When it comes to wrinkles, it’s easier to prevent than erase these early signs of aging. Procedures ranging from laser resurfacing to Botox to dermal fillers are available weapons in the war on wrinkles, but no one can ignore the importance of a good skin care regimen and top-notch products to help postpone the need for more invasive tactics.

Before beginning a discussion of the best topical products for wrinkle prevention, Dr. Joseph Muccini of MidAmerica Skin Health & Vitality Center presents one caveat: “If you’re going to be aggressive, we’re still talking about surgery. You will not get out of a bottle what you get from a surgeon’s knife, but you can do all sorts of things that are very good short of that.” Realistic expectations are key.

That said, the nitty-gritty of choosing topical products can be slightly confusing when browsing aisles or makeup counters full of items that claim to be the answer to aging. “When looking for anti-aging products, it is important to understand what ingredients are present in a product to support its claim,” says Dr. Helen Kim-James of Chesterfield Valley Dermatology. “For instance, a lot of OTC (over-the-counter) products that are ‘anti-aging’ have only sunscreen as the active ingredient. Dermatologists recommend sunscreen as the first component of photo-aging regimens, but sunscreen is a preventative of skin damage leading to skin cancer, wrinkles, sun spots and dull skin. Sunscreen does not treat wrinkles and other signs of aging.”

Muccini agrees that sunscreen is a crucial component of a good skin-care program. “You must have a good sunscreen. There’s a lot of misinformation out there—it drives me nuts,” he says. For instance, concerns about the ingredients in sunscreen being more harmful than the effects of UV radiation on the skin have been discredited but continue to circulate online. “There’s no debate about this. The risk of not using sunscreen—in terms of the cancer you could get—way exceeds any risk from the ingredients.”

Since sun exposure speeds the breakdown of collagen in the skin and causes premature aging that’s visible as discolorations and wrinkles, sunscreen is crucial. “I recommend moisturizer with sunscreen (SPF 30+) every morning,” Kim-James says. “When planning to be outdoors, I recommend reapplication every two hours. It can be difficult for women to reapply sunscreen when wearing makeup. For those patients, I recommend using mineral make up and mineral powder sunscreen for reapplication.”

Beyond sun protection, Muccini says that every woman should use a vitamin C serum and a retinoid of some type. Both are available in various concentrations either over the counter or through a dermatologist’s office. The gold-standard retinoid, Retin-A and its generic counterpart, is a prescription product.

Kim-James notes that retinoids may irritate the delicate skin around the eyes. She recommends growth-factor serums for this area for patients who find retinoids cause redness or flaking. Women in their 50s and beyond often add hydroquinone, a skin-lightener to help reduce age spots, to their routine.

“We recommend discussing specific regimens with your dermatologist. In general, we recommend washing the face with a gentle cleanser first. Then, medications/ photo-aging creams are applied. Finally, sunscreen is applied,” Kim-James explains.