What are the best ways to slow down skin aging and to keep your skin young-looking?
In this article, we cover the best methods for optimal skin health.
Our approach to this is unique, given we approach skin rejuvenation from our deep knowledge about the aging process.
Knowing why we age, can help us to better see what are the best treatments for the skin, especially in the long-term.
For example, some skin treatments can damage or deplete the stem cell pools in the skin too much, which in the long term could actually accelerate skin aging, while in the short term provide “skin benefits”.
Another reason why our approach differs from many others, is that none of the products mentioned in this article are sponsored – unlike many other websites.
This enables us to give you impartial advice, which we greatly value as a team.
In fact, most of the approaches we recommend we do ourselves to improve and maintain optimal skin health and slow down skin aging.
1. The best science-based skin creams
There are innumerable skin creams, all claiming to reduce wrinkles and making your skin look better. How do you see the forest from the trees?
A proper science-based skincare routine for slowing down skin aging can be very simple, and yet very powerful.
It consists of a daily skin cleanser, moisturizer (containing ingredients like hyaluronic acid), sunscreen, and the prime star, retinoic acid (tretinoin).
This anti-aging skin care routine looks as follows:
IN THE MORNING
- Use an exfoliating skin cleanser, ideally with salicylic acid, like Olay Regenerating Cream Cleanser (not sponsored).
- Use a cream or serum that hydrates the skin (e.g. with hyaluronic acid) and that contains a science-based active ingredient, like skin (copper) peptides or arctiin, and that ideally also contains sunscreen (with a Solar Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15). Examples are The Ordinary Buffet + Copper Peptides (not sponsored) or Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler + Elasticity (not sponsored).
- Apply sunscreen in case your day cream or serum does not contain sunscreen.
IN THE EVENING
- Use a non-exfoliating skin cleanser, like L’Oreal Age Perfect Cleansing Milk (not sponsored).
- Apply tretinoin cream 0.05% (prescription needed) or a high-quality retinol serum or cream, like Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum (not sponsored).
Let’s dive deeper into the best cleansers, moisturizers and active ingredients.
First: A good exfoliating and non-exfoliating skin cleanser
Before you apply any active ingredients it’s important to properly clean the skin.
During the day, pollution and other impurities accumulate on the skin, which can damage the skin.
Ideally, you clean your skin twice a day, in the morning and evening, every time before you start your skincare routine.
In the morning, you ideally use an exfoliating skin cleanser.
After all, using a retinoid-based skin cream in the evening (see further down) will lead to a higher turnover and removal of dead skin cells in the upper layer of the skin.
An exfoliating skin cleanser helps to remove these dead skin cells, which would otherwise accumulate significantly when using a retinoid-based skin cream, leading to flaking and peeling of the skin.
Good exfoliating skin cleansers contain for example glycolic acid and salicylic acid.
We prefer salicylic acid given it also has anti-inflammatory properties. An example of a salicylic acid-containing exfoliating skin cleanser is Olay Regenerating Cream Cleanser (not sponsored).
An example of a glycolic acid-containing exfoliating skin cleanser is Skinceutical Glycolic Renewal Cleanser (not sponsored).
Be gentle with exfoliation, especially in the beginning. If too much peeling, irritation or redness of the skin occurs (especially when also applying a retinoid-based skin cream in the evening), just apply the exfoliating skin cleanser every other day or twice a week and gradually build up your regimen. Or don’t use the exfoliating skin cleanser and the retinoid-based product on the same days in the beginning.
In the evening, it’s best to use a non-exfoliating skin cleanser. After all, in the evening you will already apply a tretinoin or retinol-containing skin product, which also already exfoliates the skin. So to prevent too much exfoliation of the skin, it’s best to use a non-exfoliating skin cleaner.
Active Skin Ingredients: tretinoin (retinoic acid) and retinol
Tretinoin cream is the most important and powerful tool in your skin rejuvenation toolbox.
