, there is no product referred to as a "sunscreen with moisturizer") every single morning.

Antioxidants (vitamins C and E, green tea, coenzyme Q10), to stave off the free-radical damage that makes the skin more susceptible to wrinkles.

Alpha and beta hydroxy acids (glycolic, lactic, citric, and salicylic), to lift away dead cells on the surface of the skin, revealing fresher, smoother skin underneath.

Peptides , to help stimulate some collagen production. Evidence of their collagen-building power is limited, but at the very least they offer extra hydration.

Tretinoin , a vitamin A derivative that's the gold standard in collagen production. The retinoids (Retin-A, Avage, Renova, Differin, and Tazorac) are prescription only; retinol is the less-potent over-the-counter version. For patients with severe sun damage, doctors often prescribe Tri-Luma, a combination of tretinoin, hydroquinone (a bleaching agent), and a corticosteriod.

Pain-o-meter (where 1 is the lightest pinprick and 5 is agony): 0. Products that contain alpha and beta hydroxy acids may sting for a couple of seconds on application; the retinoids can leave skin flaky for the first few weeks of use, but cause no discomfort.

Average cost: Anywhere from $5 for a basic sunscreen to $500 for a luxury-brand night cream.

Next: Are peels the right skin treatment for you?

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.


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