Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Arpita Singh (Beauty Expert) on 08th Feb 2021

7 anti-aging ingredients that can revitalize skin

7 anti-aging ingredients that can revitalize skin

"Aging is a natural process. One is powerless when faced with the changes owing to age," preaches the world. It's an absolute truth!

However, when you remain exposed to UV rays, pollution, and dust all day long, your skin can get severely affected; the damage can accumulate over the years too). External factors like an unhealthy lifestyle and endless stress also have a (negative) role to play. These can alter your skin's structure and make it weak.

Now, it may cause your skin to age prematurely, with the fine lines and wrinkles showing up as early as at the beginning of your thirties. In this case, you need to make sure that your skin receives all the cleansing and nourishment it asks for.

Maybe you suffer from some internal complications emerging from genetics, the body's metabolic activity, hormonal imbalance, etc. In that case, it still becomes your sole responsibility to take care of damaged skin. And, come with all the possible measures to keep it healthy and lively.

There are various anti-aging skincare ingredients available in the market, which either improve your skin ailments or make an attempt to revitalize the worn-out parts of your skin. You must have read about their application, side effects, and benefits. But what about the scientific claims they lay? Is there any experiment or trial validating the efficacy of the ingredient? If you wish to know the answers, keep reading till the end.

Herein, we will discuss seven anti-aging skincare ingredients and how research has backed them with facts and suggestions on their abilities to temper down skin shortcomings. 

1) Vitamin A (or the retinol)

Vitamin A is an antioxidant occurring naturally in the skin. Its one specific form that becomes (or remains) active in a biological environment is known as all-trans retinoic acid or tretinoin (Retin-A). 

Now, the retinoic acid serves a plethora of functions for the skin; some being discussed below -

  • It bolsters the skin permeability barrier (also called the skin's physical barrier, situated in the epidermis) by increasing cells' growth and production.

    The stratum corneum (the outermost cover/layer of the epidermis), comprising "protein enriched cells and lipid enriched intercellular domains," plays an important role in forming the physical barrier. 
  • It helps in the multiplication (or reproduction), resulting in expanding their cell population; the process is called keratinization.

    But, what are keratinocytes? They are skin cells hardened with distinct proteins known as keratin. Such proteins are responsible for maintaining the individual cells' structural integrity. 
  • It may boost the peeling of the outer, superficial, and damaged layers of skin, i.e., help remove/eliminate dead skin cells (mostly in the facial region).
  • Fibroblasts play a significant role in the process of wound healing (by inducing tissue repair). They manufacture collagen and ECM (extracellular matrix, which comprises all the macromolecules located outside a cell and ensures "strength, support and resilience" to the surrounding cells, thereby serving as a cushion to them).

    Retinoic acid causes the growth of fibroblasts and directly promotes the formation of collagen
  • Its topical formulations also improve the symptoms of fine and coarse wrinkling, roughness, and areas of pigmentation.


Retinoic acid is a potent skincare ingredient, and you need a proper prescription to avail of any of the products related to it in the market. However, there exist less vigorous forms too, which are available over the counter. These include retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinyl palmitate. These are the derivatives of vitamin A; each gets converted to their biologically active form, retinoic acid, in the skin.

According to an experimental study conducted in the year 2000, retinol greatly improved the ECM of aging skin. The volunteers, all over 80 years of age, applied 1% retinol for a week. Minute samples of their skin were collected and observed under a microscope.

They showed an increase in the growth of fibroblasts and stronger collagen metabolism. The results, when compared to the skin samples of the individuals not treated with retinol, exhibited better functioning of the skin components. 

2) Vitamin B 

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In a (2005) study, a group of middle-aged women was asked to apply topical niacinamide (vitamin B3) daily to one side of their face and leave the other side untreated to control. It stretched for 12 weeks, and what they found after that was indeed encouraging. The fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmented spots, red blotches forming on the skin, and yellowing of skin showed improvements of a considerable level. Even the elasticity of their skin strengthened.

Under laboratory conditions, Nicotinamide (vitamin B analog) increased ceramide production (a compound, which gets reduced due to aging). Yet, more work is to be done, and further probing into its clinical utility is required.

Another vitamin B analog, DMAE (2-dimethylaminoethanol), underwent a randomized clinical study in 2005. It dealt with the application of 3% DMAE facial gel for 16 weeks. The results followed a positive note. Coarse wrinkles and under-the-eye dark circles were lessened. Even the sagging of neck skin and nasolabial folds diminished to a certain extent. After the study, the application was put on hold for about two weeks. The effects didn't regress and lasted long. 

3) Vitamin C 

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Vitamin C, the most abundant antioxidant in the skin, is water-soluble. Its biologically active form is called L-ascorbic acid, and it serves as a co-factor (i.e., a helper molecule, which promotes an enzyme's activity) for collagen synthesis. 