Tretinoin cream is the best and most science-based skin cream available to slow down skin aging and reduce wrinkles.
Tretinoin has hundreds of scientific studies backing its effectiveness in reducing wrinkles, giving the skin a more youthful look and glow, and making skin more soft and smooth.
Tretinoin, also called retinoic acid, is a derivative of vitamin A.
Tretinoin activates all kinds of transcription factors (proteins) in the skin which activate genes that upregulate collagen and elastin production, rejuvenate skin cells, and increase skin cell turnover, so the skin looks younger and healthier.
In fact, one of the main reasons why our skin looks old is because during aging, the turnover (the generation of new skin cells) slows down considerably, making the skin look thinner, more wrinkly and more dull.
The fact that tretinoin increases cell turnover can lead to some slight side effects at first, specifically skin peeling (see further down).
Different retinoids exist, and some are more powerful than others. In order of potency (starting with the least potent ingredient and ending with the most potent retinoid):
- Retinyl esters (retinyl propionate, retinyl acetate, retinyl palmitate)
- Retinaldehyde, also known as retinal
- Adapalene (e.g. Differin)
- Tretinoin, also known as retinoic acid (e.g. Retin-A, Renova)
- Isotretinoin (orally taken, e.g., Accutane)
We prefer tretinoin (retinoic acid) and not the newer retinoids like tazarotene, given these newer retinoids are more “unnatural” molecules, with a significantly different molecular structure compared to tretinoin, which is exactly the same molecule as occurs in the body and our cells use.
The amount of tretinoin in skin creams is ideally 0.05%. If you experience too much irritation, you can use a lower concentration.
A disadvantage is that in most countries a tretinoin cream is prescription-based.
An alternative is retinol, which does not require a prescription. Retinol is less powerful than tretinoin, because retinol first needs to be converted into retinaldehyde and then into tretinoin, in order to be active in the skin cells.
However, skin care products that combine retinol with other active ingredients can also be very powerful to slow down skin aging, and to even partially reverse it.
One cream in this regard we like very much is Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum (not sponsored).
First time users of tretinoin or retinol-based skin creams have to be careful: only apply very little (an amount of cream the size of a pea for the whole face), and use it in the first few weeks every other day or even every third day given in the beginning these skin creams – especially tretinoin – can cause the skin to peel, look red and feel stingy.
Also, use a proper moisturizer and sunscreen, given tretinoin cream can dry out the skin and make the skin more sensitive to sun damage, especially in the beginning of the treatment.
After a few weeks, when the skin gets used to tretinoin or retinol, most users begin to see (and feel!) the beneficial effects.
Tretinoin and retinol show their best effects after about six months to one year of continual use.
Active ingredients: skin peptides and/or arctiin
We like copper peptides. Copper is needed for collagen production, while specific peptides have shown to protect and maintain the skin.
Another example of an interesting active ingredient is arctiin. It can be found in creams like Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler + Elasticity (not sponsored), which also contains hyaluronic acid and sunscreen.
You can apply these skin products in the morning and use a retinoid-based skin product in the evening.
Another important way to slow down skin aging is by amaking sure your skin gets sufficiently hydrated.
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally-occurring molecule in our skin. Hyaluronic acid hydrates and moisturizes the skin, and also prevents the skin from skin damage. Hyaluronic acid can even signal to the skin stem cells to maintain themselves better.
An example of a good hyaluronic acid-based moisturizer is Vichy Lift Epidermal Filler serum (not sponsored).
However, ideally, you apply a skin cream with active ingredients that already contains hyaluronic acid, like Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler + Elasticity (not sponsored).
Also, hyaluronic acid works synergistically with tretinoin or retinol-based products, given these products can cause the skin to be more dehydrated , especially in the first weeks of applying these products.
There is a lot of discussion as to when to apply hyaluronic acid when you also use tretinoin cream, but you can apply hyaluronic acid before, after or with tretinoin.
