Everyone interested in anti-aging skin care wants to know, what's the best over the counter wrinkle cream. Wrinkles are part of life and ultimately inevitable. But you can minimize them with the right skin care routine. It's this fact that drives marketing claims for many skin care brands. The question is, what ingredients really work to reduce wrinkles, why do they work, and how can you select a product (or products) that will deliver results??
What OTC 'wrinkle cream' get rid of wrinkles fast?
For non-prescription anti aging skin care, glycolic acid skin care products are the best anti aging wrinkle creams you can use. They work quickly and without a prescription.
Nothing beats glycolic acid skin care products for quickly softening wrinkles and the signs of skin aging. - Dr. Bailey
But not all glycolic acid products work equally well.
You need strong medical-grade glycolic acid products to reverse wrinkles.
Medical-grade glycolic acid skin care products are the only ones that can stimulate collagen renewal to get rid of wrinkles. These dermatologist recommended glycolic acid products can irritate sensitive skin so many skin care companies alter the chemistry of the glycolic acid in their OTC products, making it both less irritating and less effective.
In this article, I give you all the glycolic acid info you need to find the right skin care with glycolic acid to help you take your anti-aging results to a new level. I also give you tips for combining these products with retinoids, the other powerful wrinkle creams because 'more is better' when it comes to results.
Glycolic acid is the smallest AHA, penetrating skin best to soften and reverse the appearance of wrinkles.
Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). AHAs are natural organic acids that include:
- glycolic acid,
- lactic acid,
- malic acid,
- tartaric acid, and
- citric acid.
Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) products are the single most effective non-prescription anti aging skin care advance of our modern times (along with broad spectrum sunscreens).
There are different types of AHAs and of them all glycolic acid gives the most significant and lasting anti aging results. - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey
Glycolic acid comes from sugar cane
Glycolic acid is relatively inexpensive to produce and stable in product formulations. It is also a very versatile ingredient and can be used in wrinkle creams, lotions, solutions, toners and face peels. You therefore have many options for how to benefit from this AHA.
Originally, glycolic acid was derived from sugar cane, meaning it was technically a plant based natural ingredient. Glycolic acid can also be synthetically created in the laboratory and purified for maximal formulation precision.
My wrinkle fighting AHA products utilize ultra-pure pharmaceutical grade glycolic acid in concentrations over 10% present in formulations with a pH of under 4. These are the best over the counter wrinkle creams made. - Dr. Bailey
AHAs including glycolic acid have been used for wrinkles since Cleopatra's time.
I first began using glycolic acid in my practice the 1980s to do chemical peels for wrinkles, sun damage and acne. At that time, glycolic acid products were not commercially available and I needed a pharmaceutical chemist to make a custom formulation for me to use. Since then, AHA products have become commonplace. Today there are many convenient AHA products and you can easily add glycolic acid to your at-home skin care routine.
Dermatologist's tips to add glycolic acid to your skin care routine
The 3 ways to use glycolic acid to soften wrinkles and brighten your skin are:
- as a face wrinkle cream,
- body lotion applied after the bath or shower for crepey wrinkled body skin, or
- used for chemical peels done by your skin care professional.
I’ve relied on glycolic acid for years in my dermatology practice and for my own skin. It works well to reverse skin aging.
Why glycolic acid is your best non-prescription choice for reversing wrinkles and the signs of skin aging?
Glycolic acid benefits happen fast and are well proven to reverse the signs of skin aging. The only other anti aging skin care product that can rival these dramatic results are the retinoids, including non-prescription retinol and prescription tretinoin. Retinoids also first became commercially available in the 1980s during the start of my dermatology career. This makes me part of the pioneering evolution of the two best wrinkle fighting ingredients in skin care today.
Over my 35 years in dermatology, I've observed that glycolic acid works faster than any other wrinkle fighting ingredient including retinoids. That said, it can be used with retinoids for maximal benefit. No other skin care ingredients can boast the antiaging benefits of glycolic acid and retinoids when combined with the use of daily sunscreen.
