Beauty by Jill Dunn
We all know the benefits of antioxidants in our diets – foods like spinach, blueberries and strawberries are rich in vitamins and bioflavonoids that help detoxify cells. And when it comes to skin care, antioxidants also play a crucial role. While sunscreen is still the ultimate anti-aging cream, anti-oxidants supplement its benefits. “Ninety per cent of skin aging is cause by free radical damage that stems from environmental aggressors like UV rays, pollution and smoking,” says Dr. Diane Madfes, a New York City-based dermatologist.
Free radicals set off a chain reaction in our skin’s cells, which results in lines, wrinkles, uneven pigmentation and a loss of firmness and elasticity.
Antioxidants come to the rescue like search-and-destroy operatives, seeking and neutralizing free radicals in our skin. “They boost the skin’s repair mechanism, which helps keep aging at bay.” says Dr. Madfes.
Since there are several types of free radical damage, it’s best to use a cocktail of antioxidants to achieve the optimal result. “The combination of ingredients work in synergy for a boosted effect,” says Donna Paty, national education manager for Kiehl’s. Look for products that combine vitamins A and C and green tea or have a “superhero” antioxidant like acai berry or idebenone that packs more punch.
Peptides are the building blocks of our cells and increase cellular production. “Peptides act almost like a light switch – they ‘turn on’ the skin’s cells to start collagen and elastin production,” says Dr. Madfes. As we age, these naturally occurring peptides break down and their complex signaling system for cells is fragmented, causing wrinkled, saggy skin. That’s where peptides come in. When you apply peptides to your skin, it “tricks” your skin into thinking that it has lost collagen and spurs it to make more.
The most popular peptide for cosmetic use is palmitoyl pentapeptide (a.k.a. Matrixyl), but there are also copper peptides, neuropeptides, marine peptides and hexapeptides, to name a few. “Peptides are all about optimizing cell production,” Dr. Madfes says. Over time, the skin gains resiliency and elasticity and is thicker and firmer, and you’ll notice a smoothing of fine lines and wrinkles. The reason why peptides are so effective is that peptide molecules are small enough to penetrate the top layer of the skin to target collagen-producing cells – unlike collagen molecules themselves, which are too large to penetrate the skin.
Alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs) may sound scary, but they act as your skin’s secret weapon for a smooth, radiant complexion. While other anti-aging all-stars work to target collagen and elastin production, AHAs, such as glycolic and lactic acid, target the surface for the skin. Ultimately they accelerate exfoliation and keep pores clear, which is especially important if you are acne-prone or have hyperpigmentation. “AHAs are about improving the texture and clarity of the skin. They minimize the appearance of scars, fine lines and sun spots,” says Dr. Madfes. When applied on the skin, AHAs work to “melt” the bonds between skin cells to accelerate exfoliation. “Just remember – anytime you put a glycolic on, it’s normal to feel a tingle,” says Dr. Madfes. “But if it’s stinging for longer than five minutes, you should discontinue using it.”
Try a weekly glycolic peel to get glowing, or use and AHA in your daily moisturizer. Ten per cent glycolic acid is the maximum percentage allowed in over-the-counter peel or moisturizer. If you have sensitive skin, start with a milder dose like four per cent and work your way up. Keep in mind that because of their powerful exfoliating abilities, AHAs make your more sensitive to the sun, so always wear at least an SPF 15 whenever you are outside.
“Retinol is the gold standard when it comes to anti-aging,” Dr. Madfes says. Retinol in all its forms (i.e. vitamin A, retinoic acid, tretinoin and it prescription-strength version, Renova), targets the fibroblasts that support collagen and elastin, ultimately promoting skin renewal and smoothing fine lines and wrinkles. Make it part of your evening routine, advises Dr. Madfes. “UV rays from the sun deactivate the retinol, so you get a more effective treatment at night.”
The one drawback is that retinol can cause skin irritation, so if you’re introducing it into your skin-care regimen, do it slowly. Apply two times a week at night, gradually building up to using it on a daily basis.