Keep in mind that if you apply tretinoin and hyaluronic acid together, the tretinoin can penetrate deeper into the skin, causing more side-effects (e.g. peeling and redness), especially in the beginning.
Interestingly, hyaluronic acid taken orally can extend lifespan, as we explain here.
Some dermatologists claim that up to 80 percent of extrinsic skin aging is caused by sun damage.
UV rays are very powerful rays that damage the DNA and other components of our skin cells.
Always wear a proper sunscreen, even on cloudy days. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 (a higher SPF does not really have an additional benefit). Ideally, you use a sunscreen with moisturizer in it.
There is a lot of discussion as to whether one should use a chemical or a physical sunscreen.
A chemical sunscreen uses chemicals to block UV light, while a physical sunscreen uses minerals (like titanium or zinc) to block UV rays.
Many articles will argue that physical sunscreens are better, but actually chemical sunscreens seem to protect better against different wavelengths of UV light. Also, the metal particles in physical sunscreens can oxidize the skin. So we would slightly lean more towards chemical sunscreens for optimal protection.
You can also use sunscreens that can also hydrate the skin (by containing hyaluronic acid for example) or that contain active ingredients such as retinol or peptides.
We are somewhat lukewarm about vitamin C creams. They are touted a lot as ways to improve skin health, but the problem is that vitamin C in skin creams is very unstable and oxidizes very quickly.
Skincare companies try to remedy this with different versions of vitamin C (like using palmitated, ethylated or glycated versions of vitamin C), and by combining it with antioxidants, but even then vitamin C oxidizes and degrades quickly and only a fraction of the vitamin C is active inside skin cells.
Another problem is that some vitamin C creams contain a lot of vitamin C (e.g. up to 10 to 30 percent) which can be too acidic for the skin.
In the case you prefer using a vitamin C-based product, we would suggest using one with a low dose of vitamin C.
However, vitamin C taken orally could be a longevity ingredient, as we explain here.
Some skin brands contain niacinamide.
However, niacinamide can inhibit sirtuins, which are important proteins required for maintaining the DNA and epigenome (R).
So while these niacinamide creams can improve skin health in the short-term, they could theoretically accelerate skin aging in the long-term.
Therefore, as it stands, we do not yet advise the use of creams that contain niacinamide.
Some people take niacinamide orally for anti-aging. We explain here why we believe NMN is better than niacinamide or its derivative, nicotinamide riboside (NR) in this regard.
2. Low-level light therapy (photobiomodulation or (infra)red light therapy)
Low-level light therapy (LLT) or photobiomodulation has scientifically shown to rejuvenate the skin, by increasing collagen and elastin production for example, leading to reduced wrinkles and making the skin look more smooth and younger (R,R,R,R,R,R,R).
Red light and infrared light consists of photons (light particles) with specific energies that are absorbed by various proteins in our skin cells, which activates those proteins or improves their function.
Examples of such light-absorbing proteins are found in the mitochondria, which are the power plants of our cells; that way (infra)red light can improve energy production in the mitochondria, for example.
Ideally, for skin rejuvenation, at least two frequencies are used: one consisting of red light (around 630 nm) and one being infrared light (around 830 nm).
Examples of devices we like are the Omnilux Contour. It’s made by Omnilux, an esteemed company that also creates professional photobiomodulation devices for dermatologists. Omnilux Contour is a mask you put on that shines (infra)red light on the face.
There are also lamps that you can put in front of you and that shine their light on your face or body, like BioMax, Joovv (expensive), and MitoRed. We like BioMax the most (not sponsored).
We prefer red light masks (like the Omnilux Contour) more than static lamps, given that with a mask you can still walk around and do other things, while with a fixed lamp you have to sit in front of the lamp during the treatment (but this can work great if you install the lamp next to your computer for example).
3. Microcurrent devices
Microcurrent devices create a small alternating current in the skin which can activate skin cells like fibroblasts and keratinocytes, and muscle cells, to make the skin more toned and smooth.
