There is perhaps no category more popular in skin care today than the all-encompassing “anti-aging” category. Everything from face serums to sunscreen brags that it has “anti-aging” effects. And who doesn’t want to slow signs of aging, right? That being the case, before counting down the best anti-aging serums for men (and keep in mind many of the top options are unisex), we first wanted to dig into the meaning behind “anti-aging”.
Hopefully, it goes without saying that no skin care product can literally turn back the clock, and if a brand is making claims that sound too good to be true, you should be very, very skeptical. Generally, any skin care or grooming product that’s geared toward aging men (usually men over 30) are labeled as anti-aging products, and we won’t promise that any particular product will magically wipe away wrinkles or sagging skin. However, in our professional experience testing products, we have found anti-aging products for men that work for us.
We also reached out to Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and anti-aging expert in New York City. She answered all of our questions and then some, demystifying claims of “anti-aging” and explaining how these products really work (or don’t). Dr. Green told us which ingredients, like retinol, you should look for in anti-aging serums, as well as advice on how to prevent signs of aging and maximize the results from your new anti-aging serum for men.
What are the signs of aging? How do they develop?
When you see products that claim to promote anti-aging, what that means is the product features ingredients that may diminish the visible the signs of aging,.
The most common signs of aging in men include:
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Sun spots and age spots, which come from overactive melanocytes producing too much melanin
- Uneven skin tone
- Loss of skin elasticity and volume from a decline of collagen and sebum production.
Basically, as we age, our skin gets worse at maintaining itself. That plus environmental effects like stress and UV exposure take their toll over time.
“Collagen and elastin, the fibers in our skin responsible for creating a firm, youthful skin, naturally decrease as we age. Along with a decrease in collagen and elastin production, the repeated muscle movement on the forehead, eyes and glabella contributes to deep wrinkles and fine lines that often form in those areas,” Green said. “Furthermore, as we age, there is a loss of fat below the skin (the subcutaneous layer) in the cheeks, temples, eyes and chin that results in loose skin, sunken eyes and a skeletal appearance.”
What role do ultraviolet (UV) rays play in signs of aging?
This is an easy one. UV rays are pretty much terrible in every way for skin and play a role in every kind of sign we listed above by harming the deeper dermis layer of skin, the part that contains skin-supporting collagen and elastin. That’s why virtually every dermatologist and anti-aging guide recommends applying a daily face sunscreen.
“When UV rays make contact with the skin, there is damage to its DNA, and the cells in the dermis produce melanin in the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) to prevent more damage,” Green said. “UVA rays, with their longer wavelength, penetrate deep into the dermis and damage collagen and elastin fibers. This leads to wrinkle formation and leathery skin… The sun’s UV rays are also responsible for signs of photoaging such as melasma, sun spots and age spots.”
Do anti-aging serums work? What kinds of ingredients should we look for?
To answer the big question, do anti-aging serums really work? The truth is that the best anti-aging products, including anti-aging serums for men, can work to prevent and treat signs of aging, so long as they have the right ingredients and are used correctly and consistently. However, even with the best face serums, the results will vary from person to person based on age, skin type and countless other factors.
“It’s important to check the ingredients and make sure the active ingredient has been researched for effectiveness in anti-aging,” Green said. “But the benefits of these products are subtle and gradual with daily use, so it is unfair to expect perfect results in one day.”
At the same time, it’s important to understand what exactly a product is doing. For example, moisturizer, when used alone, often doesn’t actually prevent or permanently treat signs of aging; instead, it’ll hydrate and moisturize the skin to plump it up and “temporarily soften fine lines and wrinkles.” That’s definitely helpful, Green said, but it’d be better when combined with treatments known to stimulate collagen and elastin production.
What are the most effective anti-aging ingredients?
According to the experts we consulted for this and other skin care guides, we believe the most powerful anti-aging products contain proven ingredients such as retinol and retinoids, glycolic acid, Vitamin A, Vitabin C, Vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, peptides, sunscreen, ferulic acid and bidens pilosa. For those who are interested, we have a full guide to these ingredients at the end of this article, so keep scrolling to learn more.
What are anti-aging serums? How can I maximize the results from an anti-aging serum for men?
Serums are basically just concentrated forms of the cleansers, washes and ingredients you already know. There are acne-fighting serums, moisture-promoting serums and anti-aging serums, many of which do a bit of all of the above. For an anti-aging serum for men, you’re going to want to look for many of the ingredients we went through above and follow Green’s advice below for best results. (You should always read the serum’s individual instructions too for any differences).
- First, cleanse your skin with your favorite cleanser to prepare your skin for the serum.
- Apply the serum — just a few drops will suffice because of the high concentration — to damp skin. “Moist skin is 10 times more permeable than dry skin and will absorb the beneficial ingredients deep into the skin,” Green said.
- Press the serum into your skin with an open palm and/or use your fingertips to gently massage it into the targeted area.
