Like a poor seamstress in the 19th century going blind as she stitches her fingers to the bone under a fluttering candle, I am also probably in danger of ruining my eyesight. In my case, the occupational hazard is the result of obsessively scrutinizing lists of ingredients. I am now unable to enter Sephora without a pair of reading glasses and I am thinking that a small, pocket-sized flashlight could come in handy. The good news is that, as a result of all this squinting at small print, I now recognize ingredients that I'd prefer to avoid or regard as a waste of money and, conversely, those are worth seeking out.

The ingredients that make me look twice at an anti-aging potion come with good pedigrees; there is plenty of independent research showing that they work and I've seen the evidence with my own eyes. This isn't an exhaustive list, but a handful that I think are worth looking out for. I haven't included botanicals or vitamins since I have decided to save them for a future post.

Do comment if you disagree with my selection or have any to add, as I will try to regularly update and improve the list.

Spin trap (phenyl butyl nitrone)

I really like the idea of an intelligent molecule. Phenyl butyl nitrone was developed by laboratory researchers who wanted to be able to isolate free radicals in petri dishes. The answer was a molecule that latches on to free radicals that are spinning out of control and stops them before they can create cellular havoc (cancer, aging skin etc). Assuming that spin traps act in the same way after they have been mixed in a potion and slathered on skin, the idea is that they will actually prevent the signs of aging. Prevention is always a better option that waiting for a cure. Spin trap is the signature ingredient in the Your Best Face line and you know how I feel about their eye cream. It is also used by Glo Therapeutics, a brand that I have only just started to get to know (too soon to pass judgement, but look out for a review in a few weeks).

Carnosine

Glo Therapeutics is also enamored of carnosine and with good reason. It is a natural amino-acid that is a potent anti-oxidant. The thing I find exciting is that Australian researchers claim it can extend the HayFlick Limit. The Hayflick Limit is the name given to the sad fact that our cells will only divide and reproduce 52 times before dying altogether. Carnosine may give us up to another 10! It seems to me that carnosine, then, is a much better anti-aging option than peeling (chemical peels or using a retinol cream). Surely every peel is simply speeding up the arrival of the Hayflick Limit. One of the ways that carnosine works is by preventing the cross-linking of collagen and other proteins, one of the causes of wrinkling and loss of elasticity.

Astaxanthin

Copley switched us all on to this one. When tested against common antioxidants, astaxanthin has demonstrated exceptional performance in combating singlet oxygen, one of the strongest ROS, which directly damages biological lipids, proteins, and DNA. A clinical research study by Dr. Debasis Bagchi at Creighton University demonstrated that astaxanthin can eliminate free radicals 6,000 times more effectively than vitamin C, 800 times more than CoQ10, 550 times more than vitamin E and green tea, 75 times more than Alpha Lipoic Acid, and 20 times more than beta-carotene.

Syn-tacks (and Matrixyl 3000)

Syn-tacks is a synthetic peptide made by combining two peptides: palmitoyl dipeptide-5 diaminobutyloyl hydroxytheronine and palmitoyl dipeptide-6 diaminohydroxybutyrate. According to the manufacturer of Syn-tacks, these two peptides interact with the most relevant protein structures of the dermal-epidermal junction and stimulates a broad spectrum of things responsible for youthful skin - laminin V, collagen types IV, VII and XVII and integrin - all at once. Collagen IV activity is increased by 190%, according to the manufacturer. However, as yet, there are no independent tests to verify this.

Syn-tacks may give Matrixyl 3000 a run for its money, although that isn't proven in any way yet and M 3000 still seems to be one of the most reliably potent peptides available for cosmetics. It is made from two peptides that have nothing to do with the palmitoyl-pentapeptide 3 that is in the original Matrixyl. The two new peptides are palmitoyl-tripeptide and palmitoyl-oligopeptide. The company that owns the patent has conducted research on two panels of 23 volunteers aged from 39 to 74 to demonstrate that Matrixyl 3000 is more effective than the original Matrixyl at regulating skin cell activity. The data is limited, however, and uncorroborated.

Ferulic acid

Ferulic acid is borderline botanical since it is found in the cell walls of plants such as wheat, rice, peanuts, oranges and apples. It is an antioxidant that can seek and destroy several different types of free radical - ‘superoxide’, ‘hydroxyl radical’, and ‘nitric oxide’ - according to a 2002 Japanese study. A 2004 Italian study concluded that ferulic acid is a more powerful antioxidant than alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), beta-carotene, and ascorbic acid (vitamic C). Meanwhile, Duke University researchers blended it with vitamin C and E and proclaimed it a "potent ubiquitous plant anti-oxidant". Mixing ferulic acid with a vit C cream is a great DIY solution and seems to be very helpful for fading sun damage. Read about how to unleash your inner mad scientist.