What’s the Best Over-The-Counter Wrinkle Cream?

Glycolic acid comes from sugar cane

Sugar Cane

For non-prescription anti aging skin care, glycolic acid products are the best anti aging wrinkle creams you can use  -  without a prescription, nothing beats them!

In this post I give you all the glycolic acid info you need to find the right product that will take your skin care to a new level – and give you results that you’ll love.

The alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) products are hands down the single most effective non-prescription anti aging skin care advance of our modern times (along with broad spectrum sunscreens).  There are different types of AHAs and of them all glycolic acid gives the most incredible anti aging results for my dermatology patients.  Glycolic acid is also inexpensive, versatile and natural (it comes from sugar cane) giving you even more reasons to love it for your anti aging skin care.

The AHAs and glycolic acid have been around since at least Cleopatra’s time.  Today there are so many great and convenient products that are powerful enough to give you results, meaning you can easily add glycolic acid to your skin care regimen.  The most popular ways to use glycolic acid are as a face wrinkle cream, body lotion or in the form of regular chemical peels done by your skin care professional.  I’ve relied on glycolic acid for years in my dermatology practice and for my own skin.  Every day I see glycolic acid reverse the signs of skin aging on my patients.

Why  glycolic acid is your best choice for reversing the signs of skin aging?

We scientists have solid and excellent scientific proof that glycolic acid makes big changes in your skin, changes that you want! (The only other anti aging skin care product that can rival these dramatic results is prescription tretinoin.)  When I create a complete anti aging regimen for a patient, I add the other healthy and wonderful cosmeceutical products ON TOP of a patients glycolic acid (or tretinoin) based regimen, never in place of them.  That’s because nothing else can boast the antiaging benefits of glycolic acid (or tretinoin). Here’s why glycolic acid is the best non-prescription anti aging ingredient you can use to ‘turn back the clock’ on your skin:

A foundational study done in 2001 and reported in the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery showed that applying a glycolic acid lotion that is similar to the strong professional products we use today created powerful anti aging changes when test subject’s skin was examined under the microscope.  What we learned:

Glycolic acid treatment:

  • Increases epidermal thickness dramatically (a whopping 17%). Meaning it can reverse some of the skin thinning that happens with age.
  • Increases epidermal hyaluronic acid content (by an astounding 180%) and hyaluronic acid dermal content too (9%). Meaning your skin is plumper, the appearance of your wrinkles is lessened, your skin is less fragile, and it’s healthier because cells and nutrients can move around in it better.
  • Turns on the genes for making skin collagen (3 times greater than before). Meaning you might actually really get rid of some wrinkles because reversing wrinkles requires that your skin makes collagen in the dermis (the deeper part of your skin) below the epidermis (the top living layer).

From an older study reported in 1996 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, we already knew that glycolic acid treatment makes the skin look younger because it:

  • Evens-out irregular skin pigmentationMeaning it can get rid of your age spots and even help lighten hyperpigmentation from melasma.
  • Reverses the signs of classic sun damage in the epidermis that we see under the microscopeMaking the structure of your skin look more like a kid’s when we view it under a microscope (in doctor speak there is a reversal of basal cell atypia and return of the normal undulating rete pattern).
  • Exfoliates the dead skin cellsMeaning your skin looks dewy and moist and feels softer.

How can you add glycolic acid products in your skin care regimen?

There is a great variety of high quality glycolic acid products available and you can easily add them into your skin care routine. There’s one important trick though, you have to’ train’ your skin to tolerate the high concentrations of glycolic acid necessary to get the best results. This means that you have to work up in the strength and frequency with which you apply your products; you get more results with a really high level of glycolic acid, as found in professional products, and especially when you apply your product twice a day, but almost no one can start out like that.

‘Training’ your skin to glycolic acid is just like weight training.  With weights, you don’t start out training with heavy weights, you work up.  With glycolic acid, you start on lower strength products applying them at most once a day, then you work up.  The reason is that glycolic acid thickens your skin and increases your skin’s ‘fitness’ (barrier function) so you can gradually handle more.

I typically have people start with once a day application using a mid-strength product like a 10% or 15%. They slowly work up to almost 20% if possible.  Some people can eventually use a 20% product twice a day.  Not everyone can tolerate glycolic acid though.  This is especially true for sensitive skin such as the facial skin of rosacea or skin with eczema.

In addition, a high quality professional strength glycolic acid product will have an very acid pH because that’s necessary for the glycolic acid to be ‘active’.  This means they sting a little at first.  Not every product claiming to contain glycolic acid has a sufficiently acid pH so beware.  All my products have the proper acid pH.

How to pick the right glycolic acid product for your skin type and treatment goals.

I pick a patient’s products based on their skin type (Click on these links to see the products I use for my patients):

Dermatologist’s recommendation for Facial Anti Aging Skin Care with Glycolic Acid

Glycolic Acid Skin Care Kit for Oily Facial Skin

Glycolic Acid Skin Care Kit for Normal Facial Skin

Glycolic Acid Skin Care Kit for Dry Facial Skin

Glycolic Acid Skin Care Kits that combine all of my other favorite anti aging ingredients in products that layer compatibly with my glycolic acid treamtent products – my favorite, complete professional anti aging skin care to maximize results.