- Wait five minutes for the serum to absorb before applying a moisturizer. That last step of moisturizing is important too because a serum, despite its anti-aging powers, is not meant to substitute for the all-over hydration that a moisturizer does.
If you know you have sensitive skin and still want to dive into anti-aging serums, Green also recommended avoiding added colors and fragrances, which can hinder absorption and further irritate skin.
And that’s just about everything you need to know about these anti-aging products. Now, check out some of our favorite anti-aging serums below. As a men’s website, we’ve focused on the best skin care products for men, but many of these anti-aging serums are ideal for both men and women.
1. Caldera + Lab The Good Multifunctional Serum
Everything you want in an anti-aging product, the Caldera + Lab The Good Multifunctional Serum offers. With 27 active botanicals, it’s lightweight, organic and features a mix of hydrating ingredients, wrinkle and fine line fighters and skin toners to address whatever problems your face is having.
SPY AWARD WINNER
2. Kiehl’s Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum
The Kiehl’s Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum is a moderately priced yet highly effective anti-aging serum for men. Featuring retinol, hydrating ceramides and collagen-promoting peptides, it’s a one-serum solution for wrinkles, dry skin and promoting new skin turnover.
3. The Ordinary “Buffet”
The Ordinary has an excellent serum, and like other products from this popular brand, it offers a ton of value for the price. The Ordinary “Buffet” contains cutting-edge ingredients such Matrixyl 3000, Matrixyl synthe’6 and Argirelox alongside a special peptide complex to reduce wrinkles, folds and looser skin. Just don’t use it if you’re already using a vitamin C product, The Ordinary advises.
4. Lumin Anti-Wrinkle Serum
MOST CONVENIENT APPLICATION
The Lumin Anti-Wrinkle Serum is a budget-friendly and effective anti-aging serum for men and can be tailored to any type of skin, dry, oily or combination. Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid tag team your skin to minimize fine lines and wrinkles, even out skin tone and hydrate. The serum also comes in a convenient roll-on stick, so you can apply it directly before gently massaging with your fingers.
Read More: Lumin’s Top Anti-Aging Products
5. Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum
BEST FIRST RETINOL SERUM
For a gentler retinol anti-aging serum for men just dipping their toes into the water, the Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum is a great choice. The vegan lightweight formula absorbs easily, but the key is the micro-encapsulated retinol and natural retinol alternatives. They can help reduce the irritation typically associated with retinol use. Add in a reasonable price too and you’ve got a great starter anti-aging serum for men.
6. Mario Badescu Anti Acne Serum
BEST FOR BLEMISHES AND ACNE
The Mario Badescu Anti Acne Serum is simple, lightweight and formulated with two goals in mind: taking and keeping down acne. Just like the best acne face washes, this serum relies on salicylic acid, as well as thyme leaf extract, to tamp down on blemishes. As a beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid will exfoliate skin and promote skin turnover.
7. CeraVe Hyaluronic Acid Serum
BEST FOR HYDRATION
The CeraVe Hyaluronic Acid Serum is a classic choice if ever there was one, but it’s just an all-around great serum to moisturize, soften and soothe dry skin. Vitamin B5, three ceramides, sodium hyaluronate, which is a form of hyaluronic acid, and more deliver instant hydration to skin. Fragrance-free, fast-acting, lightweight and available in drugstores everywhere, the CeraVe hyaluronic acid serum is a popular and well-reviewed mainstay for good reason.
8. Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
BEST VITAMIN C SERUM
The Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum delivers protective antioxidants deep into your skin. Vitamin C, collagen amino acids and a special energy complex protect skin, promote your skin’s own production of collagen and minimize imperfections like wrinkles, dullness and dark spots.
9. MGSKINLABS AM/PM Serum Duo
Green has even developed her own line of products, including multiple rejuvenating serums. The MGSKINLABS AM/PM Serum Duo consists of two serums, the AM Intense Anti-Aging Serum and the PM Skin Rejuvenating Serum. The first helps protect skin and prevent damage during the day and the second restores overnight.
“The duo provides round-the-clock damage control in the battle against skin aging. The product provides a powerful antioxidant protection to rejuvenate and improve fine lines and wrinkles, overall skin tone and texture and temporarily tightens the skin,” Green said. Suitable for all skin types, each is a great anti-aging serum for men.
Anti-Aging Ingredients To Look for in Face Serums
Everything below is a staple of anti-aging serums for men and every other kind of anti-aging product out there. We’ll tell you what each ingredient is and how it factors into anti-aging.
Retinol/retinoids/vitamin A: Vitamin A is a go-to for treating signs of aging and its derivatives, retinol and retinoids, are among the most common ingredients in anti-aging serum for men and other anti-aging products. “The small molecules that make up the retinol penetrate into the dermis and neutralize free radicals. This leads to increased elastin and collagen production, creating a plump and youthful skin and minimizing fine lines, wrinkles and enlarged pores,” Green said. FYI: Retinoids and retinol are basically the same, but the former are only available via prescription for their added potency while retinol is available over the counter. One last thing to note: Retinol and retinoids are intense and make skin photosensitive, so it’s critical to introduce them into your routine slowly, always put on sunscreen afterward “even if it’s cloudy” (or avoid sunlight altogether) and consult a dermatologist if you have concerns, Green said.