Currently, there has not yet been a lot of scientific studies done with these devices in regards to skin rejuvenation, so there is no firm evidence yet that they are effective.
One study showed improvements in skin with a microcurrent device, but this was a small study (R). Other scientific studies demonstrate that microcurrent devices can improve and accelerate wound healing and treat chronic wounds like ulcers (R,R,R,R). In vitro studies show that microcurrent can activate skin cells (R).
Various dermatologists recommend these devices claiming they can provide benefits, and there are people who notice improvements of their skin with regular use.
It is important that the device is used consistently. Dermatologists also mainly view microcurrent devices as a preventive tool to slow down skin sagging and wrinkles.
If you already have a considerably sagged or old-looking skin, these devices will likely make less of a difference.
Examples of microcurrent devices are Foreo, Nuface and Ziip.
We like the Foreo device, it is a more recent device that has some extra options that the Nuface device doesn’t have (again, none of the brands mentioned on this page are sponsored, we want to be totally impartial).
4. Supplements for healthy skin
We differentiate between skin supplements, health supplements and longevity supplements.
Skin supplements are supplements specifically aimed to improve skin health and reduce wrinkles.
Health supplements are micronutrients like vitamin, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids and others. Deficiencies in these micronutrients can undermine your health, including skin health, increase your risk of diseases, and even shorten lifespan.
However, taking extra amounts of these health supplements has not really shown to extend maximum lifespan. For this, longevity supplements are needed.
We summarized the best longevity or anti-aging supplements here.
NOVOS Core contains hyaluronic acid.
Collagen supplements can also improve wrinkles. It’s important to use hydrolyzed collagen. We explain more about the best collagen supplements here.
Health supplements for a younger-looking skin
For healthy skin, it’s very important to make sure you take in adequate amounts of micronutrients.
The skin is your biggest organ and needs many micronutrients to function and maintain itself properly.
Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids, stilbenes and many other small molecules, often found in nature.
Important micronutrients to slow down skin aging are:
- Vitamin A: e.g. 2500 units of retinyl palmitate (not carotenoids) per day
- Iodine: we prefer a high-dose of iodine, like between 1500 and 2500 ug (microgram) per day, ideally both iodine and iodide (e.g. as droplets)
- Vitamin D: e.g. 4000 units per day of vitamin D3
- Vitamin K: e.g. 200 to 350 ug per day, as vitamin K2
- Zinc: 15 mg per day.
- B vitamins, ideally a B vitamin complex
- Selenium: e.g. 100 ug per day, ideally as selenium yeast and not selenium methionine
- Omega-3 fatty acids, ideally high-quality, low TOTOX omega-3’s
You can learn more about the best health supplements to take here.
Longevity supplements for a younger-looking skin
As we mentioned before, it’s important to differentiate between “health supplements” and “longevity supplements”.
Health supplements are mainly vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients you need for an optimal, healthy life. But they do not really extend lifespan. However, if you are deficient in them, they can shorten lifespan.
Longevity supplements on the other hand do extend lifespan.
You can learn more about the best anti-aging longevity supplements here.
Given these substances act on fundamental aging processes they also address skin aging at the root cause. Examples of such longevity supplements that also improve skin health are discussed here.
NOVOS Core contains the 12 best and most science-based longevity ingredients.
5. A proper skin care diet
A proper diet is paramount for good-looking, young-looking skin. Healthy skin reflects a healthy diet.
There are various foods that make you skin look better, such as:
- Leafy green vegetables, like kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach
- Dark chocolate, ideally with at least 70 percent cacao
- Blueberries and blackberries
- Fatty fish like salmon, herring, anchovy, mackerel. Also consume fish roe (eggs), like salmon roe, lumpfish roe and herring roe. They contain very bioavailable phospholipid omega-3s
- Green and white tea
- Olives and olive oil
- Tomatoes (contain lycopene, which is more bioavailable when cooked)
- Chia seeds and flaxseed (contain lots of omega-3s)
- Spices like oregano, ginger, black pepper, thyme, and parsley
Various foods accelerate skin aging, such as fried foods, sugary foods (e.g. soda, cakes, cookies), starchy foods (too much potatoes, pasta, rice, bread), and milk.
