Best OTC Anti Aging Products

Best OTC Anti Aging Products

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Retinol does get a lot of love in the skin care product world! Retinol itself is a form of vitamin A found in foods and products. It’s naturally occurring. By itself it actually is not directly active in the skin. When applied to the skin, it is converted into retinoic acid which is considered an active retinoid. Retinoids are known to improve fine lines and wrinkles by boosting collagen production in addition to retaining water in the skin. They can help actually reverse the signs of aging that comes from sun damage. They can also work to minimize discoloration in the skin and give the skin more of a glow.  (This is in contrast to most OTC products for anti-aging- ingredients such as Hyaluronic acid applied topically do not boost collagen production. They actually just minimize the appearance of fine lines by retaining moisture in the superficial layers of skin to make it appear less wrinkled- there’s no long term benefit from actual collagen production. As soon as the product is gone- it’s effects are gone too!)
Related : Dr Erum Ilyas discusses the best retinol serums with Oprah Magazine!

Retinol is found over the counter so it’s widely available for consumers. There are a few things to point out with retinol  when compared to the prescription tretinoin and tazarotene which are much stronger than retinol.  Because retinol relies on our skin’s ability to convert it into the active retinoic acid, this may not always give quick or consistent results.
 The amount of active retinoic acid formed is based on : 
  • How much retinol is in the product
  • Our skin’s ability to convert it into retinoic acid
  • Time for the process to occur
When looking at products, it’s reasonable to start with a drugstore brand with retinol to see how your skin does but many of these do not always list the actual percentage of retinol. This is ok to start with because everyone’s ability to process it is a little different. It’s most cost effective to start with this just to see how you do. If you tolerate it well or feel like you need more of an effect, then using a brand that lists the concentration is helpful (because there’s a good chance they list it simply because it’s a high enough concentration to brag about:) or talking to your dermatologist about switching to prescription tretinoin for more of an effect. I do think it’s a good idea to start with a drug store brand however because retinol and definitely tretinoin can be very irritating to some skin types at first.

Because everyone’s concentration of the enzymes needed to convert retinol into active retinoic acid vary, there is also a wide variation in effect seen. Although many people will say that the use of their over the counter anti aging product gave them ‘instant’ or visibly effective results quickly- this is not usually the retinol. Many companies have realized consumers are impatient and not trusting of long term results or simply don’t notice long term results. Everyone wants a ‘wow’ factor and they want it fast! So, to bypass the long game that retinol plays, many companies add other ingredients that quickly irritate or exfoliate the skin but do not always have the benefit of retinol long term in terms of collagen production. They work mostly by swelling the skin to make it appear less wrinkled. A common example of this is salicylic acid.  If after 2-3 months you are not seeing enough results then it may be worth increasing the concentration of retinol or switching to prescription tretinoin.

And with time- if you look at the packages for retinol containing products they are really good at stating ‘over time’ or ‘over long term use’. Conversion of retinol to retinoic acid doesn’t happen over night. It takes time to convert and it takes time build up in the skin. Retinol is the long game- it should just be in your night time cream to use consistently as the effects will happen over time and not over night. 

The best approach to take for consumers and my patients is to not look to the immediate results of these products. The overall millennial trend is to focus on natural and effective. Retinol fits perfectly into this class and if you start early, you will reap the long term benefits!!
Bakuchiol is a phytochemical which means it’s derived from plants (the babchi plant). I’m seeing it pop up in the medical literature in varying uses- anti cancer, anti oxidant, anti aging- it’s all there. It’s a functional analog of retinol meaning it actually has the exact same effect as retinol topically in studies with one huge advantage- it’s less irritating because it’s also an anti inflammatory agent. I’ve seen it in studies for breast cancer research, psoriasis agents, and anti aging preps. I’m really looking forward to seeing it used widely because the anti aging world has had very few new products that actually work to increase gene activity for collagen production when used topically. Retinol and tretinoin have been around for decades. They have clearly caught on but people can still struggle with  irritation from this ingredient. Also, when considering how many people also have rosacea and seeking anti-aging options- although retinol will help these patients, it can also flare their rosacea. I would love to see how bakuchiol use in this particular group of people will help give them the benefit of anti aging without flaring their rosacea. (I really wish it were a more consumer friendly name because it’s really hard for people to jump on effective trends with overly scientific names. I would love to just call it babchi:)