Best Anti Aging Wrinkle Creams

Dermatologist’s recommendation for Glycolic Acid Anti Aging Skin Care for Your Body, Arms and Legs

Anti Aging Body Skin Care Kit

To help ensure my web customers’ success in using professional strength glycolic acid products, the product pages on my web site have the great glycolic acid usage tricks that I’ve learned over the years in my dermatology practice.

Can you combine glycolic acid products with tretinoin (Retin A)?

Maybe.  Not everyone’s skin can handle it though and these two ingredients can’t be on your skin at the same time.  I have some patients who can use a facial glycolic acid day product and then their tretinoin at bedtime.  Others tretinoin users come in for chemical peels with glycolic acid every 6 weeks. (Retin A users have to be careful with chemical peels though because their skin peels so much faster than non-Retin A users, consult an expert!)  I personally had to switch from the combination therapy to peels in my 40s because my skin became more sensitive when I developed mild rosacea and facial seborrhea (argh!).  Before that I could use Glytone Exfoliating Lotion every morning and tretinoin at night and it was fantastic.  Luckily I can tolerate occasional peels.   I’ve can also easily rely on my Anti Aging Body Kit to keep my non-facial skin on a consistent anti aging skin care regimen.  After almost 25 years practicing dermatology I’m still convinced that glycolic acid is a key ingredient in any comprehensive anti aging skin care regimen.

References:

Bernstein, EF, et. al. (including Van Scott, E), Glycolic Acid Treatment Increases Type 1 Collagen mRNA and Hyaluronic Acid Content of Human Skin, Dermatologic Surgery 2001;27:429-433

Ditre CM et. al. (including Van Scott, E), Effects of alpha-hydroxy acids on photoaged skin; A pilot clinical, histologic, and ultrastructural study, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 1996;34:187-195

Photo: Thanks and gratitude to Will Ellis

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8 Responses to “What’s the Best Over-The-Counter Wrinkle Cream?”

  1. Cura Pelle September 11, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    Isn’t it necessary to quit tretinoin for some time prior to a peel? It seems to me that that would be a setback of sorts. No?

  2. Susan Amidon September 11, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Are there any anti-aging products that are appropriate for patients with rosacea and facial seborrhea?

  3. Cynthia Bailey MD September 11, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Hello Susan,
    This is a great question. My all time favorite comprehensive anti aging approach for this common skin combo of problems is: 1. IPL/BBL photofacial series and maintenance treatments, 2. Microderm with calming facials done every 6 to 8 weeks, 3. Skin care with Calming Zinc, Replenix CF or Power of Three, Zinc Ox sunscreen, the right moisturizer and 0.025% RetinA (tretinoin) , 4. Botox and fillers as needed for specific ‘issues’.
    Cheers,
    Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist

  4. Cynthia Bailey MD September 11, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    It’s typically recommended to be the safest approach because the exfoliation with tretinoin can make a peel a read adventure (or potential misadventure).

  5. Christine September 11, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    This is exactly the info I needed! I seemed to remember there was a reason in my research to have an AHA rather than just exfoliation, and really I’ve found so many great glycolic acid products that it is usually the AHA I recommend to friends/readers. Thanks for such a great review, I’m definitely mentioning this on my site!

  6. Deanna September 15, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    I use RetinA on my face every other day and like the results. I have not used it on my neck or chest. I chose laser treatments instead and have had good results, although laser can be expensive and you need touch ups each year. Wondering how RetinA works on the neck and chest and if I would have to forgo the laser treatments if I started the RetinA in those areas? I tend to get a lot of sun on my neck and chest even though I use 50 suncsreen and try to cover up. Afraid I would burn more with RetinA being used in those areas? Which way to go? Laser on the neck and chest or switch to RetinA. Any suggestions?

  7. Gia October 1, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    I think there is a lot of people out there that do not pay a lot of attention to their skin, or think anything about skin care at all. I just read where skin bleaching, and people attempting to lighten their skin color is increasing all over the world, including places like China, Japan, and India. In Jamaica it has become such a problem that the government started an educational campaign that basically says if you are going to do it then learn how to lighten skin naturally instead of using potentially dangerous skin bleaching chemicals. I know anything to do with skin color is going to be a highly sensitive issue but I think these people are doing it for all the wrong reasons.

  8. Vivienne October 3, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    Dr. Bailey,

    I love all your thorough and detailed posts like this one. I’m using a couple of your recommended skincare products. Would come to visit your office, but I don’t live in CA.  So, I visited a derm recently to start tretinoin and she recommended a generic (Tretinoin gel) instead of Retin A because its cheaper. Not sure if it’s as good… Does generic work the same as Retin A? If I’m using the GEL version, should I use it as the last step after my moisturizer? Hope to hear from you. Thanks.