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Navigating Through Anti-aging Ingredients

By: Kristina Valiani
Posted: May 31, 2013, from the June 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Retinoids are an important topic to discuss when it comes to skin care. “Retinoid” is a general term referring to a vast range of ingredients derived from vitamin A (retinol is the technical name for vitamin A). Topically applied, retinoids are significant for skin because they can positively affect the way cells are formed deep in the dermis. Retinol is a cosmetic ingredient and, when it is absorbed into skin, it can become the more active form of all-trans retinol. All-trans retinols, in descending order of potency in cosmetics, are retinol, retinyaldehyde, retinyl palmitate, retinyl propionate and retinyl acetate.

A misconception about retinoids is that they are exfoliants, which these ingredients are not. Exfoliants, such as AHAs, primarily affect the top layer of skin, improving its appearance and cell production. Retinoids affect the lower layers of skin in the dermis, where new skin cells are produced and are considered to be cell communicators, sending messages to other cells to develop normally instead of as genetically malformed skin cells.

Why do consumers get confused that retinoids are not exfoliants? Primarily, it’s due to the fact that products containing many different percentages of retinoids can cause irritation and inflammation, resulting in flaky, dry skin. The flaking and dryness is not exfoliation, nor is it a desirable result. Retinoids can only be prescribed through a physician. Over-the-counter products use another form of vitamin A—retinol.


Peptides are relatively new up-and-coming ingredients for the skin care industry. The average consumer is consumed with a busy schedule and little time, and peptides are effective with few-to-no side effects compared to other beneficial anti-aging ingredients.

Peptides are short chains of amino acids, which are found in protein fragments, and are cell communicators that send signals to the dermal layers of the skin to perform specific functions. For example, the combination of palmitoyl oligopeptide and palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7 is a popular peptide. It works to mimic the appearance of broken-down collagen, causing skin to react by producing more collagen, as well as elastin (responsible for the skin’s elasticity) and hyaluronic acid (which plumps up the skin and gives it that healthy, full look).

Peptides also do more than build collagen in the skin—there are four different categories and all have functions to help reverse the signs of aging.

  1. Carrier peptides enhance delivery of active ingredients to reach the live layers of the skin.
  2. Signaling peptides help produce collagen.
  3. Neurotransmitter peptides help relax wrinkles.
  4. Enzyme-inhibitor peptides improve under-eye circles and hyperpigmentation.


The most important ingredient to prevent and reverse signs of aging is wearing a properly formulated SPF every day, rain or shine. A large percent of aging occurs from UVA and UVB rays produced from the largest free radical to the skin—the sun. Without protection from the sun’s rays, just a few minutes of exposure each day over the years can cause noticeable changes to the skin. Freckles, age spots, spider veins, rough and leathery texture, fine wrinkles that disappear when stretched, loose skin, a blotchy complexion, actinic keratosis (thick wartlike, rough, reddish patches of skin) and skin cancer can all be traced back to sun exposure. With repeated exposure to the sun, the skin loses the ability to repair itself and the damage accumulates. Repeated UV exposure breaks down collagen and impairs the synthesis of new collagen. Sun-weakened skin also ceases to spring back the way skin protected from UV rays does. It becomes wrinkled and leathery much earlier, as well.

Trial and Error

In the end, remember: Not every anti-aging ingredient will be the right fit for every skin type or aging concern. It will take trial and error to navigate through what product works best to treat a particular skin care concern. Luckily, there is much additional information, from researchers, suppliers and manufacturers, and beyond. And always keep your eyes open for new things on the horizon.

Kristina Valiani is a licensed esthetician and educator for a leading skin care brand, and conducts professional training and continuing education classes for estheticians throughout the United States. She can be reached at