We have been talking about antioxidants for quite along. Let's briefly discuss how do they help your skin? They fight the free radicals, which are unstable molecules produced by the body in response to environmental factors, including UV rays, smoke, dust, etc. Antioxidants inhibit the formation/development of free radicals and balance their concentration in the body. The damage caused to the cells (involving the skin) is controlled, thereby slowing down aging's process.

Vitamin C has been extensively studied in anti-aging matters and has proved its efficacy in various experiments. In a (1999) clinical trial, individuals with facial skin subjected to UV rays (to a mild or moderate extent) were instructed to apply a 10% vitamin C composition to one side of their face and leave the other side to function control. After three months, both the sides of the face were compared, and significant results came to everyone's view. Skin's texture, fine and coarse wrinkles, roughness, sallowness (i.e., loss of natural complexion, or yellowing of the skin), and skin's firmness (laxity) - all these conditions improved significantly.

Even the lower concentrations of vitamin C come with their benefits. According to a randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled study (carried out in the year 2000), volunteers applied 5% vitamin C to one forearm and a placebo product on the other forearm for six months. The forearm, receiving vitamin C, displayed effective results.

A 2003 study elucidated the uniform distribution of collagen and elastic fibers because of 5% vitamin C activity.

In 2004, the benefits of a 3% vitamin C composition were investigated. Applying the actual ingredient on one forearm of the volunteers for about a month, whereas the other forearm went with a placebo. The conclusions the experts drew from this trial were that vitamin C increased the ECM's strength, building the density of skin layers.

Topical vitamin C can be found in several OTC formulations, and these have established a name for themselves (their ability to improve or amend the conditions that come with aging). 

4) Vitamin E 

Another antioxidant that is naturally present in the skin is the fat-soluble (lipophilic) vitamin E. To look for this particular ingredient on the cosmetic labels, make sure you find tocopherols or tocotrienols mentioned.

Vitamin E acts as a scavenger to the free radicals and protects the skin cells' lipid membrane against them. There are no clinically backed human studies to claim topical vitamin E's efficacy in anti-aging treatments and their effects.

However, in a 2002 study, it was demonstrated that vitamin E could fortify the dermal fibroblasts and reduce the oxidative stress (i.e., the formation of free radicals) caused by UVB radiation. Now, the entire study was carried in an in-vitro medium (i.e., outside the body of a living organism, in a lab-ware).

When the antioxidant vitamins work together or in a combination, they act in synergy. Research has it that vitamin C molecules help vitamin E molecules to get rid of their oxidized forms. This enhances the antioxidant capacity of vitamin E.

In a 2003 study, a combination of topical vitamin E (1%) and topical vitamin C (15%) was applied to pigs for four days. And after that, they were exposed to some artificial means of solar radiation.

Before exposure, the antioxidants' application decreased thymine dimer (a compound that is considered a potential factor for skin cancer, produced by the skin when it comes in contact with the UV rays). Also, it reduces the number of sunburnt cells formed (such skin cells undergo a self-initiated mechanism to kill themselves to eliminate the risk of cancer). 

Interesting point:

Co-enzyme Q-10 and squalene are some of the other fat-soluble antioxidants found naturally in the skin. Yet, they both decrease (or degrade) with age and prolonged exposure to UV rays.

There have been no human clinical trials, which talk about or discuss the efficacy of the two above ingredients, and no factual details on they can treat the symptoms of Aging. 

5) Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)

ALA, an antioxidant that is not present as an inherent part of human skin. But it is added in various cosmetic formulations. It serves as an important skincare ingredient.

According to an in-vitro trial (1997), ALA sincerely fights the free radicals with all its might. They, sometimes, are groups of reactive oxygen atoms, with which the ALA deals. Thus, the acid repairs oxidative damage in the skin cells.

In an animal study (2005), ALA (0.5%) was applied on rats' skin. It was reported that the application increased the collagen synthesis in the dermis as well as the epidermis.

Human studies have not given satisfactory results. But, individual anecdotes (ones who used the ALA containing creams and evaluated the ingredient themselves' cons and pros) have often shared positive comments on ALA. Yet, their words are taken to be subjective. 

6) Alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs) 

Want to know whether or not the skincare product you use contains AHA? You must be curious. On the respective labels, look for glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid, alpha-hydroxyethanoic acid, alpha-hydroxyoctanoic acid, alpha-hydroxycaprylic acid, hydroxycaprylic acid, and hydroxyl fruit acids; all of these acids fall under the broad category of AHAs. However, the two most commonly used alpha-hydroxy acids are - glycolic acid and lactic acid. 

