Navigating Anti-Aging Skincare: The industry, the science, and the products

Getting older is full of joyful and momentous milestones: Buying your first car, putting a down payment on a house, the first day of a new job, and even picking your kids up from their first day of school are all exciting moments worth celebrating as you reach new levels of life. On the other hand, each event can also be met with a small sense of anxiety associated with getting older. That, compounded with other, not so fun milestones (the first wrinkle on your forehead, your first age spot, and your first grey hair), can leave you feeling uneasy and lead you down roads looking for solutions to aging.

Reference Lab

JUL 09, 2021

If you’ve experienced this common trepidation and feel overwhelmed by the volume of anti-aging products available - discerning what works, what doesn’t, and what’s worth the money - you’re not alone. We’re here to help you navigate through one of the largest and most dense markets in the world and to make you feel empowered to make healthy and worthwhile choices. Continue reading to learn more about what causes visible signs of aging, when to start thinking about anti-aging interventions, and how to approach aging with a healthy, positive mindset.

01 Skin Aging: An Overview

As we get older, there are both natural processes and environmental factors that contribute to the physical symptoms we associate with skin aging (i.e. fine lines and wrinkles, loss of strength and elasticity, and uneven texture and tone). While these two influences overlap in many ways, it is important to understand the impact of each on long-term skin health in order to approach skin aging and anti-aging interventions effectively.

Intrinsic Aging vs. Extrinsic Aging [1]

Intrinsic aging refers to our body’s natural biological aging process. The primary impact of intrinsic aging on skin is that over time, damaged cells accumulate and collagen levels and skin integrity decline, which result in visible signs of aging such as wrinkles, loss of pigmentation, and loss of skin thickness and elasticity.

Extrinsic aging, which is caused by external factors, expedites this process and should be the focus of preventative anti-aging interventions. Not surprisingly, UV radiation from the sun is the leading cause of extrinsic aging, due to the harmful effects of UVA and UVB radiation on our skin cells. Notably, exposure to UV rays increases oxidative stress and induces widespread DNA damage that can ultimately lead to the accumulation of senescent (aged) cells, which further accelerate the process of aging in skin. Read more here on senescence and aging.

What factors influence skin aging?

A quick glance around the table at a dinner party with friends would be enough to confirm the fact that the rate and progression of aging differs between individuals. This is largely due to factors such as:

Gender: While the basic structure of the skin is universal across human beings, it turns out that our chromosomal and hormonal makeup may actually play a key role in determining the rate of aging skin.

In fact, across several studies, men have been found to have up to 30 percent thicker skin than women, particularly at the forehead and other facial regions.[2] This is primarily due to differences in systemic hormone levels — for example, hormonal changes associated with menopause have been found to decrease levels of hydroxyl proline, which is positively correlated with skin thickness and firmness.[3] Due to this correlation, signs of aging, such as wrinkles and loss of elasticity, tend to show up faster on female skin than on male skin.

Skin Type: While the intrinsic aging process shares several commonalities across different ethnicities, there is a strong correlation between skin type and the rate of extrinsic aging. In general, those with darker skin, and consequently higher levels of melanin, are less susceptible to skin damage, skin aging, and skin cancer.[4]

This is primarily due to melanin, which exists in higher concentrations in darker skin tones and serves to dissipate UV radiation from the sun.[5] With more protection from UV rays, those with darker skin are less likely to experience rapid photoaging, allowing their skin to maintain its integrity, pigmentation, and texture for a longer period of time.

Diet[6]: If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, water and proteins keep the wrinkles at bay! Diet is one of the most important, and one of the most forgotten, influences of skin aging. Adequate hydration is necessary for the skin to fulfill its homeostatic role in maintaining a constant internal environment, while a high-protein diet provides the energy and structural framework that defines healthy, youthful skin. Furthermore, adequate consumption of iron and Vitamins A, C, and E helps skin cells battle age-related build-ups of toxic, reactive molecules.

On the other hand, a diet high in fats or processed sugars has been linked with elevated levels of skin inflammation, which is a hallmark of skin aging.

Lifestyle & Health[7]: You have probably heard about the negative effects of alcohol and tobacco on our internal organs, but it turns out the skin, as our body’s largest organ, is also facing the backlash of these actions. Though a single glass of red wine at dinner may have its benefits, excessive alcohol consumption has been found to decrease skin barrier function, alter the lipid composition of the skin, and cause noticeable changes in facial skin integrity. This is due to the products of the body’s alcohol-breakdown process, particularly acetone, which elevates production of keratinocytes and alters our body’s ability to metabolize triglycerides and other fats.