Retinoids and glycolic acid work to fight skin aging in different ways making combination therapy ideal. - Dr. Bailey
Here’s why glycolic acid is the best non-prescription anti-aging skin care ingredient
A foundational scientific study done in 2001 and reported in the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery showed that applying a glycolic acid lotion that is similar to the strong professional products we use today created powerful anti aging changes when test subject's skin was examined under the microscope. What we learned:
How glycolic acid softens wrinkles and the signs of skin aging
Application to skin of medical-grade glycolic acid products can:
Increase the thickness of the epidermis dramatically (a whopping 17%). Meaning it can reverse some of the skin thinning that happens with age.
- Increase epidermal hyaluronic acid content (by an astounding 180%) and hyaluronic acid content in the dermis (by 9%). Meaning your skin is plumper, wrinkles appear softer, your skin is less fragile, and is healthier because cells and nutrients can move around in it better.
- Activate skin genes in the dermis for making collagen (3 times greater than before). Meaning you might actually really get rid of some wrinkles because reversing wrinkles requires that your skin makes and deposits new collagen in the dermis, where it is lost due to sun damage and age.
From an older study reported in 1996 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, we already knew that glycolic acid treatment makes the skin look younger.
How glycolic acid makes the skin look and feel younger
Application to skin of medical-grade glycolic acid products can:
- Even-out irregular skin pigmentation. Meaning it can get rid of your age spots and help lighten hyperpigmentation from melasma.
- Reverse the signs of classic sun damage in the epidermis that we see under the microscope. Meaning that the structure of your skin looks more like a kid's when we view it under a microscope (in doctor speak there is a reversal of basal cell atypia and return of the normal undulating rete pattern).
- Exfoliate dead skin cells. Meaning your skin looks dewy and moist and feels softer.
How can you add glycolic acid products in your skin care regimen?
There is a great variety of high-quality glycolic acid products available and you can easily add them into your skin care routine. There's one important trick though,
you have to' train' your skin to tolerate the high concentrations of glycolic acid necessary to get the best results. - Dr. Bailey
This means that you have to work up in the strength and frequency with which you apply your products; you get more results with a really high level of glycolic acid, as found in professional products. You also get more results when you apply them almost every day..... and almost no one can start out like this.
How to get your skin to adjust to strong glycolic acid products
'Training' your skin to glycolic acid is just like weight training. With weights, you don’t start out training with heavy weights, you work up.
With glycolic acid, I teach my patients to 'start low and go slow'; you start on lower percent concentration and apply them just a few days a week. Then you work up. - Dr. Bailey
The reason is that glycolic acid thickens your skin and increases your skin's 'fitness' (barrier function) so you can gradually handle more.
I typically have people start with a facial application several times a week of a mid-strength professional product at a concentration of 10% or 15%. They can create this with a higher product by diluting it in their palm with a plain cream. They slowly work up to almost 20% if possible. Some people can eventually use a 20% product twice a day.
Know that you can dilute a strong product with a non-AHA cream to cut the strength down. - Dr. B
Gradually you add less of the diluting cream and work to your full-strength glycolic acid product.
On the body, I typically start with 15% and have them use it twice a week, avoiding skin folds and being careful on sensitive areas like the neck and chest. They gradually work in those sensitive areas and increase application to more than twice a week, especially on the arms, legs and hands.
It is important to clarify that not everyone can tolerate glycolic acid because of the acidic pH. This is especially true for sensitive skin such as the facial skin of rosacea or skin with eczema.
How to you pick a good glycolic acid wrinkle product?
A high-quality professional strength glycolic acid product will have a very acid pH. This acidic pH is necessary for the glycolic acid to be 'active' (called the free acid content) and benefit your skin in all of the ways I listed above. You want to look for a product with a pH under 4 and a free acid content of 10% or higher.
This acid pH means that a good glycolic acid product will sting a little at first. It may also irritate sensitive skin areas such as skin folds or the skin around your nose and cheeks if you have rosacea or facial seborrhea.
Know that not every product claiming to contain glycolic acid has a sufficiently acid pH or high 'free acid' content so beware. All my products have the proper acid pH.