Interesting point:

AHAs are available in the very gifts of nature. Glycolic acid naturally occurs in sugar cane. Lactic acid is obtained from milk and tomato juice, and malic acid from apples. Even the tartaric acid originates from grapes and wine while the citric acid from citrus fruits (oranges and lemons). Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) is found in fruits, vegetables, berries, and tea.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the concentration of AHAs that can be used and lays down some specific suggestions. The OTC products should follow a less than 10% concentration. Chemical peels of medium strength should be in the range of 10%-40% and be handled at salons by trained professionals. Peels, having more than 40%, should be used only by medical practitioners (following all the necessary precautions).

AHAs reduce the cohesive forces that keeping the corneocytes intact and together. They even accelerate the process of desquamation. 


Corneocytes are (dead) skin cells, which comprise most of the stratum corneum. They are pushed out to form the terminal (or the outermost) layer of your skin.

Desquamation is a biological process, which maintains the entire cycle of skin cell regeneration and exfoliation (the invisible shedding of corneocytes). 

According to a (1997) clinical study, AHAs at higher concentrations (around 25%) can enrich the density (or thickness) of the dermis and epidermis. They even mend the quality of elastic fibers. Similarly, a 2003 report states that AHAs enable proper convenience for the increased production of collagen and hyaluronic acid (HA) in the dermis and epidermis. In simple words, they induce compounds or create favorable conditions so that the skin faces no scarcity of collagen and HA.

The research on the AHAs has been based on experimental evidence, driven from animal models.

Remember, the more time you allow the peel to sit on your face, the more will be a degree of exfoliation, i.e., the deeper will be scraping of the skin by the acid. Also, the higher concentrations have more potent anti-aging effects.

A (1996) study compared the results brought in by the two different lactic acid strengths (each of which was applied for three months, twice daily). For the 12% lactic acid, it was realized that both the dermis and epidermis received a boost in firmness. Even the skin's surface got smoother, with the wrinkles and lines diminishing. At the same time, the 5% lactic acid got somewhat similar results. But it didn't give rise to any change in the dermis.

In another trial performed in 1996, it was found that even the lower concentrations of AHAs can deliver beneficiary results. Also, they don't cause much irritation to the skin. It was a randomized, double-blind trial, wherein the patients applied a cream to their face and outer arms that were either 8% glycolic acid or 8% lactic acid. After 22 weeks, the improvements were recorded. It included lessening of roughness, sallowness, and mottled hyperpigmentation (darker and lighter spots forming on the skin; it even leads the skin to age quickly and bruise more easily). 

7) Moisturisers 

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Let's begin with, how does the skin work to sustain its hydration game all the time? The corneocytes are held in place by a lipid bilayer (i.e., each layer of corneocytes is enclosed in between the two layers of lipids, all lying as part of the stratum corneum). Lipids are fatty acids, and their membranes contain cholesterol, linolenic acid, and ceramides.

The corneocytes store the water-soluble molecules (called natural moisturizing factors, or NMFs), which allow the skin to bind water. Ceramides curtail the transepidermal loss of water (TELW) and support the skin barrier. This regular mechanism of binding the water and preventing its loss helps the skin to remain hydrated. The stratum corneum gains a soft and flexible texture. But when there is a disruption in the mechanism or fails to proceed adequately, the skin has to deal with dryness, and it appears flaky and rough. 

Moisturizers can be a mixture of the following three, or one and even two at a time.

  • Occlusives, which prevent TEWL. They are made up of oils and fats, such as - petroleum, lanolin, mineral oil, vegetable oil, or waxes. 
  • Humectants - their molecules have low weight and a strong tendency to attract water. NMFs are the skin's naturally occurring humectants. Some chemical forms are glycerin, propylene, glycol, urea, etc.
  • Emollients lack hydrating properties. But they act as definite fillers between shedding corneocytes to plug in the gaps created in the skin's surface. They mostly soften the skin. 

A 1995 study demonstrates that in the case of aged individuals, the epidermis may find its stratum corneum contracting's lipid content by 30%. This may cause a delay in barrier recovery anytime. Moreover, petrolatum (the most widely used occlusive) can decrease the water loss by 50% and states another 1992 theory.

In 2001, a clinical trial tested the hydrating effects of glycerol. Therein, volunteers (with normal skin) were asked to topically put on an 85% glycerol emulsion for three weeks. TEL reduced greatly. In a 1999 study, glycerol was applied on certain parts of damaged skin (a chemical, sodium lauryl sulfate, used to degrade the skin) for three days. Now, a speedy barrier repair and an efficient amount of hydration were documented from those glycerol-treated sites.

Nicotinamide, a vitamin B analog, has been recently studied for its hydrating properties. Research done in 2005 presents a comparative study between the topical application of a 2% nicotinamide cream and white petrolatum over patients suffering from atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema) for four weeks. Both the ingredients positively affected the skin's hydration activity.

After using Nicotinamide, the results were more noteworthy. It stepped up the desquamation rate for the skin cells and slashed the TEWL(Transepidermal water loss). It sparked a rise in the synthesis of lipids in the stratum corneum, lipids, and ceramides, all that is crucial to preserving the skin barrier.