Similarly, smoking has been found to decrease the thickness of the epidermal layer, alter skin pigmentation, and even cause the rapid death of skin cells, which increases an individual’s risk of skin cancer. This is primarily due to nicotine, one of the major components of recreational tobacco, which causes blood vessels to narrow and subsequently reduces skin cells’ access to oxygen, nutrients, and other necessary materials in the blood.[8]

Conversely, those who refrain from alcohol consumption and tobacco use have demonstrated a delayed onset of markers of facial skin aging compared to those who use one or both.

Environment and Pollution: One of the most defining features of the skin is its ability to form a protective barrier between our internal and external environments. While this barrier function allows our skin to serve numerous beneficial and homeostatic functions for our body, this also means the skin is the first to be exposed to pollutants and toxins in our environment.

Studies have demonstrated our skin’s vulnerability to pollutants, showing that higher levels of ground-level ozone can be a major threat to healthy skin structure. Elevated ozone levels typically occur as a result of pollutants from cars, refineries, and chemical plants (amongst others), and are known to spike on hotter days of the year.[9] Increased exposure to ozone can be devastating to skin health because it activates a class of enzymes known as metalloproteinases (MMPs). When expression of these enzymes is induced, MMPs serve to break down key structural components of our dermal skin layer, including collagen. As a result, the aging process is accelerated and individuals are more vulnerable to early-onset signs of aging.[10]

02 What happens to my skin as I age?

There are noticeable changes in skin health and appearance that start to appear, on average, in your 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Although every person is different, here’s a look at some common signs of aging to expect throughout each decade.

Skin aging in your 30’s: Thirtieth birthdays are often thought of as the dawn of a new chapter, the beginning of the next stage of life. Just as you may experience key personal and professional events in this decade, your skin is also going through some changes.

Most noticeably, the skin begins to lose its natural glow and appears more dry. This is due to the fact that the cell turnover rate, which is the rate that your skin is able to replace old cells with new cells, slows down tremendously — from roughly every 18 days to once every 28 to 35 days.[11] This means that the skin’s regeneration capabilities are hindered, making skin thinner with a weakened barrier. Additionally, while fresh skin cells are able to reflect light, which contributes to the radiant appearance of younger skin, older skin cells fall short in this category, leading to an increase in dullness.

Furthermore, if you avoided using proper sun protection in your 20’s, it will begin to catch up with you in your 30’s, at which point you are likely to see the first signs of photoaging that have built up in your younger years. This includes wrinkles, fine lines, and loss of moisturization, particularly in the epidermal skin layer.[12]

Skin aging in your 40’s: The changes you observe in your 30’s start to accelerate and become more noticeable as you enter your fabulous 40’s. In this decade, wrinkles become more pronounced and the skin loses more of its elasticity. This is mostly caused by the age- and sun damage- related loss of collagen, which is the primary fiber maintaining skin structure. Collagen production decreases at an approximate annual rate of 2% beginning in your mid 20’s, which causes the most visible changes in your 30’s and 40’s.[13]

Skin aging in your 50’s: As you enter your 50’s, you may notice that your skin has become much thinner. This is particularly true for women who experience a significant hormone shift post-menopause. In addition, this decade marks the beginning of bone resorption, the slow degradation of our bones by cells known as osteoclasts, which particularly affects the tautness and volume of facial skin. Changes in skin pigmentation due to sun damage may also become more visible as the previous disruptions take place.[14]

When should I start thinking about anti-aging skin care?

While there is no rigid age at which anti-aging skin care should become a part of your daily routine, it is clear that age-related changes start to accumulate and manifest into physical symptoms as early as your mid-20’s. As such, focusing on a healthy diet and lifestyle leading up and into your 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s will pay off in spades when it comes to visible signs of aging. The best anti-aging solution at that time is just a few simple lifestyle modifications!

03 The Anti-Aging Skincare Industry


For better or worse, apprehension towards aging, brought on by the reminders of aging that we receive when looking in the mirror, is a time-honoured, universal feeling. The anti-aging industry was undoubtedly propped up on this common unease towards the visible signs of aging and continues to be one of the largest global sectors in the world. In fact, the total value of the global anti-aging market, including skincare and various other longevity sectors, is nearly $45 billion as of 2020.[15] It’s also expected to grow at a rate of 6% each year, which would bring the total value up to over $60 billion by 2026.[16]

Within the anti-aging industry, skin care dominates, making up more than 50% of products available. This includes the vast array of lotions, creams, gels, and topical supplements that are aimed at minimizing either the physical impression (most often) or biological basis (less often) of skin aging.[17]

Background [18]

In the grand scheme of time, the anti-aging market has only recently seen a revival of interest and growth, but the origins of anti-aging technology actually stem all the way back to 69 B.C.! Cleopatra, who ruled Egypt at that time, was known to take baths in donkey milk, which contained alpha hydroxy acids, which are known to help with skin exfoliation and maintain soft skin texture.

