Aging skin and skin care products

  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the main cause of premature skin aging. UV radiation is emitted by the sun and indoor tanning beds.
  • Sunscreen, particularly a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30, is one of the most effective ways to prevent wrinkling and sun damage.
  • See your dermatologist for successful diagnosis and treatment of aging skin.


  • How wrinkled your skin becomes depends on many factors, including your skin tone, your history of exposure to UV radiation, and genetics.
  • People with fair skin who have a history of UV exposure are particularly susceptible to wrinkling and skin damage.
  • Studies show that exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning beds damages the DNA in the skin cells, leading to premature skin aging.1


  • Age spots are flat, brown marks on the skin called lentigines. They are caused by UV exposure and usually appear on the face, chest, and back, as well as the back of the hands and the top of the feet.
  • If age spots run in your family, you should take extra caution to avoid excessive sun exposure.


  • While there are many effective over-the-counter products available to treat signs of aging, none can deliver the results of a cosmetic procedure.
  • Sunscreen and moisturizer are the two most-effective anti-aging products you can buy. An anti-aging moisturizer can help minimize fine lines.
  • Tretinoin, a substance in the vitamin A family, has been shown to reduce fine wrinkles, splotchy pigmentation, and rough skin associated with chronic sun exposure.
  • Tretinoin emollient cream 0.02% and 0.05% are the only prescription treatments approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for these indications.
  • Over-the-counter products containing retinols are vitamin A derivatives like prescription tretinoin, but they rely primarily on the moisturizer in the product for skin improvement.
  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) can, exfoliate the skin surface thereby reducing rough texture  and possibly improving fine lines present from poor skin turnover.. The AHAs used in skin care products include glycolic acid, lactic acid and malic acid.
  • Topical products that contain vitamin C can soften fine lines.
  • Products with glycolic acid, hydroquinone, kojic acid, L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C), licorice extracts, N-acetylglucosamine, niacinamide (vitamin B3), or soy can help lighten dark spots and unwanted pigment on the skin.
  • Buy a skin lightener from a U.S. company. Skin lighteners made elsewhere may contain mercury.
  • For information from the cosmetic industry about cosmetic and personal care products and their ingredients, visit This website from the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) contains information about the safety, testing, and regulation of cosmetics and personal products. [Please note: The Academy has not reviewed or evaluated the information provided on the PCPC website.]


  • Wear sunscreen every day. UV rays can accelerate signs of aging. Use a sunscreen or moisturizer that offers broad-spectrum protection with an SPF of at least 30.
  • Do not tan. Getting a tan from the sun or a tanning bed exposes you to harmful UV rays that can accelerate aging, causing wrinkles, age spots, a blotchy complexion and even skin cancer.
  • Moisturize. Moisturizing traps water in the skin, which can help reduce the appearance of some fine lines and make your complexion look brighter and younger.
  • Test products, even those labeled “hypoallergenic.” To test, dab a small amount of the product on your inner forearm twice a day for 4 to 5 days. If you do not have a reaction, it is likely safe for you to apply to your face.
  • Use the product as directed. Active ingredients can do more harm than good when too much is used. Applying more than directed can cause clogged pores, a blotchy complexion, or other unwanted effects.
  • Stop using products that sting or burn unless prescribed by a dermatologist. Irritating the skin makes signs of aging more noticeable.
  • Some products prescribed by a dermatologist may cause stinging or burning. When under a dermatologist’s care, this can be safe and effective.
  • Limit the number of products. Using too many products on your skin, especially more than one anti-aging product, tends to irritate the skin. This often makes signs of aging more noticeable.
  • Shop smart. More expensive products aren’t necessarily more effective. There are some very effective, affordable products in the skin care aisles of your local stores.
  • Give the product time to work. While a moisturizer can immediately plump up fine lines, most products take at least six weeks to work. Sometimes it can take three months.

For more information on aging skin, visit the Dermatology A to Z section of the Academy’s website.

1.    Whitmore SE, Morison, WL, Potten CS, Chadwick C. Tanning salon exposure and molecular alterations. J Am Acad Dermatol 2001;44:775-80.

Dermatology A to Z