Affordable Anti-Agers That Really Work

Dermatologist Jessica Krant reveals the products that can save your skin–while saving you money.

Navigating the world of anti-aging creams is a harrowing process. They range in price from $15 at the drugstore to $400+ at department-stores, all promising smoother, tighter, more youthful skin. So which ones will actually work–without breaking the bank? We posed this question to Dr. Jessica Krant, a New York dermatologist with a passion for helping women make educated decisions about their skin. Unlike many dermatologists, Dr. Krant has no financial relationship with any beauty companies, so she’s a great source of honest info.

  • Before you start recommending products, can you explain why there is so much confusion around this issue? How can so many different products, at such different prices, all claim to work?
    • It’s very hard to know what “really works.” To understand why, it’s helpful to understand what a “cosmeceutical” really is. Riding the gray area between cosmetics, which only claim to alter the appearance of skin, (think bronzer or eyeshadow), and pharmaceuticals, which alter the body’s biology (think Botox), cosmeceuticals try to have it both ways. Companies that make these products want the public to believe they actually do change skin scientifically, but they don’t want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and many years going through FDA drug trials to prove it.
    • The result: most anti-aging creams, both in the drugstore and in the department store, avoid the FDA entirely, which means they can make lots of claims without the need to prove anything. They just have to pass muster with the Federal Trade Commission, which requires that they maintain a level of safety. (Even this is difficult to rely on, since most safety issues come up only after the product has been out on the market and caused enough trouble to get attention.)
  • Wait, so are you saying that none of these products work?
    • It’s possible some anti-aging products really do work, but there is currently no independent group that is testing and validating these products’ claims. A company may advertise that it’s put a product through “clinical trials,” but that only means it has been tested on actual humans–as opposed to cells in a dish. Clinical research is vital, but when it’s presented by the company that’s selling the product, you need to take it with a grain of salt. Often, results are reported such as a reduction in the “appearance” of fine lines or dark spots. That does not mean that the lines and dark spots have been reduced, only that it looks better.
  • What ingredients have been tested so that we KNOW they have benefits? Are there inexpensive products that contain these ingredients?
    • The most proven anti-aging ingredient on the market is the only one that has gone through the formal FDA-approval process. This is tretinoin, a vitamin-A derivative known as a retinoid. The most recognized brand name is Retin-A. Tretinoin is the gold standard for anti-wrinkle treatments. It’s also proven to reverse other signs of aging, as well as help to reduce the risk of skin cancer by keeping skin cells growing in a healthy, ordered way. Because it is irritating to skin if used improperly, hard to get because it requires a prescription, and expensive, we look for other anti-aging options.
  • So are there other ingredients that have been shown to work?
    • Several ingredients on the market are known to have real results in basic science research–the science behind them looks good, even if they haven’t been formally tested by the FDA. These include over-the-counter retinoids (retinol, retinyl palmitate, and retinaldehyde), antioxidants such as soy, green tea, feverfew, licorice, mushrooms, vitamin C, coffeeberry, and other formulations proprietary to different companies. Finally, glycolic and salicylic acid and their relatives are also useful ingredients in many anti-aging formulations.
  • What affordable products do you recommend to your 50+ patients and why?

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  • In choosing anti-aging products, try to go for the most emollient (moisturizing) versions tolerable, such as heavier night creams. This allows the skin’s top layers to absorb creamy moisture which allows it to be plumped up, giving more of a translucent glow as well as swelling tiny lines and wrinkles full of moisture so they smooth out temporarily. In fact, this is how some of the most expensive anti-wrinkle creams do their best work.
  • Is there a benefit to spending more to get a prescription anti-aging cream?
    • The benefit of using tretinoin by prescription is that it has the most research evidence behind it; it’s rigorously evaluated and proven in an unbiased way; and it not only reduces the “appearance” of fine lines (which plain moisturizers also do), but actually does reduce the fine lines. A tube of tretinoin, which is sold under various brand names as well as the generic, does cost a bit more than some drugstore creams, but less than some department store creams [editor's note: a prescription for a 20-gram tube of tretinoin could cost anywhere from $40 for a generic to $75 for a name brand]. However, a little goes a long way, and it may be the best bang for the buck, if one knows how to use it properly to avoid issues.
  • Do you recommend any expensive anti-aging topicals–department store brands? Are there any that you think have interesting science behind them?
    • Physician-dispensed anti-aging topicals and some of the more expensive department store brands claim to have higher concentrations of active ingredients, formulated in more expensive ways, to justify their higher prices. This may indeed be true, but since formulas are often proprietary, it is hard to know exactly how much more of the ingredient you’re getting. Some of the more reliable brands are SkinCeuticals, which has highly researched antioxidant serum formulations; Revaleskin, which is a line containing active coffeeberry extract that performs multiple anti-aging functions; Neocutis, a company whose product line is based largely on their proprietary PSP (purified skin protein) formula, which aids wound healing—a finding they extrapolate to claim anti-aging effects in intact skin; Obagi, a line which contains many well-tested products; and Neova, a line which contains many copper peptide and antioxidant products.
  • What anti-aging products and services are, in your opinion, worth a “splurge?” In other words, they may be more costly, but they make a huge difference in the longterm? 
    • In my opinion, any of the products mentioned here are worth a try, remembering that it may take 6 months to be able to tell whether a product is making any difference. The most reliable anti-aging treatments are still tretionin–the prescription retinoid–and some of the more invasive procedures, including peels, Intense Pulsed Light photofacials, laser treatments, and the injectable neurotoxins (Botox, Dysport) and fillers (including Restylane, Juvederm, Radiesse, Sculptra, and others). All of these treatments have risks that are important to discuss in great detail with your dermatologist before starting, to have a clear understanding of the medical risks involved as well as costs and realistic expectations of change and length of benefits.
Author
Dr. Jessica KrantDr. Jessica J. Krant is a dermatologist based out of New York and founder of Art of Dermatology, LLC. She is also the assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York City.
  • sandram