When it comes to products with bakuchiol, I’m a little frustrated by the lack of products that contain this ingredient exclusively. Most products I have come across will say they have retinol and bakuchiol. However, the ingredients have the exact same mechanism of action and in studies comparing them against each other the anti aging effects are identical separately with the benefit being that bakuchiol gives the same anti aging effect with less irritation. So, if a product contains both then what’s the point? I’m guessing that the bakuchiol is added but not to the same concentration as the retinol. I say this because many products will say the percentage of retinol but not of bakuchiol.

Bakuchiol exclusive products include:


Do you see how they used the word ‘phytoretinol’? They are referring to bakuchiol. This is a retinol free product. Clearly the word  bakuchiol didn’t have enough of a buzz or catchy sound to use that instead of the tried and true retinol:)  They totally need a new name for this!:)  they went with ‘phytoretinol’ to denote that it’s a different plant derived retinol. (Regular retinol is plant derived too, so...)


‘Retin-alt’- another great attempt to try to show it has an alternative to retinol. The alternative is  bakuchiol!  
These are the two main products that clearly specify that they are retinol free. There are more products that do contain bakuchiol but my concern is that many also contain retinol. Since the main niche of patients I tend to recommend this ingredient in particular for are my rosacea patients, I try to encourage them to seek the retinol free options to avoid the excess irritation that their skin cannot always tolerate. 

Besides ingredients, are there other qualities anti-aging
creams should have?

It’s important to look for ingredients that are hydrating. Anti-aging creams tend to work with some dryness and exfoliation. By using hydrating products the irritation is less likely to be severe. It’s common for me to see patients with eyelid rashes and constantly peeling or dry lips. They do not always recognize that it’s their products causing these issues.


What should you look out for / how do you spot products
that don't really work?

The key here is to understand that there are two categories of products out there. Ones that actually treat and prevent wrinkles and others that just minimize their appearance. The first category would be retinol and bakuchiol containing products. The second category are products that contain ingredients that irritate the skin to trigger temporary swelling that makes wrinkles seem less noticeable. Some of these products may also work by having ingredients that excessively hydrate the skin to again minimize the appearance of wrinkles while using the products.


It’s not that you should avoid the latter category. These products serve a purpose of giving the appearance of ‘faster’ results. Of course it’s not a long term effect, only effective while the product is used. That’s perfectly ok when you just want something that will make you look better for an event. 

What should you factor in about your own skin to help you pick
out the best anti-aging creams specifically for you?

It’s important to know how sensitive your skin truly is. Bakuchiol is the least irritating of the anti-aging effective ingredients. It’s important to avoid products that contain salicylic acid or other irritating ingredients when you have sensitive skin because you simply will not be able to tolerate them!

How long does it usually take for these products to work (if
they are indeed effective)?

Topical anti-aging products are the long game- they work over months and years. The second category of products that work primarily by irritating the skin or excessively hydrating the skin  work quickly to minimize the appearance of wrinkles but again have no long term benefit.


Which OTC anti-aging creams (night creams, day creams, eye
creams, etc.) are your top recommendations, and what,
specifically, makes them such a solid investment?

Above I mentioned the bakuchiol containing products.
These are not really at drug stores however. 

Retinol drug store products 


Oil of Olay Total Effect 7 in 1 Moisturizer
 This product really gives the skin a nice glow and minimizes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.


Roc Deep Wrinkle Serum
The retinol in this product is effective at reducing the appeal of fine lines and wrinkles while the product itself is lightweight and not overly drying. 

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