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Your Anti-Aging Friends are SPF, Retinol, AHA/BHA, Vitamin C & Peptides

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Create Your Anti-Aging Routine

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updated January 12, 2017

Key Takeaway

Here are the key points for choosing good anti-aging products. Read further for details and our product picks, all Leaping Bunny of course!

  • Always have adequate SPF protection. UV rays from the sun are the #1 cause of skin aging, wrinkles, and skin cancer. The most important step for anti-aging is to prevent further damage by using SPF 15 every day (SPF 30 if using AHA/BHA or retinol).

  • After adequate SPF, the ingredients that can best improve skin's appearance are alpha or beta hydroxy acids (AHA or BHA), retinol, vitamin C, and peptides. Their roles are described in this article, along with our product picks for each ingredient, so that you can choose the ingredients and products most appropriate for you.

  • Packaging is critical for retinol and vitamin C. These degrade quickly in light, so packaging is as important as the product. Get only products in opaque tubes or pumps. Any in clear packaging will probably be ineffective by the time you buy them.

  • You may notice a difference after using products just a few times (especially with AHA/BHAs), but usually you'll see improvement over a few weeks.

SPF: Start each day with a good SPF moisturizer

A moisturizer with SPF is a great dual-purpose product. Here's what to look for:

  • At least SPF 15. If you use an AHA/BHA or retinol product, though, get SPF 30.

  • Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or avobenzone as one of the active SPF ingredients, to make sure you are protected against the full UV spectrum. Zinc oxide is often recommended by dermatologists because it covers the full spectrum by itself and can also benefit skin as an anti-irritant.

  • Glycerin or hyaluronic acid (aka sodium hyaluronate), to reduce the appearance of fine lines. These are natural components of your skin, residing in the space between skin cells. They both function to bind water within the skin, and that's what gives our face its fullness. As we age, our skin's own components aren't as efficient at binding water, so our face loses that fullness. By using a moisturizer with glycerin or hyaluronic acid, you boost your skin's natural ability to bind water, and it temporarily plumps your face, making lines less visible. Glycerin and hyaluronic acid are the only water-binding ingredients that can penetrate your skin enough to help.

Anti-aging SPF Moisturizers
Good SPF Moisturizers with Anti-Aging Ingredients

Here are good choices that work well under makeup, too:

  • Kiss My Face Face Factor SPF 30 (not the SPF 50 version), MSRP: $12.95/2 oz, but at Vitacost for $8.08. Includes glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants. Fragrance free and vegan. Good for sensitive skin. (Note: The current label on the product incorrectly lists ingredients. For the true ingredient list, see the KMF site.)

  • DeVita Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30, MSRP: $25.95/2.5 oz, but at Vitacost for $12.55. Includes glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Fragrance free and vegan. Excellent for sensitive skin.

  • Andalou Daily Defense Lotion SPF 18, MSRP: $14.95/2.7 oz, but at Vitacost for $10.79. Includes glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants. Vegan.

Use SPF every day, rain or shine, winter or summer. Cold and clouds don't stop UV rays. If you see daylight, UV rays are there.

Foundation with SPF? Don't rely on it for your sole sunscreen. If you use the quantity needed to get the SPF protection, you'll be wearing way too much foundation. Use an adequate SPF product beneath your foundation, even if your foundation says it's SPF 30.

AHAs and BHA: Exfoliate dead cells to reveal healthier skin

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliate dead skin cells that build up on your skin's surface, revealing healthier new skin. AHAs include glycolic, lactic, and malic acids. BHA is salicylic acid, which is related to aspirin (avoid BHA if you are allergic to aspirin). They are equally effective. The main difference is that AHAs work on the surface of skin, while BHA works on the surface and within pores. If you have blackheads or enlarged pores, BHA can be better because it can help unclog pores.

Removing the dead cells helps in these ways:

  • Results in brighter, smoother skin and reduced appearance of fine lines

  • Allows other products to be more effective

  • For BHA, unclogging pores can help reduce pore size

For AHA, look for a product with 8%-10% AHAs; for BHA, look for 1%-2%. These percentages are suitable for daily use. If you need a major reset, higher percentages are available, but be sure to follow the label and don't use more often than specified on the label.