    I believe that a good retinol product is worth spluring on because of the fantastic results. I also believe in some treatments done with a laser because they also have great results.

  • BlueBear

    My son began using ROC about two years ago and I have been so astounded at his results that I’ve begun using it myself. He just turned 44 (men are so vain these days, LOL!) and noticed crows feet sneaking in. This stuff works!

  • linaperl

    thanks for the comment BlueBear! So interesting that men are using this, too.

  • linaperl

    Hi sandram – thanks for your comment ;) I interviewed the doctor for this article and I think she would agree with you!

  • cobrateacher

    These reviews might just get me to change from the Olay products I’ve used for years. I think a change would be great!

  • DGray11868

    I have tried about everything out there for my skin expensive department store products to drug store products. For two years I used an organic line called “made from earth” and saw some results, recently I have started using Clinque, they have a new serum out that is fabulous for crows feet and wrinkles, the results are almost instant. I never had much luck with the Rock, Oil of Olay, Arbonne, or Murad just to mention a few line I have tried.

  • DGray11868

    Also I am adamant about facials and get one every month which really, really does help my skin. Pumpkin peels leave your skin looking plump and soft and last for weeks.

  • pamphyila

    FINALLY got a sample of skin care that I was IMPRESSED by – Eye cream by Anna-Marie Borlind, a German, “natural skin care” co. (available in healthfd stores). It’s only @$20 & I am going to actually BUY some.

  • linaperl

    Hi Pam – Thanks for your comment! We love hearing about these types of products . . . maybe we’ll contact the company and try to so a feature on the site!
    All best,
    FOF Editors

  • linaperl

    Hi DGray – Is there one type of pumpkin peel you use? We’d love to find one to test for the site. Best, FOF Editors

  • DGray11868

    My girl uses the H2T Woman pumpkin peel. The results are amazing!!!

  • TKnCK

    Jan Marni age intervention for dark circles really gets rid of darkness. Revision Advanced Skincare-Black line,notable is the non-irritating vitamin c 30%,nectifirm and restorative night cream. Love the whole line of Nia 24,proven results. Can’t go wrong using any of them and also COSMEDIX CELL ID or Skin Medica anything with TNS,use one of them before any other treatment as a booster for aging skin cells.

  • Nannaof2

    I so enjoy FOF. Thanks again for another really great post. I so look forward to reading FOF emails. Keep up the good work!

  • Sharonsue

    Where did you say you can buy this eye cream? I’m having trouble finding it. Thanks!

  • pamphyila

    I have bought some at Whole Foods Mkt. & got the samples at an independent healthfood store – It is also available online at the Borlind website & elsewhere.

  • veritas2011

    I swear by Philosophy skin products….they are a little more expensive than the drugstore brands, but so far they have worked for me!

  • ragtop

    My doctor IS affiliated with a couple of companies. SkinMedica is the one he has recommended for both my husband and me. After laser resurfacing, we used TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream. Now I use TNS Essential Serum. It is expensive, but I like it so much, I splurge.

  • linaperl

    thanks, Nanna! that makes our day, here at FOF!
    xo, The FOF Editors

  • wellnessis4u

    i love E Burnham’s night cream. They do carry a retinol day cream that a lot of people like, but I prefer the night cream, it leaves my skin feeling and looking youthful

  • mosegert@sbcglobal.net

    I was a consultant for this company for 12 years.Stay away from the clarifying lotion.The alcohol content and the active ingredient will dry your skins surface .Love the DDML lotion.Truely an awesome moisturizer.They teach that the best de-ager is to use sun protection,exfoliate and moisturize.At age 53,I have found that the ROC products work better than the expensive lotion you bought from Clinique.Try them,you have nothing to lose but wrinkles.Also a great primer is made by Tru-Minerals to use under makeup…also de-ages.

  • mosegert@sbcglobal.net

    Truely an understated product…love it and it will remain part of my routine as long as it continues to preform!