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what's the best over the counter wrinkle cream

What's the Best Over-The-Counter Wrinkle Cream?

Everyone interested in skin care wants to know, what's the best over the counter wrinkle cream. Wrinkles are part of life. Most people want to minimize them and so skin care products make big promises about fighting wrinkles and the signs of skin aging - but what really works and why??

What skin care product will get rid of wrinkles fast?

For non-prescription anti aging skin care, glycolic acid products are the best anti aging wrinkle creams you can use. They work quickly and without a prescription, nothing beats them! But not all glycolic acid products work equally well because simple chemistry tweaks increase or decrease the effectiveness of glycolic acid products. 

In this article, I give you all the glycolic acid info you need to find the right product; glycolic acid really can take your skin care to a new level - and give you results that you'll love.

What is glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid. Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) products are hands down 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 incredible anti aging results for my dermatology patients. - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey

Glycolic acid comes from sugar cane

Glycolic acid is also inexpensive, versatile and natural (it comes from sugar cane) giving you even more reasons to love it for your anti aging skin care.

Using AHAs to fight skin aging, including glycolic acid, is not new. AHA skin care has been around since Cleopatra's time. 

Today there are so many great and convenient AHA products that are powerful enough to give you results, meaning 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 most popular ways to use glycolic acid are as a face wrinkle cream, body lotion or in the form of regular 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.  Every day I see glycolic acid reverse the signs of skin aging on my patients.

Why glycolic acid is your best choice for reversing the signs of skin aging?

We scientists have solid and excellent scientific proof that glycolic acid makes big changes in your skin, changes that you want! (The only other anti aging skin care product that can rival these dramatic results are the retinoids, including non-prescription retinol and prescription tretinoin.) 

When I create a complete anti-aging regimen for a patient, I first combine a daily broad spectrum sunscreen with glycolic acid (and/or a retinoid) and then add other healthy and wonderful cosmeceutical products (such as antioxidants and hyaluronic) plus a good moisturizer and skin cleanser. Said another way,

I never fail to build the routine from the base of sunscreen and AHA and/or a retinoid!

That's because nothing else can boast the antiaging benefits of glycolic acid (or retinoids).

why glycolic acid is the best wrinkle cream

Here’s why glycolic acid is the best non-prescription anti aging ingredient you can use to 'turn back the clock' on your skin:

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:

What glycolic acid does to fight skin aging

  • Increases epidermal thickness dramatically (a whopping 17%). Meaning it can reverse some of the skin thinning that happens with age.
  • Increases epidermal hyaluronic acid content (by an astounding 180%) and hyaluronic acid dermal content too (9%). Meaning your skin is plumper, the appearance of your wrinkles is lessened, your skin is less fragile, and it’s healthier because cells and nutrients can move around in it better.
  • Turns on the genes for making skin collagen (3 times greater than before). Meaning you might actually really get rid of some wrinkles because reversing wrinkles requires that your skin makes collagen in the dermis (the deeper part of your skin) below the epidermis (the top living layer).

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

  • Evens-out irregular skin pigmentation.  Meaning it can get rid of your age spots and even help lighten hyperpigmentation from melasma.
  • Reverses the signs of classic sun damage in the epidermis that we see under the microscope.  Making the structure of your skin look 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).
  • Exfoliates the 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?

how to add glycolic acid products to your skin care routine

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, and apply them almost every day, but almost no one can start out like that.

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. 

dermatologist tips for how to use glycolic acid

With glycolic acid, I teach my patients to 'start low and go slow'; you start on lower strength products applying them a few days a week and 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 like a 10% or 15%. 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.

Not everyone can tolerate glycolic acid.  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 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' and benefit your skin in all of the ways I listed above. 

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 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.

dermatologist recommended glycolic acid AHA facial kit for acne and anti-aging wrinkle cream

For facial skin care to fight the signs of skin aging, use a cleanser and a cream. You can add an exfoliating facial sponge to help dead cells slough. My Glycolic Acid Facial Skin Care Kit fits all skin types.

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 antioxdants to reload the skin's antioxidant reserve to fight free radical damage. It also helps complexions tolerate anti-aging skin care products like glycolic acid and retinol.
  • An invisible yet 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. 

Ageless Rejuvenation Facial Skin Care Kit with Glycolic Acid Wrinkle Cream

Dermatologist's recommendation for glycolic acid anti-aging skin care for your body, arms and legs

best wrinkle cream for arm, leg, hand, body skin

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 62 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!) 

Know that your skin changes over time. I personally started with being able to handle glycolic acid every am 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 or tretinoin. After 50, I was back to combination therapy and used retinol or tretinoin every night and glycolic acid either am or pm about 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.  


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

Photo: Thanks and gratitude to Will Ellis