6 Beauty Aids Science Says Really Work


The beauty world is constantly introducing new and trendy beauty treatments, from argan oil to bee venom, in hopes of capturing smooth, flawless, and ageless skin. In reality though, there are only a few beauty aids that are scientifically proven to work. Although it can be fun to jump on the bandwagon of the latest trendy ingredient (and I’m no stranger to them myself), the following beauty aids will give you the most dependably consistent, clinically proven results.

1. Niacinamide

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3. This powerhouse nutrient does it all, from acne treatment to anti-aging. There is strong evidence that niacinamide is effective as a treatment against acne, rosacea, and inflammation and that niacinamide is effective in reducing melasma, hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, redness, and sallowness. Use of niacinamide also boosts the level of ceramides and lipids at the surface of your skin, helping to keep it moisturized and strengthening your natural skin barrier.

The best part is that niacinamide is a relatively gentle skincare ingredient that is well-tolerated by most people without the drying and irritating effects of many other beauty treatments.

Check out Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream ($19.15), Laneige Bright Renew Original Serum ($45), EltaMD PM Therapy Moisturizer ($23.38), and Cerave Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM ($7.69), all of which contain niacinamide quite high in the ingredients list.

2. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another proven skincare active that shows real results. This antioxidant protects skin from sun damage, lightens hyperpigmentation, improves collagen synthesis in the skin, and reduces inflammation.

Personally, since I incorporated a vitamin C serum into my routine about a year ago, I’ve seen drastically improved skin tone and texture. My skin is more even, less blotchy, much smoother, and I haven’t had a breakout in a year!

The most effective form of vitamin C, but also potentially the most irritating, is L-ascorbic acid (L-AA). Look for serums with at least 10%-15% L-AA. The addition of ferulic acid and vitamin E boosts the effectiveness of vitamin C. Other derivatives of vitamin C exist (such as sodium ascorbyl phosphate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate, and others) which are less irritating, but will not work as quickly as L-AA.

The most well-known vitamin C serum out there is the pricey Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($104.98), but more affordable effective solutions include Cosmetic Skin Solutions C+E Ferulic ($39.95) and Paula’s Choice C15 Booster ($47.20), and on the even more affordable end, Nufountain C20 + Ferulic ($21.99). Inexpensive serums containing vitamin C derivatives are also easily found, such as Mad Hippie ($27.19), and Instanaturals ($16.97).

3. Retinoids

Along with vitamin C and niacinamide, retinoids form part of the "Holy Trinity" of anti-aging. Retinoids, forms of vitamin A, are clinically proven to be pretty much the best beauty treatments for stimulating collagen production in the skin, erasing wrinkles, increasing cell turnover, reversing sun damage, and promoting younger-looking skin. They also treat acne and lighten hyperpigmentation.

Retinoids should not be used if you are pregnant (please consult your doctor). Also, retinoids increase photosensitivity, so make sure you’re using sunscreen daily and at least a week after stopping retinoid use.

The most potent retinoids are available by prescription only. However, they also have the most potential for irritation and are best introduced slowly, following the advice of a dermatologist. Prescription retinoids may be covered by your health plan (especially if used to treat severe acne), or you may wish to check out PocketDerm for an affordable out-of-pocket alternative.

Retinol is a gentler form of vitamin A and is available in over-the-counter products. Although you may not see as dramatic results, retinol products are less likely to irritate your skin. If you’ve never used a retinoid before, it may be a good idea to start with an over-the-counter product such as: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum ($14.09), Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($41.79), RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream ($13.80), Philosophy Help Me Retinol Night Treatment ($39.22), and Olay Pro-X Deep Wrinkle Treatment ($22.98).

4. Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a naturally occurring substance found in the interconnective matrix between our skin cells. Hyaluronic acid can attract and hold up to 1000 times its own weight in water, and is thus one of the most potent humectants we know of. Hyaluronic acid’s tried-and-true qualities as a moisturizing agent will plump up your skin, making your skin healthier and younger-looking.

Hyaluronic acid draws water both from the air and from deeper layers of skin to your outer layers of skin. I have found that it works best if applied on damp skin, in a moist bathroom after a shower. Some products containing hyaluronic acid include Cerave Moisturizing Cream ($15.50), Hada Labo Tokyo Replenishing Hydrator ($12.45), Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream ($14.43), and Peter Thomas Roth Hyaluronic Acid Complex ($39.94).

5. Ceramides

Ceramides are waxy lipids that are naturally produced by your skin. They maintain the skin’s barrier function and help retain moisture. People who suffer from eczema have been shown to have lower levels of ceramides in their skin, and the ceramides in your skin decline as you age. Using a ceramide-containing cream can help to increase moisture levels and give you hydrated, healthy skin. For best results, use the cream immediately after a shower to seal in the moisture.

Some products containing ceramides include: Cerave Moisturizing Cream ($15.50), Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid ($28.86), SkinMedica TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream ($34.90), Elizabeth Arden Advanced/Extreme Time Complex Capsules ($34.36), and Mario Badescu Ceramide Herbal Eye Cream ($18).

6. AHAs and BHAs

Alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy-acids (BHAs) are among the most useful over-the-counter actives you can use to improve the appearance of your skin. They are exfoliants, which help slough off dead skin, revealing brighter, smoother skin.

AHAs include glycolic acid, mandelic acid, malic acid, and lactic acid. AHAs are commonly used to lighten hyperpigmentation, to smooth fine lines, and to treat acne. You can use a lower-concentration AHA liquid or cream quite regularly. Some people also like to do an AHA "peel" —- a higher-concentration AHA liquid that exfoliates the top layer of skin more quickly.

BHAs usually refer to salicylic acid. Like AHAs, BHAs exfoliate the surface of skin, but they are also able to penetrate the skin’s oils and exfoliate inside the pore, helping to treat whiteheads, blackheads, and acne. Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce redness and irritation. You shouldn’t use salicylic acid if you are pregnant, or if you’re allergic to aspirin.

AHAs and BHAs can cause photosensitivity, so a good sunscreen is a must. Be very careful not to over-exfoliate. These acids can irritate your skin and break down your skin’s natural barrier function, leaving you vulnerable to dryness, flaking, and infection. Start with a low concentration and use it every few days before increasing the frequency of use. A good moisturizing routine is also essential when using acids.

Products to try include Neostrata Ultra Smoothing Cream AHA10 ($29.10), Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Gel ($26.00), Silk Naturals 8% AHA Toner ($9.96), Garden of Wisdom Mandelic Acid 5% ($18.90), Stridex BHA Daily Use Pads ($7.77), Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peel (10 treatments) ($21.83), and Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment (2% BHA) ($4.72).

With any new skincare product, it’s a good idea to test it on a small area for a few days before slathering it all over your face. Some of these beauty aids, or as I like to call them, actives, are quite gentle — niacinamide, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid — though be sure to introduce them slowly in case of a reaction.

Vitamin C, retinoids, and AHA/BHA acids can be irritating to your skin — do not introduce them all at once, and when using them, start by using them every few days and gradually increasing the frequency. Dryness, tightness, or itching are a sign of irritation and a signal that you should back off and baby your skin a little with basic mild cleansers and moisturizers.

Which of these ingredients do you incorporate into your daily skincare routine?

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