AHA and BHA Products
DeVita's AHA product (left) and Paula's Choice AHA and BHA products (right)

A few Leaping Bunny brands have AHA/BHA exfoliants, including two brands with standout products: DeVita and Paula's Choice:

For Paula's Choice, get their newsletter to take advantage of frequent sales. Paula's Choice has the widest selection of AHA/BHA products and has trial sizes available. Paula's Choice is also available locally at Pharmaca, but product selection varies by store so call ahead.

As noted earlier, you should always use a sunscreen or SPF moisturizer during daytime, but it's critical when using an AHA/BHA product. If you don't, you are exposing new, vulnerable skin to UV rays, and you can cause more harm than good.

Vitamin C: Anti-aging's handywoman and necessary companion for retinol

Vitamin C is a multi-talented anti-aging ingredient. Here are some of its benefits:

  • An antioxidant, it helps protect skin from free radicals

  • Required for collagen production, so especially helpful in conjunction with retinol products to make them more effective

  • Can lighten skin discoloration

  • Can help skin heal

  • Research suggests it may also protect against UV

Vitamin C has several forms: l-ascorbic acid, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP), and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate are the ones with the most documented research. If you don't respond to one form, try another. For example, some people who don't respond to MAP respond to l-ascorbic acid, and vice versa.

Vitamin C degrades quickly in light. Do not buy a vitamin C product that is in clear packaging. The telltale sign is if it has turned orange. If so, it has degraded enough that you should not use it.

Vitamin C Products
From left: DeVita C Serum, Paula's Choice Resist C15 Super Booster, Andalou Turmeric+C Enlighten Serum, Dermalogica MAP-15 Regenerator

Here are vitamin C products that are Leaping Bunny certified and have proper packaging:

Retinol: Your anti-aging power ingredient

If there's a single best anti-aging ingredient, it's retinol. Retinol has the ability to signal our aging skin cells to behave like younger cells again. Here are the benefits:

  • Helps skin create healthier, younger-acting skin cells

  • Helps improve skin's structure

  • Is an antioxidant so helps fight free radical damage

The retinol concentration should be a minimum of 0.3%. The maximum possible without a prescription is 2%. Because vitamin C is required for collagen production, good retinol products usually contain a form of vitamin C.

Retinol is potent, and you'll want to be careful when you start it. Be sure to follow label instructions. Usually, it's recommended to use at night, but again, read the label instructions for proper use of that particular product.

Like vitamin C, retinol degrades quickly when exposed to light, so it must be packaged in a dark container. Any retinol product in clear packaging is probably already ineffective by the time you buy it.

Retinol Products
Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment (left) and Dermalogica's Overnight Retinol Repair (right)

Here are effective, Leaping Bunny-certified retinol products that also have proper packaging:

As with AHA/BHA products, using an SPF 30 sunscreen is critical when using a retinol product. If you don't, you are exposing new, vulnerable skin to UV rays, and you can cause more harm than good.

Peptides: More support for healthy cell renewal

Like retinol, peptides also have the ability to signal cells to behave better. Different peptides have different effects. Palmitoyl tripeptide-5 and palmitoyl oligopeptide may boost collagen production. Palmitoyl oligopeptide may also boost production of hyaluronic acid (the stuff between our skin cells that binds water and plumps our face). There are several other peptides, which generally may help aging cells function better.

Peptides are usually added as supporting ingredients to products. Look for them in the ingredient list. Many of the products shown in this article include peptides.

My Routine

As an example, here's what I use. I have normal skin, but my T-zone tends to get clogged pores. Caution! Everyone's skin is different, so my routine may not be the best one for you. This example is just to show you how an anti-aging routine might look. If you have sensitive skin, for example, you may want a lower strength product or may want to use products less frequently, perhaps only a few days a week rather than every day. If your skin reacts badly, stop immediately and ask the brand for advice.

Morning (after washing face)

  • DeVita C Serum: To get all the benefits of vitamin C, but especially for its help against UV radiation.

  • Kiss My Face - Face Factor SPF 30: My main line of defense against UV radiation, plus it's a good moisturizer with hyaluronic acid and glycerin, and it has good antioxidants, too.

  • Then I apply my makeup.

Night (after washing face)

  • Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant: Slough off dead skin cells, to help skin tone and texture and also to make the next product, retinol, more effective.

  • Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment: My main line of attack on wrinkles and other aging effects. This product includes vitamin C to enhance the effectiveness of the retinol. It also has glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and peptides to round it out as an overall great product for me each night.

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