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When Should I Start Using Anti-Aging Skincare Products?

anti-aging skincare

by Fayne Frey

Anti-Aging Skincare: When Should I Start?

The answer to that question depends on what you mean by “anti-aging” products.

Anti-aging skincare products: moisturizers

Are you talking about the hundreds, if not thousands, of moisturizers on the market that contain minuscule amounts of a particular “marketing” ingredient, like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Coenzyme Q, bakuchiol or even retinol? In that case, my answer is that you never need them, in my opinion.

These ingredients are not necessarily bad for you, although irritation and allergic reactions do occur.  The reason I don’t recommend these products is because I watch people spend a lot of time, energy and money on them with little long-term benefit. As a dermatologist, I’ve tested and evaluated “anti-aging” skincare cosmetics on my patients for over 30 years, 

Anti-aging skincare products: sunscreen

If, however, you are talking about sunscreen, my answer is to start at 6 months of age. Sunscreen is the one true skincare product that science consistently proves prevents signs of sun damage. It helps limit fine wrinkling, dark spots and other negative effects from the sun. I know this answer is not sexy. Sunscreen is not the pearlescent fragrant white cream in the glass jar with the shiny top, the one that looks great on your bathroom vanity. But please try to keep an open mind as you read on.

Ask yourself these questions

  • If there was an OTC (over the counter) “anti-aging” cream that truly makes a significant difference, don’t you think everyone would be using it?
  • Why is it that we often hear in the media about the newest, the latest and the greatest new ingredient du jour, the one that really makes you look younger?
  • If the current anti-aging skincare products are so effective, why do we keep finding the new one that really works?

Dear consumer, it is time to look inward.

I want to remind you again to keep an open mind. Ask yourself these three additional questions:

  • How have the thousands of beauty campaigns and marketing ads that you’ve seen day after day, year after year influenced you?
  • What insecurities do you have that influence you to purchase “anti-aging” creams?
  • If you sell such “anti-defying” products, do you have an additional bias, namely profits? (Though I admit, in my experience, most skincare sales people truly believe that what they’re selling is beneficial.)

So what are these anti-aging skincare potions?

The majority of these products are considered “cosmetics”. Cosmetics, according to United States law, are products that cannot legally intend to actually change the structure or function of skin. If manufacturers promise these changes, they must label the products as drugs and obtain premarket FDA approval. Most of these items sold over-the-counter (OTC) in local pharmacies, retail shops, and even doctor’s offices, do not have FDA approval. 

So, these products can intend only to beautify and adorn. Because the overwhelming majority of anti-aging products are formulated as moisturizers, they hydrate the skin, and therefore do temporarily improve the appearance of fine lines. As far as ridding the face of a wrinkle or deep fold, not so much. In all my years of dermatology practice, I have never seen an over-the-counter “anti-aging” cream get rid of a wrinkle or deep fold. The truth is, a well-formulated moisturizer often performs as well, and sometimes better, than these expensive self-proclaimed “anti-wrinkle age-defying” creams.

What about all those “anti aging” ingredients touted by the media?

Ask any reputable cosmetic chemist this question and they will likely tell you that the majority of over the counter (OTC) age defying cosmetics contain a tiny amount of any one of these ingredients. Just enough to justify the claim of the label. Remember, as a cosmetic, these products can’t change the skin. It would be against the law.

The “science”

Is your mind still open? There are numerous studies, many sponsored by the very organization that sells the product, that show the benefits of these “anti-aging” ingredients. Researchers conduct most of these studies in a laboratory where the ingredient is exposed to cells in a Petri dish or test tube, not on real people. And just because an ingredient, usually tested in high concentrations, shows effects on cells in a laboratory setting doesn’t mean it is effective when applied to the skin in tiny doses as a component of a cream or lotion.

Reproducible valid double blind studies performed on intact human skin are few and far between. And from my experience, both personal and as a dermatologist, the effects of these cosmetics are negligible at best. Anti-aging? I don’t think so. I’ve never seen anyone look 20 years, 10 years or even 5 years younger because of an over-the-counter anti-aging cream.  

The real truth about anti-aging skincare

Miniscule amounts of most ingredients have little, if any effect on the skin. Did you know the outer layer of twenty non-living cells on our skin creates a barrier? Then there are another 20-60 layers of living cells below through which any ingredient must pass to reach the layer of skin where wrinkles, facial lines and folds originate.

When it comes to skincare, I welcome and value valid science. But all too often, the conclusions from skincare ingredient experiments in Petri dishes are nothing more than bad science looking for clinical relevance.

Back to sunscreen

There is only one product proven to prevent the signs of aging due to the damaging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It’s not an antioxidant, nor is it a vitamin A derivative, but it is the absolute best “anti-aging” cream on the market. Sunscreen is a true magic potion for preventing dark spots, fine wrinkling and enhancing the skin’s appearance.

This study from Adele Green titled, Sunscreen and Prevention of Skin Aging: A Randomized Trial,  is a good one to reference. Her research shows that when applied daily, sunscreen prevents age related changes associated due to the sun. Sunscreen is truly the absolute best “anti-aging” product on the market, bar none. And yes, it is a drug, not a cosmetic. Although it is sold as an over-the-counter drug, sunscreen must receive premarket FDA approval and prove safety and efficacy.

The bottom line

Billion dollar marketing advertisements and beauty campaigns influence us all to some extent on a daily basis. And our culture brainwashes us to believe that youth is better. In reality, youth is NOT an accomplishment. An abundance of research demonstrates that older folks are more compassionate and understanding and solve problems with a more diverse solution set.  Imagine if you knew 20 years ago what you know today! 

And when did the aging process turn into such a battle?  Aging, by definition is irreversible, it is gradual and it is universal. Aging affects every single mature member of every species on the planet. Not a single product or ingredient has ever proved to reverse the aging process.

So, back to the original question: When should you start using the most effective “anti-aging” skincare product on the market? Today! Right now! If you truly want healthy, optimal looking skin, apply sunscreen daily, liberally and often. Avoid the direct rays of the sun. Wear protective clothing to minimize skin damage and the amount of sunscreen you need to use. Exercise, eat a healthy diet and yes, get adequate sleep.



fayne freyFayne Frey, M.D.,specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. She is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products. As a speaker, Dr. Frey captivates audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She consults for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post, and has shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets. Dr. Frey is the Founder of, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that clarifies and simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products encountered in the skincare aisles. Dr. Frey is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

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