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Just as the skin on your face develops fine lines, lower elasticity, and other natural signs of aging, your hands go through that process, too. What can you do to keep your hands looking young? Do anti-aging hand creams work?
Below, we’ll explain why your hands might look older than they are and the best hand cream ingredients to stop or even reverse signs of aging.
Which anti-aging hand cream ingredients work?
There’s an abundance of hand creams on the market claiming to have the secret formula to younger-looking hands. Most of those combinations of ingredients need more research, but some of the specific components seem to be effective for anti-aging.
Good anti-aging hand creams should include SPF sun protection because wearing sunscreen every day (yes, even when the sun’s not out!) is one of the most important things to keep your skin looking young. Wearing sunscreen will help you avoid something called “photoaging”—skin damage caused by UV rays. Signs of photoaging include pigmented spots, uneven skin color, and wrinkles around the eyes and mouth (Gilchrest, 2013). A small study suggested that wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen daily for a year could even visibly reverse signs of existing photodamage by improving skin texture and pigmentation (Randhawa, 2016).
Retinoids are well studied and one of the mainstays of treatment for aging skin. These vitamin A-based medications come in multiple forms, including topical (creams) and oral (tablets). The most common topical retinoid is tretinoin (see Important Safety Information), which can decrease wrinkles, increase collagen production, and improve skin pigmentation (Mukherjee, 2006).
Tretinoin products are only available by prescription, so over-the-counter (OTC) hand creams won’t include tretinoin. Many OTC anti-aging hand creams at the drugstore contain an ingredient called retinol instead. Retinol is another retinoid and much less potent than tretinoin. But it can still reduce fine lines in the skin (Mukherjee, 2006).
Vitamins C, E, and B3
Many skincare products boast antioxidants on their labels, but vitamins C, E, and B3 are preferred since these antioxidants can penetrate the skin through their small molecular weight and protect against the effects of aging (Ganceviciene, 2012). Vitamin C (L-ascorbic-acid) can increase collagen production, and vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) has been shown to have some anti-inflammatory effects, which may smooth the skin. These two topical vitamins are most effective when used together. Vitamin B3 (niacinamide) helps regenerate cells, which can improve skin elasticity and pigmentation.
What is sun-damaged skin (photoaging) and how to treat it
Hyaluronic acid, which is naturally present in our skin, is another common ingredient in anti-aging skincare products and a hydration agent. As we get older, we lose a lot of that natural hyaluronic acid, resulting in dryness and other signs of skin aging. Topical hyaluronic acid moisturizes the skin, improves skin elasticity, and decreases wrinkles. It’s also effective at smoothing and brightening the skin (Bukhari, 2018).
Like hyaluronic acid, ceramides—a type of lipid molecule—are parts of our skin’s natural hydration system. Studies show that topical ceramides can moisturize the skin by mimicking the skin’s natural lipids. Study participants felt their skin was more hydrated using ceramide cream than other moisturizers (Spada, 2018).
There’s limited research on ceramides specifically for anti-aging, but moisturizing is an integral part of keeping the skin looking young.
Other moisturizing agents
Some other ingredients such as shea butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, and certain other seed oils may have moisturizing benefits for dry hands. However, the research is not as conclusive for these (Lin, 2017).
What causes hands to look older?
Your genes play a significant role in how your skin ages. If you look at how your parents’ skin looked as they got older, you’ll get a good idea of how your skin might age, as well. Genes go beyond our parents, and there are even variations in how skin aging shows up in people of different ethnicities. For instance, Caucasians tend to get wrinkles at a younger age than other ethnicities (Makrantonaki, 2012). Genes are unavoidable, so if you have a genetic propensity toward faster aging, you may want to start using those proven skincare products earlier rather than later.
Premature aging: what is it, symptoms, and how to prevent it
Signs of aging in the hands start showing up in the fourth decade of life for most people. With each passing decade, you may see wrinkles, dark spots, thinning skin, and tortuous veins (prominent, squiggly veins) (Jakubietz, 2008).
Three factors can make these signs show up earlier and more noticeably.
Getting out in the sun is good for you (think vitamin D), but only in small doses. Too much sun exposure not only increases your risk of skin cancer but also rapidly accelerates skin aging, causing age spots, discoloration, and wrinkles. Some research shows that sun damage starts as early as 15 years old (even if it’s not visible until decades later). Wearing sunscreen anytime you’ll be out in the sun is an essential part of any anti-aging skincare routine (Clatici, 2017).
While smoking primarily ages the skin in your face (especially around the eyes and mouth), it can worsen skin aging throughout the entire body, and there’s no reason to believe it wouldn’t affect the hands, as well. Numerous studies show smoking might even be worse than sun exposure for skin aging (Clatici, 2017). Quitting smoking is one of the fastest ways to brighten your skin.
Eating a high-sugar diet can also negatively impact your skin by reducing collagen levels and elastic fibers in the skin, which causes the skin to sag more. Cutting down on sugar is a good idea if you want to improve skin tone and make your skin look more youthful (Clatici, 2017).
15 foods to skip if you want to slice your sugar intake
Use caution with skincare products
When you notice those first wrinkles or sunspots on your hands, you may be eager to find a quick fix. That’s certainly understandable! But take some time to look into the products you’re using, ensuring their active ingredients are proven for anti-aging effects.
When you try any new skincare product, even a moisturizing hand lotion, be sure to test it on a small area first and watch out for irritation or sensitive skin. Speak with your dermatologist or another healthcare provider if you need help finding an appropriate product for sensitive skin.
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Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.