How to pick the right glycolic acid product for your skin type and treatment goals.
For facial skin care to fight the signs of skin aging, the simplest approach is to combine a cleanser and a cream. You can add an exfoliating facial sponge to help slough dead cells faster. My Glycolic Acid Facial Skin Care Kit fits all skin types.
What is the best way to combine OTC retinol and glycolic acid wrinkle creams
For the most complete routine that targets all of the best scientifically-proven anti-aging skin care advances, I created my Ageless Rejuvenation Facial Skin Care Kit. This kit gives you a routine with:
- Glycolic Acid Anti-Wrinkle Face Cream
- Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream
- Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy, a product which is popular for good reason. It contains the best and highest concentration of the right green tea antioxidants to reload the skin's antioxidant reserve to fight free radical damage that leads to wrinkles. It also helps sooth any irritation from glycolic acid and/or retinol.
- A broad-spectrum mineral zinc oxide sunscreen
- The right pH balanced facial cleanser and face moisturizer to support your routine.
This is the routine I have personally used on my skin for many years. This kit works for all skin types, all ages and both men and women.
Dermatologist's recommendation for glycolic acid anti-aging skin care for your body, arms and legs
Glycolic acid is the single best wrinkle-fighting ingredient for your body skin care. It softens skin, keeps it hydrated and fights age spots and wrinkles all at the same time. Combine it with the right physical exfoliation routine in the shower and the results can't be beat - trust me, I'm 64 as I update this post. I have used this combination for over 30+ years and between my patients and I, this routine has proven itself unsurpassed. I built my Ultra-Fast Triple Action Body Smoothing Kit to be a turn-key solution for body AHA glycolic acid skin care to fight wrinkles and skin aging. Be sure to wear a good sunscreen and/or clothing to fend off UV rays that cause skin aging.
For over 30 years I have been able to rely on glycolic acid to keep my body skin from aging. I use my Ultra-Fast Triple Action Body Smoothing Kit at least twice a week. I always apply moisturizer after a bath or shower and use my Natural Body Lotion if I'm not using my Glycolic Acid Body Lotion. This consistency makes a huge difference for my skin.
Can you combine glycolic acid products with retinol and/or tretinoin (Retin A)?
Maybe. The ingredients are compatible when layered together but, not everyone’s skin can handle it. I layer my Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream under my Glycolic Acid Anti-Wrinkle Face Cream about 3 times a week on my face. My skin is sensitive. Alternatively, I have some patients who can use a facial glycolic acid day product and then their tretinoin at bedtime. Others come in for glycolic acid chemical peels every 6 weeks because combining a retinoid and glycolic acid at home is too much for their skin. (Retin A users have to be careful with chemical peels though because their skin peels so much faster than non-Retin A users, consult an expert!)
Do you need to change your facial wrinkle creams as you age?
Usually. This is because your skin and its tolerance will change over time. I personally was able to tolerate glycolic acid every morning and tretinoin every night in my 30s. In my 40s, my skin became more sensitive from seborrhea and rosacea (thank you menopause), and I had to switch from the combination therapy to glycolic acid peels plus retinol alternating with tretinoin at night. After 50, I was again able to use combination therapy with either retinol or tretinoin most nights combined with glycolic acid 3 night a week interspersed with glycolic acid peels. In my 60s, my skin is even better at handling the combination.
After almost 35 years practicing dermatology, I'm still convinced that glycolic acid is a key ingredient in any comprehensive anti aging skin care routine. I've just given you some ideas on how to integrate it into your skin care routine to fight wrinkles and skin aging.
Bernstein, EF, et. al. (including Van Scott, E), Glycolic Acid Treatment Increases Type 1 Collagen mRNA and Hyaluronic Acid Content of Human Skin, Dermatologic Surgery 2001;27:429-433
Ditre CM et. al. (including Van Scott, E), Effects of alpha-hydroxy acids on photoaged skin; A pilot clinical, histologic, and ultrastructural study, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 1996;34:187-195