Following this, Galen, a Greek physician, created a cream with water, oil, and beeswax. Not only was this supplement effective at removing dirt and dead skin cells from the epidermal layer, but it also laid the foundation for an intersection between science and anti-aging skin care.

For the next few hundred years, several prominent women, from Mary Queen of Scots to women of French court, engaged in practices such as placing thin cuts of raw meat on their faces to bathing in white wine. At this time, the goal was to minimize wrinkles and other visible blemishes that were looked down upon by their communities.

But it wasn’t until the early 1900s when the term “anti-aging” became synonymous with addressing the visual signs of aging on a deeper level.

04 Types of Anti-Aging Technology [19]

Advances in anti-aging science have driven the discovery of various tools to help minimize the appearance or development of anti-aging markers.

Non-invasive Anti-Aging Solutions

Non-invasive anti-aging tools cover general lifestyle modifications and routines, daily sun protection, and the application of creams, serums, topical supplements and other topical agents, which can be implemented on a consistent basis.

  • Daily Habits: The actions you take every day are some of the most powerful anti-aging tools at your disposal. As discussed earlier, everything from a healthy diet to cleansing your skin of environmental pollutants with a quick wash of the face, has the potential to rejuvenate the skin and help restore integrity and texture for the long-term.
  • Protection from Photodamage and UV Radiation: Sun damage, or photoaging, is the leading cause of extrinsic aging. UV radiation penetrates the epidermal layer and can severely damage skin cells by causing a buildup of reactive oxygen species and other toxic molecules. Daily application of sunscreen, even on cold, cloudy days, can help protect your skin from premature aging caused by UV rays. Click here to learn more about sun damage and skin.
  • Application of Topical Agents and Supplements: Daily application of lotions, creams, and other topical supplements are one of the most popular tools for anti-aging skin care. These products, which typically include antioxidants like Vitamin C and E, serve to repair and reverse cellular damage to help restore youthful skin. Read on to learn more about which ingredients you should be looking for in your anti-aging products!

Invasive [20]

Invasive technology, on the other hand, penetrates the epidermis in order to replace damaged tissue with a new, rejuvenated layer of skin, focusing on the physical aspect of skin health and rejuvenation. Invasive solutions are generally priced higher and implemented less frequently than non-invasive solutions.

  • Chemical peels: Chemical peels encourage quick cell turnover and repair following the removal of targeted skin layers. Peels can vary based on their depth and the solution used — different peels will suit different skin types due to variations in pH and concentration. The results of chemical peels are a thicker epidermis, increased collagen production, and improved hydration. Some risks to note, however, are a higher risk of infection due to temporary weakening of the skin barrier, damage to the heart muscle due to the chemicals used, and irritation or redness of the skin that can last for several months depending on your skin type.[21]
  • Laser therapy: Due to their emission of high energy waves, lasers are primarily used to remove facial wrinkles. This method has also been found to boost collagen production and cause a greater release of anti-inflammatory molecules from dermal skin cells.
  • Injections and Fillers: Ultimately, the goal of any anti-aging tool is to restore youthfulness of the skin, both in appearance and at a molecular level. Microinjections containing hyaluronic acid, vitamins, antioxidants, and nutrients have been found to give new life to fibroblasts, one of the main types of skin cells. Within this category, you can also find fillers, which are injections given for soft tissue augmentation that help with tissue repair and rejuvenation.
  • Botulinum Toxin (Botox): Botulinum toxin, more commonly known as BTX or botox in mainstream media, has become one of the most popular and widely used anti-aging strategies in the past few decades. Following administration via injection, botulinum toxin works by blocking the release of a neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine from nerves to muscles. As a result, the muscle can’t contract, which gradually softens wrinkles and causes them to disappear. While this can be an effective short-term strategy, botox ultimately falls prey to the current theme of the anti-aging industry: fixing the symptoms of aging, and not the cause (more to come on this at the end).

05 Common Anti-aging Ingredients

Given the immense size of the anti-aging market and the large expanse of anti-aging technology available, you may be wondering — how do I decide which product is right for me? A great first step is to take a look at the ingredients list of products that you use regularly or ones you are considering using, just as you would glance at the nutrition facts for a new beverage.


‘Retinoid’ is a broad term used to describe compounds that contain Vitamin A. Common words you may encounter on the label of anti-aging products are retinol, retinoic acid, tretinoin, retinyl palmitate, or retinyl acetate.