Milk accelerates aging, given it activates all kinds of growth (aging) mechanisms (like mTOR, IGF and insulin receptors), and contains galactose, a milk sugar that scientists actually use to induce aging in animals.
Furthermore, milk can cause inflammation, and can cause or worsen auto-immune disease in some people, like eczema or asthma.
Try to avoid or to find out if specific substances make your skin look worse or older. Classic culprits are gluten-containing foods, eggs, dairy or sugars.
If you want to learn more about the best diet for longevity, we highlighted our NOVOS Longevity Diet here.
6. Science-based dermatological treatments
There are many dermatological treatments available, like microdermabrasion, chemical peels, ablative laser resurfacing (with carbon dioxide and erbium lasers), non-ablative laser resurfacing (e.g. with intense pulsed light), microneedling (with rollers or pens), microneedling with radiofrequency, ultrasound treatments, and so on.
So what are the best treatments?
Why we are not big fans of dermabrasion, chemical peels and ablative lasers
We would not advise microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and non-fractional ablative laser resurfacing.
Why? Because they destroy or damage entire skin surfaces.
This is not ideal, because that way they also destroy or damage many stem cells that are needed for proper repair.
Ideally, you damage skin at specific spots (like with microneedling) so that many stem cells are not damaged or killed, and can “infiltrate” into the damaged areas to repair the damage.
While people can look better after treatments that damage/destroy entire skin areas, like with non-fractional ablative laser resurfacing or strong chemical peels, it remains to be seen what the long term effects are, like stem cell depletion of the skin.
Why to be careful with laser treatments
Regarding laser treatments, there are non-fractional and fractional laser treatments.
Fractional means the laser light does not hit the entire surface, but only in specific areas, creating small columns of damaged skin.
Non-fractional lasers damage the entire surface. As mentioned before, we don’t like the entire surface being damaged, which can lead to too much stem cell damage and exhaustion.
Then there are ablative lasers and non-ablative lasers.
Ablative lasers are very powerful and destroy the skin, removing the entire epidermis and heating up/damaging the underlying dermis. This causes in our view too much damage, especially to skin stem cells.
Non-ablative lasers are more gentle, just heating up the skin, which can lead to more collagen growth for example.
We don’t like lasers that much, even when delivered in a fractional approach (not the whole surface) or being non-ablative (more gentle). They could still cause too much skin damage, including damaging too many stem cells in the long term.
Be careful with cryotherapy
We are also not fans of cryotherapy, in which cold freezes and destroys skin cells. This approach can damage too many healthy cells, including stem cells.
Also, it can kill off fat cells in the face. You need some fat in the face to prevent looking old, like having that typical old-looking hollowed-out face.
Microneedling, with or without radiofrequency or platelet rich plasma (PRP) for skin rejuvenation
We are fans of microneedling, with or without radiofrequency, to improve and rejuvenate the skin.
Microneedles create tiny holes in the skin, activating surrounding cells, including stem cells, to repair the damage.
There are different devices to do microneedling, like dermarollers and microneedling pens. We prefer pens over rollers, because with dermapens the needles are inserted directly into the skin, perpendicularly, while with derma rollers the needles create more torn-out wounds, given the needles have to roll into the skin, ripping the skin open.
Microneedling can also be combined with radiofrequency (RF). The small needles, when penetrating the skin, also emit radiofrequency waves, which heat up the surrounding tissue, leading to increased collagen production for example.
You can combine microneedling with platelet-rich plasma (PRP). PRP is made from your own blood (after drawing blood, centrifuging it and extracting a specific fraction of it that contains lots of platelets and growth factors). After microneedles have punctured many holes in the skin, the PRP is applied, allowing it to penetrate the skin through the thousands of little holes.
