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These skincare MVPs were chosen by our experts. Before you buy a new product, check the label. Ingredients are listed in order of their concentration, so make sure the ones you are looking for are high on the list.
Jeannette Graf, M.D. — Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York
Heather Woolery-Lloyd, M.D. — Voluntary Professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine, Florida
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Target: Fine lines and wrinkles.
How They Work: Inhibit enzymes that break down collagen.
Label Decoder: Retinol, retinaldehyde and retinyl palmitate are found in OTC versions. Tretinoin is the prescription-level option.
When You'll See a Difference: In two months.
Winning Tip: Use a lower percentage daily (or every other day) instead of a higher percentage once a week. If you experience peeling or dryness, mix with your moisturizer before applying.
Heavy Hitters: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum, $22. Avene
Retrinal + 0.05 Cream, $61.
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Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Target: Pigmentation and uneven tone and texture.
How They Work: Exfoliate and remove dead cells to uncover a fresh, smooth layer of skin.
Label Decoder: Glycolic acid is the most intense and best used in twice-weekly peels. Lactic, malic and citric are gentle enough for daily cleansing.
When You'll See a Difference: Immediately
Winning Tip: Smooth on peels before bed—skin repairs itself while you sleep.
Heavy Hitters: Nuance Daily Resurfacing Pads, $20. Glytone Mini Peel Gel, $57.
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How They Work: Stabilize free radicals to reduce harm from pollution and other environmental factors.
Label Decoder: Vitamin C (which has an additional brightening effect), vitamin E, green tea, idebenone, coenzyme Q10 and pomegranate extract are great options.
When You'll See a Difference: Gradually
Winning Tip: Vitamin C is very unstable and loses power when exposed to air. Bottles with pumps and dark or colored containers are ideal.
Heavy Hitters: Paula's Choice Resist C15 Super Booster, $45. Dr. Brandt XYY Eye Cream, $45.
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How They Work: Draw water from the environment into skin to help plump and nourish.
Label Decoder: Hyaluronic acid (sometimes listed as hyaluronan or sodium hyaluronate) and glycerin are two top contenders.
When You'll See a Difference: In a few days, depending on severity.
Winning Tip: They can be combined with all other anti-aging products.
Heavy Hitters: Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion+, $26. RoC Multi Correxion 5 in 1 Daily Moisturizer with SPF 30, $29.
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Target: Dark Spots
How They Work: Stop tyrosinase, the enzyme that makes melanin. (Too much of it can cause discoloration.)
Label Decoder: Licorice extract, kojic acid, soy, arbutin and bearberry all pack a punch.
When You'll See a Difference: In four weeks.
Winning Tip: The more, the merrier. These ingredients work synergistically for a stronger treatment.
Heavy Hitters: First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Serum, $44. L'Oreal Paris Age Perfect Glow Renewal Day/Night Cream, $25.
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How They Work: Natural sunscreens (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide) reflect the sun like a mirror, while chemical ones (avobenzone, oxybenzone) absorb ultraviolet rays.
Label Decoder: Look for "broad spectrum," which includes both UVA and UVB protection. And SPF 30, at a minimum.
When You'll See a Difference: There's no exact time frame; daily use equals less long-term damage.
Winning Tip: UVB rays burn your skin, while UVA rays destroy collagen and exacerbate aging—that's why you need to protect from both. UVB blockers last two hours at most, so reapply that often or more if you are outdoors all day.
Heavy Hitters: Aveeno Protect + Hydrate SPF 50, $10. La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid, $33.50.
Originally published in the November 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.