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Vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and retinol: How effective are they against skin aging, according to science?

Vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and retinol: How effective are they against skin aging, according to science?

  • Szu Shen Wong and Neil Grazier
  • Conversation*

credit, Getty Images

Illustrative image, What products really improve the appearance of your skin?

For those who want to stop the work of time, it has not always been as easy as it is today.

Throughout history, people have used all kinds of crazy techniques to care for their skin and fight aging, such as bathing in donkey’s milk as Cleopatra assumed, or applying mercury directly to the skin as the Elizabethans did.

While the modern era has brought its fair share of exotic methods for combating skin aging like the placenta or “vampire lift,” the latest trend in the field is the use of science.

But with solutions full of peptides, antioxidants, and acids, it can be hard for someone without a background in biology or chemistry to tell if what they’re buying is scientifically sound or just hype.

Below we’ve picked three of the most common ingredients found in many anti-aging products today.

Is there any evidence that they fulfilled what they promised? paying off.

credit, Getty Images

Illustrative image, Orange is a source of vitamin C

Vitamin C

Products with vitamin C often claim to “brighten” the appearance of the skin and stimulate collagen production.

The middle layer of our skin (the dermis) produces collagen and elastin, which work together to give the skin its firmness and elasticity.

But as we age, the skin produces less collagen and elastin, which is why wrinkles appear.

Vitamin C is difficult to penetrate the skin.

This is because the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis, acts as a barrier against water.

But some research suggests that concentrations greater than 5% of vitamin C may work.

For example, one study found that in ten women aged 50 to 60, applying a cream containing 5% vitamin C to the forearms daily for six months showed an increase in the production of collagen in the skin.

Other research also indicates that daily application of vitamin C to the skin can significantly reduce hyperpigmentation (slightly darker patches of skin) caused by sun damage.

In several studies, creams with and without vitamin C were applied to different areas of each person’s skin.

It was found that people who used vitamin C creams for 47 days noticed a significant difference in skin tone after 12 days of use.

However, there was little change after the first 12 days.

But it is not known if the results persisted after the study ended.

credit, Getty Images

Illustrative image, Hyaluronic acid is a moisturizer, so it retains water molecules in the skin

hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is a natural substance produced by the body.

They are usually found in eye fluids and between joints and tissues.

Many skincare products now contain hyaluronic acid, claiming it’s a good moisturizer that can help reduce wrinkles.

A 2011 study that looked at 76 women between the ages of 30 and 60 found that applying creams containing 0.1% hyaluronic acid twice daily for two months improved skin hydration and elasticity.

But improvement in the appearance of wrinkles and skin roughness was only observed in creams where the hyaluronic acid molecules were smaller.

But many skin creams containing hyaluronic acid do not tell you the exact size of the particles used in the product, which makes buying decisions difficult.

Therefore, it is worth reading the label and determining the type and / or concentration of hyaluronic acid it contains.

Other studies have shown that many hyaluronic acid products (from creams and serums to injections) can help increase skin hydration and reduce wrinkles.

credit, Getty Images

This includes the 2021 trial, which showed a significant increase in skin hydration and a reduction in fine lines (more surface wrinkles) in participants.

But it’s worth noting that this study used a commercial product containing a combination of niacinamide, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid twice daily, along with daily use of sunscreen.

This makes it difficult to determine if the results are due to hyaluronic acid alone.


Products containing retinol are very popular today, and are often promoted for their ability to reduce the effects of long-term sun damage to the skin (photoaging), including hyperpigmentation and wrinkles.

Retinol is derived from Vitamin A.

It converts to retinoic acid when it is absorbed into the skin.

Once absorbed, it helps increase collagen production and stimulates cell renewal.

All these combined effects help fill in wrinkles and reduce hyperpigmentation.

Studies in human cells, skin samples, and humans suggest that products containing retinol may affect the appearance of the skin.

For example, a human study showed that using a product with at least 0.4% retinol three times a week for six months reduced the appearance of wrinkles.

credit, Getty Images

Illustrative image, Products don’t always deliver what they promise.

While the effects aren’t as obvious compared to other retinoid products, creams with at least 0.04% retinol should be able to reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles if used continuously over a period of months, especially when combined with sunscreen.

what should be done

If you are thinking of buying an anti-aging skin care product, you have to keep a few things in mind.

First, find out if you are allergic to any of the ingredients in the product and whether it is suitable for your skin type.

For example, if you have dry and sensitive skin, retinol may not be suitable because it can increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight and further irritate it.

You should also note the concentration of the active ingredient in the product and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for use.

This is indicated on the label.

Of course, you should also remember that the purchased product is not a panacea.

It is equally important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, eat a balanced diet, and get enough rest to keep your skin healthy.

* Szu Shen Wong is Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the School of Pharmacy and Bioengineering of Keele University in England.

* Neil Grazer is a technician in the School of Pharmacy and Bioengineering at Keele University in England.

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