With the thousands of anti-aging products available in stores, online and even in vending machines at your local airport or shopping malls, it’s no surprise that consumers get overwhelmed when deciding what to buy. Some of us end up trying, over time, the entire drugstore, while others just play it safe with the same rotation of products that they’re never completely happy with.

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My goal is to help those who want to look as young as they feel but don’t want to spend their hard-earned cash on marketing gimmicks or experimental, yet-to-be-proven products. Cut through the clutter and make practical, scientifically sound choices with my advice on what you don’t need in your anti-aging routine.

Three Anti-Aging Products You Don’t Need

1. Cleansers with Botanical Extracts

What they are: Botanical extracts are ingredients extracted from plants (flowers, roots, stems, trees, etc.) for use in skincare for everything from healing blemishes to reducing fine wrinkles. They have been used for centuries and have anecdotal purposes in just about, if not, all cultures. In anti-aging creams, toners, and serums, they work effectively.

The issue: Botanical extracts need to remain on your skin in order to work. In cleansers, there is simply not enough contact time on your skin for any true anti-aging benefit to take place.  Another issue: Most botanical extracts are water soluble, which means that the moment you wet your skin and begin to wash your face, they’re watered down and rendered useless. 

How to solve it: You may love how your cleanser makes your skin feel, or how it evens out your skintone, but it’s the effects of the balance of surfactants (cleansing agents) that you actually like—not the botanical extracts! To save on your cleanser, but still get the feel you love, find a formula containing similar surfactants—matching botanical ingredients does not matter.

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These are common surfactants used in cleansers—find what’s making yours tick and look for a cheaper, equally-effective alternative:  Sodium or Ammonia Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Coco Betaine, Sodium C12-15 Pareth Sulfonate, Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Decyl Glutamate, Coco Glucoside, Lauryl Glucoside, Sodium Lauroamphoacetate, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate

2. Lip Exfoliators

What they are: Dry, chapped lips are uncomfortable, but you don’t need to purchase a special product to relieve them. Most lip exfoliators consist mainly of sugar and natural oils in a wax base to hold everything together. 

The issue: Lip exfoliators work, but they’re pricy, ranging from $10 to $25.

How to solve it: Spare yourself this unnecessary expense! Before going to bed, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to your lips. The next morning, gently rub them with a washcloth, and the dead skin will peel right off. For a natural alternative, replace the petroleum jelly with olive oil and with a light hand, rub a toothbrush on your lips in a circular motion to get rid of the dry skin. This quick-and-easy exfoliation technique will leave your lips feeling smooth and soft.

3. Retinol and Acids in one product

What they are: Retinol is one of the best anti-aging ingredients available. It can help reverse the visible signs of premature aging due to excessive sun exposure, help control acne and reduce wrinkles. Likewise, acids such as Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid or Beta Hydroxy Acids (i.e. salicylic acid) are wonderful chemical exfoliants that breakdown the gunk holding dead skin cells together. The end result is silky smooth skin, a more even skintone and a reduction of fine lines. It’s no wonder skin care manufacturers want the benefits of these ingredients in one power-packed anti-aging product.

The issue: These ingredients (retinols and acids) can’t coexist in the same product without one of them being compromised. Retinol is notoriously unstable and can breakdown if proper caution is not taken when creating the base formulation. One factor that helps keep retinol stable is the pH. Simply speaking, pH is the measure of how acidic or alkaline something is; for example vinegar is very acidic and has a pH of about 3, water is considered neutral with an average pH of 7; and hair-removing creams are very alkaline with a pH of about 12. Retinol’s pH comfort zone is about 6-8.

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Acids by their very name are acidic and are most effective at pHs below 5; in fact, the lower the pH the more effective they are. I think that you can see where this is going. If acids are more effective with pHs below 5 and retinol is more stable above pH 6 then one of them is going to be compromised if placed in the same formulation. That doesn’t mean that the product won’t work; it just means that you will be reaping the benefits of either the retinol or the acids, but not the comprehensive benefits of both that you are paying for!  

How to solve it: Some companies understand this problem, and solve it by encapsulating one of the ingredients so they are chemically “hidden” and will not be affected by the outside pH. Encapsulating means one ingredient is enclosed in another (similar to the way an egg yolk is enclosed in the egg shell).  This is the best way to make sure that you are getting the full benefits of both!