Glycolic acid: Glycolic acid is one of the alpha hydroxy acids, which are known to help break down and exfoliate dead skin. In helping to clear old skin and promote the growth of new skin, it can tame signs of anti-aging over time and tamp down on acne, hyperpigmentation and excess sebum. “Glycolic acid exfoliates by disrupting the bond between the dead skin cells and the outer layer of the skin,” Green said. “Glycolic acid is the strongest of the AHAs because of its small molecular size, which helps it penetrate deeper into the skin to stimulate collagen production.”
Glycolic acid can also make skin photosensitive, so be sure to wear a sunscreen of at least SPF 50 afterward, Green added. Lactic acid and citric acid are also AHAs and behave similarly.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is useful for anti-aging for its antioxidant properties, which help fight damage and protect skin from UV rays. “Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules with unpaired electrons that react with other molecules to stabilize. This triggers a chain reaction that damages healthy skin cells,” Green explained. “Oxidative stress is caused by sun exposure, smoking, pollution, as well as natural metabolic processes. Antioxidants like vitamin C help the skin fight free radical damage and provide protection from sun damage, correct signs of aging, reduce inflammation, brighten the skin and aid in cellular repair.”
Hyaluronic acid: Humectants prevent moisture loss, and hyaluronic acid, which naturally occurs in the body’s connective tissues, is one of the best humectants, with the ability to hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. Though it won’t have as permanent an effect as consistent retinol use, it can reduce the intensity of signs of aging on a daily basis. “Hyaluronic acid will pull water molecules from the environment and hold it on the surface of your skin to keep it moisturized,” Green said. “By plumping the skin, the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles soften. The benefits include hydration, anti-aging, increase in skin elasticity and improvements to facial redness.”
Vitamin E: Vitamin E, frequently listed in its tocopherol or tocopheryl acetate forms, is similar to vitamin C in that it’s an antioxidant. That means it helps fight free radicals and protects skin from UV rays, one of the most important causes of signs of aging. It’s also a humectant and emollient, meaning it can help trap water in the skin for additional hydration. “Vitamin E has natural anti-inflammatory properties to soothe the skin, and it works well when combined with vitamin C,” Green explained. “When vitamin E stabilizes a free radical, vitamin C helps to regenerate the vitamin E molecule.”
Peptides: “Peptides are small chains of less than 50 amino acids, which are building blocks that make up proteins in the body including collagen,” Green said. Because of their role in collagen production, which keeps skin supple and wrinkle-free, peptides are useful in anti-aging skin care. “Peptides promote collagen and elastin production and lock in hydration for the skin. When applied to the skin, peptides act as a messenger to tell the body to produce more collagen,” Green explained. “The carrier peptides then stabilize and transport essential compounds like copper or magnesium to specific enzymes important in collagen synthesis. The peptides that inhibit nerve signals can help reduce the appearance of fine lines.“
Sunscreen: It’s not an ingredient, but if there’s one thing to include in your anti-aging routine, make it sunscreen. Whether a chemical sunscreen, which absorbs UV rays and releases them as heat, or physical sunscreen, which uses titanium oxide or zinc dioxide that sit on top of the skin to block UV rays, sunscreens are a must-have for anyone serious about anti-aging. “Sunscreen is the ultimate skincare product to prevent aging,” Green said. “Sun exposure damages the DNA in the skin and depletes collagen, leading to sagging skin and fine lines and wrinkles. The sun also dilates blood vessels to give the skin a red tone, and triggers melanocytes to produce melanin (skin pigment) to protect the skin from UV rays. The increased melanin production causes sun spots and age spots.” Make sure whatever product you land on that it has broad-spectrum protection, meaning it’ll protect you from sunburn-causing UVB rays and cancer-causing and aging-causing UVA rays. The sunscreen should ideally be at least SPF 50, but any amount, whether from a standalone sunscreen or other moisturizer, is better than nothing.
Ferulic acid: “Ferulic acid is a plant-based antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals that damage our skin and collagen. It has an additional benefit in that it boosts the effectiveness of other antioxidants like vitamins C and E,” Green said. Further, ferulic acid can help stabilize the vitamins and help protect against UV damage.
Bidens pilosa: This is a new ingredient to our radar and it has nothing to do with President Joe Biden. “Bidens pilosa is a flowering plant with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that helps improve pigmentation. It has recently become a topic of interest in skin care due to its ability to act as a ‘bio-retinol,’’’ Green told SPY. “Bidens pilosa contains phytanic acid, which activates the same receptors in the skin as retinol to stimulate collagen and elastin production to create a more youthful skin. This ingredient does require more research on its safety and efficacy, but it has shown promising results so far in decreasing wrinkle depth and plumping up the skin.”
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