Is Anti-Aging a Skincare Myth?

The claim anti-aging has become ubiquitous in the skincare industry over the last few decades — to the point that many attest that the term has lost its meaning. Still others assert that the label never really held weight from the start.

So where does the truth lie: is anti-aging skincare a myth, or do certain ingredients really help restore skin's youthful glow? We're revealing all our beauty secrets.

Woman using anti aging skin serum

4 minute read



What is anti-aging skincare?

According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the term antiaging was in 1943 — but the idea itself is ancient. Cleopatra is said to have kept a stable of 700 donkeys to provide the sour milk (hello, lactic acid) needed for her beauty baths. Between raw-meat masks and radioactive face cream (for that “healthy glow”), women have been trying for millennia to slow the hands of time.

But the phrase anti-aging really came into vogue in the late 1980’s, as marketers sought ways to take advantage of the spending power of an older female demographic. A booming category of anti-aging products was born, promising to eliminate wrinkles with creams, nighttime serums and even wrinkle tape. Whether or not these “miracle” products really made any difference, however, is up for debate.

What does science say about anti-aging?

Here’s where things can get confusing — because in the ensuing decades, there’s been a slew of actual scientific research going on to uncover a biological fountain of youth. Scientists have been exploring a variety of promising ideas and modalities, including:

  • Intermittent fasting: extending time between meals has been shown to help activate so-called “longevity genes.”
  • Exercise: new research just discovered an enzyme released during exercise that protects against age-related decline in metabolic health.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment measurably increased test subjects’ telomeres — pieces of chromosomal DNA that shorten with age.

There are an increasing number of scientists who believe that it may be possible to extend our lifespan well beyond the current maximum of around 120 years. The research raises questions about whether anti-aging skincare is really so far-fetched.

Can skincare prevent aging?

Given what we’re learning about the possibilities of preventing — and possibly reversing — the overall aging process, it’s only natural to wonder if these breakthroughs might also apply to keeping our skin looking youthful indefinitely. Before we can explore this idea further, we need to review the two types of aging:

  • Intrinsic: the unavoidable forces (like gravity, time and metabolic waste products) that create wrinkles and cellular inefficiencies
  • Extrinsic: environmental factors (like stress, diet, and UV radiation) that damage DNA, leading to wrinkles, sagging, textural changes and hyperpigmentation

While recent cutting-edge research is trying to figure out if we can actually affect intrinsic aging, most of the efforts have so far centered on preventing and reversing extrinsic aging (also referred to as photoaging, since an estimated 90% is UV damage-related). There is a preponderance of evidence that a number of substances may have a measurable effect on extrinsic aging. These include:

In fact, topical tretinoin (a prescription form of retinoic acid) has been FDA approved since 1995 for the treatment of fine wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and uneven texture from photodamage.

SLMD Resurfacing Acne Swipes and Bright Future Vitamin C Serum

What’s wrong with saying anti-aging?

In recent years, anti-aging marketers have experienced a backlash from those who contend that it’s ageist, sexist, and downright impossible to turn back the clock. This is where using precise terminology becomes important: when we say anti-aging, are we talking about fighting the inevitability of getting older (intrinsic aging) — or about preventing and reversing some of the signs of premature (extrinsic) aging?

Either way, we’re not here to judge — because guarding against and treating the damage that comes with age is also about skin health, not just vanity. To help with the distinction, we’ve embraced phrases like well aging, and preventing premature aging.

Dr. Lee’s last word

There certainly are a lot of products out there making claims about anti-aging. In reality, dermatologists know that there are a handful of ingredients that can really make a difference in how your skin ages. The two most important are sunscreen and retinol —because these are going to protect against premature aging from UV exposure.

—Dr. Sandra Lee

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