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Choosing Skin Care Products: Know Your Ingredients

Heard the buzzwords touted to turn back the clock on aging skin? ''Acai,'' "alpha-lipoic acid," and ''alpha hydroxy acid' are some of them.

But can they actually erase wrinkles, repair sun damage, or diminish age spots?

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You'll want to do your homework first, so you're informed. A dermatologist can also help you sort out what works, what's hype, and what might help your skin.

Antioxidants for Sun Damage and Wrinkles

Antioxidants are natural substances made up of vitamins and minerals which are found in most plants in varying amounts. They can counter "free radicals" that damage DNA. Damaged skin cells can speed up aging with wrinkles, dry skin, dark circles under eyes, dull skin, and more.

Eating foods rich in antioxidants is key, not just for your skin but for your overall health. Antioxidants are also used on the skin. The antioxidants most shown to repair damage and slow the aging process include:

  • Acai oil
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
  • Green tea extract
  • Retinol
  • Vitamin C
  • CoEnzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10)
  • Caffeine

Other plant-based or natural treatments for aging skin found in skin-care products include:

  • Alpha-hydroxy acid
  • Salicylic acid
  • Hyaluronic acid

Acai Oil

Acai berries, which are native to Central and South America, are rich in antioxidants, more than those found in other berries. Cold-pressing acai berries extracts the oil, which may fight aging by healing sun damage and smoothing wrinkles. Antioxidant levels in acai oil remain high, even after it's stored. 

Though studies have yet to confirm the benefits of acai oil on the skin, it is being used in masks, creams, cleansers, exfoliating scrubs, body butters, and serums.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid is made by the body and is found in every cell. As an antioxidant, it attacks free radicals throughout the body -- it can penetrate skin-cell membranes to destroy them. Alpha-lipoic acid is touted commercially as a substance that can erase fine lines and wrinkles, diminish pores, and give skin a healthy glow.

Green Tea Extract

Tea is loaded with nutrients called polyphenols, which have been shown to fight free radicals.

Early studies have found the ingredients in tea can reduce sun damage and may protect skin from skin cancer when applied topically. Using green tea extract under sunscreen may yield a double dose of protection. Polyphenols in creams and lotions may also slow signs of aging and reduce sagging skin and wrinkles. 

Retinol

Retinol is made from vitamin A and goes on your skin. It boosts collagen production and plumps out skin, reducing fine lines and wrinkles. It also improves skin tone and color, and reduces mottled patches on the skin.

Many dermatologists prescribe retinol's stronger counterpart, tretinoin, or similar products to slow skin aging, improve irregular pigmentation, and clear up acne. Over-the-counter products containing retinols may be weaker, but are still effective in improving skin appearance.

Using a retinol-based product may cause the skin's top layer (the epidermis) to become dry and flaky. Be sure to wear moisturizer and sunscreen when using it or speak to your dermatologist about alternatives.

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