Skin Journal
Does anti-ageing medication really work?
Kate Iselin
Reviewed by:

There are plenty of good things about getting older. We learn more about ourselves and what we want out of life, we have fulfilling experiences building our own families and communities, and—hopefully—we do plenty of things that would make our teenage selves proud.

Ageing isn’t a bad thing. Really, it’s pretty exciting. But there’s one part of getting older that we would all probably opt out of if we could, and that’s looking older.

It seems like there are millions of anti-ageing products out there. Most of them make huge promises about how they can keep us looking young and fresh forever—but how much of that is true, and how much is just false advertising?

Everyone’s anti-ageing needs are different, but some ingredients are scientifically proven to make a difference to ageing skin. All of the ingredients below are proven (and really effective) in repairing skin and equipping it to effectively fight off some of the harsh environmental factors that exacerbate the signs of aging.

Whether you’re looking for a prescription solution or browsing products on the shelf, these are the ingredients you’ll want to look out for.

SPF 30+ sunscreen

The sun is the number one thing that can damage our skin1, and around 80—90% of visible changes normally attributed to aging come from sun exposure2. Exposure to the sun’s harsh rays can damage our skin at a cellular level, causing wrinkles, dryness, and changes in pigmentation. But even scarier, it can cause cancer.

Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they turn 703—meaning we are more likely than not to get skin cancer. It has been estimated that, in 2010, more than 1700 cases of melanoma and more than 14,190 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer were prevented by wearing sunscreen4. That’s why we truly can not overstate the importance of sun protection, for both your health and your appearance.

There are a few important things to look for when purchasing a sunscreen. Make sure that your sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and that it has an SPF factor of at least 30+. You should apply it half an hour before going outside, and re-apply it every two hours. 

If you cringe at the thought of applying that thick, white, and stinky sunscreen to your skin, think again—many sunscreens these days are designed to complement your skin, not clog it up. A non-comedogenic sunscreen is formulated to prevent comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), and a hypo-allergenic sunscreen will decrease the chance of your skin having a negative reaction with the formula. Take a look at our journal article on SPF.


Retinoids are one of the most powerful skincare ingredients on the market today. They’re available over-the-counter in small concentrations, as well as by prescription from a doctor or dermatologist in stronger concentrations. (Have a read of our Guide to Retinoids, which covers everything you’ll need to know about prescription retinoids.)

Retinoids do a whole lot for the skin. First and foremost, they increase skin cell turnover which increases new cell growth and gives skin a brighter, fresher look5. They also thicken skin, prevent skin sagging, visibly reduce wrinkles and hyperpigmentation, and prevent degradation of collagen6,7, which is the structural protein in skin that gives our face a plump, fresh look. On top of all of this, studies have shown that retinoids can also counteract the development of some precancerous conditions8. It’s no cancer cure, but we love this fact because it shows just how powerful retinoids really are.

Some retinoid users report that they can be irritating to the skin, but this can often be mitigated by applying a light moisturiser prior to use. Retinoids also cause the skin to become very sensitive to sunlight, so many retinoid users choose to use them before bed to help counteract this. Especially when using retinoids, you should always be wearing sunscreen!


We hear about the benefits of antioxidants all the time, but what do they actually do? Well, antioxidants combat free radicals—molecules on our skin or in our bodies that are lacking an electron. They’re sometimes created naturally by our bodies, but can also be caused by exposure to cigarette smoke, pollution, and the sun. Antioxidants donate an electron to free radicals to stop them damaging and degrading healthy skin cells by stealing electrons from them.

There are plenty of antioxidants around (Vitamin C is a popular one, in skincare and food) but our favourite is niacinamide9. Niacinamide is often found in over-the-counter products but it can be prescribed as well (you can check out our Guide to Niacinamide for the in-depth info on how this brilliant ingredient works!).

The list of effects niacinamide has on the skin is a long one: it can give the outer layer of our skin a boost and increase production of lipids and ceramides, it can improve skin elasticity and reduce sagging, it can increase production of collagen to reduce wrinkles and fine lines, and it can also decrease hyperpigmentation, redness, sallowness, and blotchiness10. As a bonus, if you have acne, niacinamide can reduce that too11.

We swear by niacinamide. Because of how gentle it is on the skin, it makes a great choice for people whose skin is too sensitive for retinoids. It can be found in heaps of products, including serums and moisturisers, and works very well with most other ingredients.


Skincare acids can be confusing because it seems like there are so many of them, but here’s a rundown of our favourite ones:

  • Glycolic acid: a popular alpha-hydroxy acid, or AHA, that can resurface the skin by exfoliating old, dead skin cells. Glycolic acid brightens the skin to produce a glowing effect, and stimulates collagen and elastin production to reduce wrinkles and plump up the skin12. An excellent alternative to harsh facial scrubs.
  • Ferulic acid: this acid isn’t as well-known as it should be, but it’s often combined with vitamins C and E in anti-ageing creams and moisturisers13. It combats free radicals and is so powerful in preventing sun damage that it actually acts like a very mild sunscreen14
  • Lactic acid: another alpha-hydroxy acid, but a bit milder than glycolic acid. Lactic acid can reduce hyperpigmentation, age spots, and the appearance of pores. It can also create a brighter and smoother complexion15. Lactic acid can make the skin sensitive to the sun, though—so don’t forget your sunscreen.

Azelaic acid: like lactic acid, azelaic acid works on age spots and hyperpigmentation16 but it’s a lot more gentle on the skin. It also has an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effect, and it can be extremely effective against rosacea17. Azelaic acid is another of our favourite ingredients—have a read of our Guide to Azelaic Acid!


Kate Iselin
Reviewed by:
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