Defining moments in life are few in number.  The day you got your driver’s license.  The day you lost your virginity.  The day you got married.  And the day your first wrinkle first showed up.

Yes, that first wrinkle was not a pleasant experience.  If you’re like most people, it makes its appearance in your early 40s.  That’s because the structural layers of your skin shrinks by 1 percent each year after age 30.  So by the time you’re 50, you’ve lost a fifth of the thickness of your skin.  Along with sun damage and repeated muscle movements, you’ve got the perfect recipe for wrinkles.

While your wrinkles start as a tiny trickle, wait another decade and they will seem more like a torrent.  The wrinkles that at first began around the eyes spread like weeds in a field, eventually taking over your entire face.If you’re like most women, you don’t take that first wrinkle lightly.  You double up on the moisturizers and you comb the aisles of cosmetics stores, reading labels and eventually leaving with a bagful of hopeful remedies.

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You start multi-step programs.  In the morning, you cleanse, tone, moisturize, and apply antioxidants, skin lighteners, and sunscreen (whew!).  Then it’s into your makeup.  In the evening, it’s time to cleanse exfoliate, medicate and moisturize again.  I’m tired just thinking about those nine steps.  And if you’re like almost everyone, after a few weeks, you’ll start skipping a few steps.  After a few more weeks, you’ll be down to a step or two in the morning and a step of two in the evening.

The truth is that all those steps are not necessary—unless you’re on the selling end of skincare products.  There really are only a few things that are scientifically proven to make a difference in your skin’s appearance.  Sure, almost any new ingredient can show a publication or two supporting its use.  But the same companies that created the products sponsor many of those publications.

I like to see many independent publications that show a particular ingredient improves skin appearance.

So what really works?  Vitamins A and C in skin creams have the most science behind their use.  Daily use of these substances improves appearance by increasing collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid, three important skin components that decline as we age.  They also cause wrinkles and splotchy brown pigmentation to decrease.  But since these two vitamins are destroyed by sunlight, they can only be used at night.  And don’t expect instant results.  You spent decades thinning your skin—it will take months and even years to build it back up.

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Other than vitamins A and C, niacin and pantothenic acid (vitamins B3 and B5) strengthen the skin, fruit acids like glycolic acid exfoliate it, and a whole bunch of skin lighteners even out your complexion.  Other than that, regardless of the expensive price tag on so many products, there is really very little science supporting their use.In the morning, probably the most important thing you can do is apply a broad spectrum sunscreen to prevent ongoing sun damage.  I’m a fan of zinc oxide because it blocks the most ultraviolet light and it doesn’t get absorbed into your body.

My advice is to stick to the tried and proven ingredients, avoid the really expensive unproven ingredients, and spend the money you will save on your favorite charity.