Microneedling can also be combined with stem cell medium (R) or specific growth factors, like epidermal growth factor (EGF) or granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF).
Ultrasound therapy for skin rejuvenation
Ultrasound devices emit high-energy ultrasound waves into the skin, leading to increased collagen production.
We like this kind of treatment; it can lift the skin and make you look younger, without the need for more drastic invasive procedures like a facelift. Some people however complain the treatment is rather painful.
An example of such a therapy is Ultherapy, which is available at dermatologist offices.
Fillers & a younger-looking skin
Fillers (e.g. injecting hyaluronic acid) can also improve skin appearance, but are temporary (e.g. they work for about 6 months to a year).
They can smooth out fine lines and create a more younger-looking, lifted face. Be careful not to use too much filler, which can make the face look too pumped up and too unnatural.
Examples of fillers are Teosyal, Juvederm or Restylane.
Is botox a good idea in the long term?
Botox paralyzes the muscles, preventing contraction of the skin and thus skin wrinkles.
One needs to be careful with applying too much botox. Repetitive botox injections, paralyzing the muscles, leads to dwindling of the muscles (atrophy), which in the long-term can make you actually look older.
After all, one of the reasons why a face looks old is because of dwindling of facial muscles, and the dwindling of bone mass (e.g. because the facial muscles exert less pull on the bone, which is needed to keep the bone healthy).
Reduced facial muscle mass and changes in facial bone structure contributes significantly to looking old.
There are patients that have used botox for such a long time that some of their muscles, like the one of the forehead, are so thin you can almost see the bone structure underneath. This is not ideal.
Most dermatologists won’t tell you about the long-term drawbacks of botox use; they like using botox given it’s such an easy and quick treatment.
However, judiciously applying botox in small amounts in specific areas with (deep) mechanical wrinkles could be helpful in some cases.
The best anti-aging dermatological treatments: conclusion
In the last two decades, we have seen the rise of various new treatments, and the improvement of various existing treatments.
Thanks to these new developments, it’s not really necessary anymore to undergo invasive procedures like facelifts to look younger.
In fact, non-invasive skin rejuvenation treatments, like microneedling and ultrasound therapy, can enable people to look decades younger, while still having a natural look, especially when they also combine these treatments with long-term use of tretinoin cream, proper moisturizers and sunscreen.
7. The best anti-wrinkle pillows
We sleep about one third of our lives, and our face is in close contact with your pillow most of that time.
A bad pillow or pillow case can cause sleep wrinkles, exert too much or too little pressure on specific parts of the face, create facial asymmetry and accelerate skin aging.
A good pillow case is also important.
Ideally, it’s a case that is very smooth and does not cause folds and creases which press on your skin and can result in sleep wrinkles. Use pillow cases made of satin or silk (we prefer silk).
There are also pillow cases impregnated with copper. Copper is a mineral needed for collagen synthesis.
Examples of copper-infused pillow cases are the Night Spa Pillowcase with Cupron technology, Iluminage Beauty Skin Rejuvenation Pillowcase, and the Envy Anti-Wrinkle Pillow.
8. Pulsed or vibrating facial massagers
Cells react to their environment. Stimuli from outside the cells can reprogram cells and their behaviour.
For example, if pressure is applied to a part of the skin, that part will become more firm (an extreme example is a callus formed in areas exposed to high pressure like at the heel).
Pulsating massaging devices exert pressure and vibration on the skin, which can activate fibroblasts to produce more collagen and other skin components.
9. Silicone patches
As mentioned before, cells are very sensitive to their environment. The specific pressure and shear forces exerted by silicone patches on underlying skin could slowly but steadily decrease wrinkles.
These silicone patches need to be worn for many hours, ideally at night. After a few weeks of continuous use, wrinkles can be somewhat reduced.
An example of anti-wrinkle silicone patches are SiO patches.
This page will be continuously updated with the newest and latest methods to improve skin.
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