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Five Best anti-aging ingredients to look out for

February 19, 2009 Reviewed by Marta 13 Comments

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).


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.


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.

  • August 12, 2013

    by Terri

    Hi Marta,
    I was looking at your fifty something and all the ingrdience you suggested,
    I was wondering if you could possibly suggest a product that has the all of them in one cream or serum, etc.? (or most anyway)?
    Thanks so much,

  • March 8, 2009

    by Asya

    What you say makes very good sense (I also believe there aren't silver bullets and one-does-all miracles). Will definitely follow up on your advice and keep on reading further.
    Thank you again for taking the time to answer (and recommending brands that are available in Europe - on behalf of all of us in dreary Belgium:-))!

    By the way

  • March 6, 2009

    by marta


    Thanks so much for your kind words. And you ask an excellent question. In fact, I think I should post a whole article on skincare for thirty-somethings.

    I am a big believer in micro-targeting. My husband says I have a different cream for every inch of my face including the tip of the face. But what I mean is that you should only start using the heavy guns (eg: synthetic peptides) on specific areas as fine lines start to appear. So peer closely in the mirror and start to use power antioxidants etc only on wrinkles. For the rest of neck, face and hands a good sunscreen is your best investment (even in dreary Belgium :) ) and I would say you should focus on moisturizing and skin tone and nice botanical ingredients. Jurlique would be a good brand to look out for, as would Suki and I would definitely try the French/Moroccan brand Kaeline for its Argan oil products. I hope that helps, but do check back in because I'll do a lot more research for a full post.

  • March 6, 2009

    by Asya

    Dear Marta,

    first of all, thanks for the great website - finally someone with no-nonsense attitude towards the industry and some knowledge to back it up! I am French, living in Belgium, and honestly, I am ashamed how behind Europe is on these issues...
    I have a question that I am still trying to get a convincing answer regarding anti aging routine, and I would really appreciate your opinion (I'm sure there are some more readers out there faced with the same dilemma).
    I'm 32 and slowly the so called "first signs of aging" - fine lines around the eyes and on the the front, begin to appear. Other than that, I don't have any other big preoccupations with my skin. I am still clearly in the preventive phase, and I think it is vital to care properly and timely against damage now in order to have less to repair later. The problem is that on the market there are two large categories of products - hydrating, for people in their 20s without wrinkles (too light) and anti age/repair for 50s with settled wrinkles (too strong). I am exaggerating, of course, but it is true that the ingredients in creams for 30-somethings are not very convincing as manufacturers don't have a clear selling line - they put a little bit of Vit C, some botanicals and keep "the big guns" for their mature skin product lines. Some time ago I wanted to buy an anti-wrinkle night cream and the consultant in the shop asked me "If you buy this now, what are you going to use in 10-15 years, when you are really going to need it?" That scared me enough not to buy it, but I am still not convinced that I have to wait until my wrinkles set in to start doing something about them. I don't want to use retinol or other firming, lifting substances destined at smoothing existing wrinkles, but can I use powerful antioxidants and collagen boosters, such as Matrixyl 3000 or Astaxanthin, without overstimulating my skin and compromise the future (the overkill risk)? Or in other words what is it not too early to start to use to prevent damage?
    Thanks in advance and again congratulations on your work!

  • February 25, 2009

    by JulieK

    I'm liking Syn-Tacks, as well. I've mixed it in a serum and am really seeing results (beyond what the serum provided before without). I wouldn't want to use it in all my products, however. One layering is enough. ~jk

  • February 21, 2009

    by Darrell stocks Astaxanthin as I recall; and they are a really reliable company.

    If I recall, that ingredient must be refrigerated or heavily preserved as it's quick to spoil. Since it has a bit of a fishy smell, it would probably best be incorporated into a mask or other product containing kelp or seaweed extracts.

    Those with shellfish allergies, beware. Because of it's bright color, there may be some skin or clothing stain potential.

    Here are a few finds of skincare products with Astaxanthin (I haven't tried any of these):

    Derma E Skin Care Age-Defying Day Creme with Astaxanthin

    Collective Wellbeing Night Quenching Cream - Astaxanthin/Jojoba

    Juju Cosmetics Aqua Moist Prime Hyaluronic Acid Cream W / Astaxanthin

  • February 20, 2009

    by Michelle

    My first questions is whether there is a MINIMUM concentration needed for each of these ingredients in order for them to be effective. I mean, other than just looking for products that contain these ingredients, are there concentration levels that we should also look for? If so, what are they? I mean, is too little ineffective, and too much dangerous?

    My second questions is where can we find a good source of Astaxanthin? Or are there products we can purchase that contain enough of it to be effective?

    And Kathy's idea of mixing all 5 ingredients into one cream is wonderful! Someone should definitely get on that, but I suppose the potion would quickly spoil without preservatives. =/

  • February 20, 2009

    by marta

    To Kathy's question, the answer is I don't know. Perhaps you can have too much of a good thing.

  • February 20, 2009

    by JulieK

    I adore spin trap- the scent of which puts me in my "comfort zone." I believe (the in gredients' lists cites this) MyChelle pumpkin skin renewel cream and fantastic eye cream both have spin trap. But neither on the levels of YBF. It's like meat and potatoes and thinned down soup; YBF is the real meal. =) ~jk

  • February 19, 2009

    by Kathy

    Marta, is there a way to combine all 5 of these ingredients into one cream?

  • February 19, 2009

    by marta

    Justine, it's a bit tricky because it depends on concentrations used. I do try to avoid parabens, phenoxyethanol and chlorphensin. But they are in almost everthing, so its not easy. Plus I'll get lots of angry cosmetic marketing people posing as ordinary readers telling me that I am scare-mongering.... Hmmm, I'm beginning to warm to the idea.

  • February 19, 2009

    by prettyarmor

    Marta, you're the best. Thank you for narrowing this down. I was starting to get dizzy...

  • February 19, 2009

    by Justine

    I was wondering whether you could do a similar list of things that we should absolutely avoid or be wary of. Would this be an impossible list?

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