A nip and a tuck may not be for everyone, but we still want to maintain a youthful glow for as long as possible. Aging gracefully means different things for different people, and slowing the natural process may be ideal for some. That’s why there are so many over-the-counter (OTC) anti-aging products. But are they all they claim to be?

In general, anti-aging products’ effectiveness depends on the concentration of active ingredients, explains Kim Brooks, a licensed aesthetician at Synergi Progressive MedSpa. “Look at the product label. Ingredients are listed in descending order,” she says. Ingredients to look for among the first several listed include retinol, alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) and peptides. “Those are key ingredients in products. If they’re far down the list, the product doesn’t have much active ingredient.” These ingredients promote cell turnover, Brooks says, causing surface cells to shed and make way for new cells.

However, even products that contain high concentrations of these ingredients can only take one so far, notes Dr. George Hruza, a dermatologist and medical director of the Laser and Dermatologic Surgery Center. “Retinols are much weaker than prescriptionstrength topical retinoids (such as Retin-A). The science for retinoids is strong as far as reducing sun damage and fine lines. There is not enough scientific data to say that retinol is as effective.”

Improving skin’s appearance depends, in large part, on regular, continuous use of overthe- counter products, Hruza notes. “Most OTC products work by moisturizing skin, making it look better while using the product, but there are no long-lasting effects.” Yet Hruza agrees with Brooks that the best OTC options are those that contain AHAs, which can improve skin’s radiance due to their exfoliating benefits.

“Vitamin C used topically works as an antioxidant to help reverse some sun damage,” Hruza says. “However, it is quite unstable in air. Most preparations claiming to have vitamin C may not have any active vitamin C by the time the consumer uses it.”

Hruza recommends another product line that may repair some sun damage: TNS by SkinMedica. “This product contains growth factors that may help in rejuvenating the skin,” he says. However, SkinMedica products must be purchased through a dermatologist’s office or medical spa.

“For any anti-aging product to have long-lasting effects, it takes several months to notice a difference,” Hruza adds. “Sunscreens to prevent further sun damage should be at least an SPF 30, and for best anti-aging effects should contain transparent zinc oxide, as it covers all of the UV rays, including the long-wave UVA that is responsible for many of the signs of skin aging, such as wrinkles.”

The bottom line is ‘buyer beware,’ Hruza concludes. “There are many claims being made by OTC manufacturers that have not been assessed by the FDA. I would suggest getting recommendations from one’s trusted dermatologist as to what OTC preparation might be appropriate for any given individual’s skin type, sensitivities and desired results.”