Does using a moisturizer prevent wrinkles? The internet is full of stories of women who have used one brand or another's moisturizer for decades and have aged gracefully. Unfortunately, the notion that moisturizers on their own prevent wrinkles is a myth (these women were likely genetically blessed). Unless your moisturizer contains sunscreen or other active ingredients that are known to mitigate skin aging, it alone will not prevent wrinkles.
A well-formulated moisturizer can do wonderful things for our skin. Moisturizers hydrate our skin and protect its health in the face of environmental insults such as harsh cleansers and cold, dry weather. They give our skin a smoother appearance and rid it of flaking and dullness, and they plump fine lines by adding water to the skin, making wrinkles appear less noticeable. In fact, the immediate effects of a good moisturizer on our skin's appearance surpass that of any other skin care product. Unfortunately, these effects are all transient, and do not prevent wrinkling or long-term skin aging.
Now if your moisturizer contains added sunscreen ingredients and provides "broad spectrum" protection, then it is an anti-aging product that, if used properly, can prevent wrinkling. Approximately 90% of skin aging is thought to be a result of sun exposure, predominantly from exposure to ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. These are the longer rays that reach us from the sun and penetrate into the dermis (the deeper layer of our skin), damaging its collagen and elastin. These proteins give our skin structure, and when they are destroyed or damaged, the skin loses its firmness and elasticity and starts to wrinkle and sag. For information on which ingredients to look for in order to make sure your product provides protection from UVA rays, please see our post on this topic.
Other ingredients that are sometimes added to commercial moisturizers which may also have anti-aging benefits include retinol, antioxidants, glycolic acid, growth factors and certain peptides. Each of these may provide some anti-aging benefits when used over a long period of time. For more information on these ingredients please see this post.
The bottom line:
Moisturizers can do wonderful things for your skin's appearance but these effects will not slow skin aging. Use a moisturizer with SPF each morning, or layer a sunscreen with your favourite moisturizer for true anti-aging benefits.
Toronto dermatologist Dr. Michelle Levy writes about common skin conditions, controversies and developments in our skin care blog, and provides science-based answers to common questions.