Retinoids serve the skin by boosting collagen production, increasing blood flow, and encouraging faster cell turnover. This is all made possible by retinoids' ability to promote cells in deeper skin layers to divide more frequently, allowing new cells to replace older cells at the surface, which in turn restores radiance and a youthful appearance.[22]

Unfortunately, the skin cells that are rapidly produced are often sub-functional, and cause unhealthy peeling and inflammation at sites of use.[23] It’s helpful to think about this phenomenon in the context of a factory. Would you rather buy a product that has been hastily assembled to save time, or a time-invested product that was carefully put together and checked for quality assurance? Your skin cells work in much the same way, with speed having the potential to compromise quality. Therefore, though retinoids may seem effective at restoring your skin, they may actually be weakening your skin barrier over time and increasing your vulnerability to external stressors and pathogens. You can find more information on retinol and retinol alternatives here.


Another common component of anti-aging creams is a class of ingredients, called antioxidants, which serve to neutralize toxic molecules known as reactive oxygen species (ROS) that accumulate as the skin ages. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation is the leading cause of ROS generation in skin cells, which has been linked to greater skin inflammation, alterations to skin pigmentation, and reduced synthesis of collagen in the dermal layer.[24] As a result, visible signs such as wrinkles, depigmentation, and loss of skin strength begin to appear.

Fortunately, daily use of antioxidants, particularly in anti-aging night creams, have shown promising results. Vitamin C, one of the most well-known antioxidants, is very effective at battling ROS build-up and can help restore a youthful foundation to the skin — not just at the surface, but at the root as well.[25]

This may lead you wondering, is it better to ingest antioxidants or lather them on your skin topically? In reality, both ways are effective at boosting antioxidant levels in the body. Though topical application works through direct absorption, consuming foods rich in Vitamins C, E, and A may be more affordable and easier to accommodate in a daily routine.[26] Who knew eating a berry-filled acai bowl for breakfast or grabbing a quick snack of baby carrots could actually be rejuvenating your skin?

Hyaluronic Acid

Abundant moisture and a natural glow is often touted as the “gold standard” for skin’s appearance — and rightfully so. These qualities are primarily made possible when skin contains high water content, and with hyaluronic acid being the main molecule responsible for water retention in the skin, this ingredient has become a pillar in skincare products.

OneFact Despite its name, hyaluronic acid is actually not an acid! It is a naturally made sugar with an immense role in maintaining skin hydration. Our body’s natural stores of hyaluronic acid are mainfully found in the extracellular matrix, a system of fibers outside our cells that serve to maintain structure.[27] The disappearance of hyaluronic acid from the epidermal layer as a result of UV radiation is one of the leading causes of skin aging. Fortunately, daily topical application of hyaluronic acid has been found to decrease wrinkle depth and restore up to a 50% increase in skin tautness. Therefore, when looking for the best anti-aging cream for your skin, check the ingredients list for hyaluronic acid![28]


Peptides are a hot topic these days in the skincare and wellness industries, and for all the right reasons! So what are they exactly? Peptides are small pieces of proteins that can have huge impacts on your cells for their size and critical role in core cellular processes. They particularly play a crucial role in skin health, acting as a single brick in a tall building to build up proper cell function at the molecular level and intervene in various undesirable processes, such as cellular senescence and aging. Learn more on peptides here.

06 How OneSkin is reframing anti-aging skincare industry

Unfortunately, much of the anti-aging industry has been built on short-term and often empty promises along with marketing that exploits age-related anxiety and fear, leaving consumers distrustful and skeptical. We at OneSkin recognize that just as you wouldn't treat an aged heart with injectable plumper to make it appear healthier, the goal of anti-aging skincare shouldn't be to just treat appearances, but rather to treat the skin's underlying health, a consequence of which will be improved appearances! As such, we are on a mission to reframe the way we think about aging and to approach solutions to aging with a new mindset - one that’s not anti-aging, but pro-aging in the healthiest way possible. We believe the best anti-aging cream is the one that is rooted in longevity science, and targets aging at the source to promote skin health, which is why our flagship product, OS-01 Topical Supplement, goes beyond placing a metaphorical band-aid on aging skin — it serves to address the molecular changes associated with aging to not only boost skin health, but overall health as well.

07 Conclusion

  • Skin aging has roots both intrinsically and extrinsically. Several factors, from diet to air pollution, have been linked to overall skin health.
  • Visible signs of aging are not set in stone, and can actually be controlled through your own lifestyle choices.
  • Noticeable symptoms of aging skin can become visible beginning in your 30’s, and progressively become more prominent as time goes on.
  • The anti-aging industry is one of the largest global markets in the world.
  • While hyaluronic acid and antioxidants are great ingredients to look for in an anti-aging supplement, retinol should no longer be considered the gold-standard.
  • OneSkin is revolutionizing the anti-aging sphere, now using a peptide that reduces the burden introduced by aged and damaged cells to help restore your skin to its healthy and youthful glory!

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

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