The Best Wrinkle Cream
Keep your skin looking younger as you get older
According to the studies we researched, and the dermatologists and chemists we interviewed, the best wrinkle creams do work — as long as they’re made with the right stuff. Retinol is the only non-negotiable, but we scoured the ingredients lists of over 200 products looking for two other clinically proven anti-agers: alpha hydroxy acids and hyaluronate acid. Holy grail wrinkle creams do exist, but they definitely come at a price.
A super-light serum that contains all three powerhouse ingredients — retinol, AHAs, and hyaluronic — in a sleek pump bottle. At $510, it's five times as expensive as our other top picks, but it doesn't get much better.
Our runner-up: good ingredients, but in lower levels — and all the wrong packaging.
Our drugstore pick: high levels of retinol, but no AHAs.
Wrinkle cream is the long con of skin care, a commitment to a daily routine that won’t show results for months, or even years. There’s no over-the-counter quick fix for wrinkles — nothing we can slather on one night and wake up crease-free the next morning. When it comes to wrinkle creams, we invest in the routine (not to mention the product) and, to a certain extent, cross our fingers that 10 or 20 years from now we may look 10 or 20 years younger than we would have without them.
So it’s good news that the science behind the most powerful wrinkle fighters — retinol, for one, but alpha hydroxy acids and humectants like hyaluronic acid too — says they do actually work to decrease the appearance of fine lines and signs of aging. The bad news: They don’t come cheap.
Our top pick is, unfortunately, the most expensive by far.
Sure, La Prairie Cellular Power Charge Night is $510, but it’s the only wrinkle cream we found that not only includes the three best ingredients to fight signs of aging, but includes them in effective amounts. Plus, it comes in an airless pump bottle that eliminates any chance for the product inside to degrade, and it instantly absorbs, making it ideal to layer into your skincare routine. If you’re serious about results, and don’t want to go the prescription route, this is the product to splurge on.
Our runner-up, Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer, feels like a steal by comparison, but retinol is nearly two times lower on the ingredients list, so it’s just not as effective. It also comes in a pot, as opposed to a pump, making it more susceptible to contamination — and trickier to portion out. That said, it does contain all three ingredients that make the best wrinkle creams work, which is hard to find. If you’ll only apply it with clean hands and in a sunless room, this is a decent (and more affordable) option.
Our Drugstore Pick
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum For $493 less than the La Prairie, we can forgive its lack of alpha hydroxy acids.
When we stumbled onto Neutrogena's Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum, we were ecstatic. Voila: a product with even more retinol than La Prairie, in good packaging, for about $20. It has a pretty perfume-y fragrance, which will be a turnoff for some, and it doesn’t have any alpha hydroxy acids, which, after retinol, are the most effective wrinkle fighters. But if you can deal with the scent and load up on AHAs in other aspects of your skincare, this wrinkle cream is a perfect pick.
How We Found the Best Wrinkle Cream
For the past five years in the US alone, consumers have spent well over $2 billion annually on anti-aging products. Worldwide, the market is estimated to be nearing $200 billion in the next few years. Needless to say, there are a lot to choose from: Whole aisles in drugstores and department stores are devoted to combatting wrinkles, fine lines, and sun-damaged skin.
To find the best wrinkle cream, we looked for products for the whole face (our review on best eye cream is a good read for anyone looking for a more targeted approach). We compiled a list of 237 creams, serums, and gels from top retailer roundups; recommendations from popular beauty magazines, blogs, and experts; and best-sellers from stores like Ulta, Sephora, Nordstrom, Saks — even Walgreens. And then we started digging into their ingredients.
No retinol? That’s a deal breaker.
Retinoids are the only over-the-counter wrinkle fighter proven to reverse the signs of aging in study after study. A derivative of vitamin A, retinol works in two ways: by drying and exfoliating the epidermis (aka cell turnover) and by spurring the collagen production that naturally degrades as we get older, which improves elasticity and fills in lines.
You’ve heard of the original retinoid, tretinoin, by its brand name Retin-A, a prescription topical solution developed by dermatologists in the ‘60s. Retinol is its over-the-counter little sister, and while it’s not quite as strong or immediately effective, a three-month, double-blind, randomized study of 34 women showed there was no significant difference in efficacy between 1.1 percent retinol and 0.025 percent prescription tretinoin. In short: Retinol really works.
"Retinol is a truly effective wrinkle reduction treatment. It is much better to have a product with retinol than without it."
According to our experts, over-the-counter “wrinkle creams” that don’t contain retinol are either just moisturizers or purporting to contain some sort of new wrinkle fighter that hasn’t been put through the rigorous studies that retinoids have.
Ahava Beauty Before Age Uplift Day Cream, Algenist Concentrated Reconstructing Serum, Algenist Firming & Lifting Cream, Algenist Genius Ultimate Anti-Aging Vitamin C+ Serum, Algenist Overnight Restorative Cream, Algenist Regenerative Anti-Aging Lotion, Algenist Regenerative Anti-Aging Moisturizer SPF 20, Algenist Regenerative Anti-Aging Ultra Rich Cream, Algenist Sublime Defense Anti-Aging Blurring Moisturizer SPF 30, Algenist Targeted Deep Wrinkle Minimizer, Allegresse 24K Gold Bio Anti-Wrinkle Cream, Alpha Skincare Revitalizing Cream, AmorePacific Future Response Age Defense Creme, Andalou Naturals Deep Wrinkle Dermal Filler, Andalou Naturals DMAE Lift & Firm Cream, Avalon Organics CoQ10 Repair Wrinkle Defense Night Creme, Avalon Organics CoQ10 Wrinkle Defense Creme, Aveeno Absolutely Ageless Restoring Night Cream, Aveeno Positively Ageless Night Cream, BareMinerals Butter Drench Restorative Rich Cream, Boots No7 Instant Illusion Wrinkle Filler, Boots No7 Lift & Luminate Night Cream, Boots No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Day Cream SPF 15, Burt’s Bees Intense Hydration Night Cream, By Terry Liftessence Daily Cream, Caudalie Polyphenol C15 Anti-Wrinkle Defense Serum, Caudalie Premier Cru La Creme Riche, Caudalie Premier Cru The Elixir, Cellcosmet Switzerland CellLift Cream, Chantecaille Bio Lifting Serum , Chantecaille Biodynamic Lifting Neck Cream, Charlotte Tilbury ‘Charlotte’s Magic Cream’ Treat & Transform Moisturizer, Clarins Extra-Firming Day Wrinkle Lifting Cream for All Skin Types, Clarins Extra-Firming Night Rejuvenating Cream, Clarins Instant Smooth Line Correcting Concentrate, Clarins Multi-Active Day Early Wrinkle Correction Comfort Cream for Dry Skin, Clarins Super Restorative Night, Clarisonic Opal Anti-Aging Sea Serum, Clinique Smart Night Custom Repair Moisturizer for Dry Combination, Clinique Super Restore Antioxidant Night Moisturizer, Daggett & Ramsdell Collagen Filler Wrinkle Reducer Cream, DERMAdoctor Kakadu C Serum, DERMAdoctor Photo Dynamic Therapy 3-in-1 Facial Lotion with Broad Spectrum SPF 30, DERMAdoctor Wrinkle Revenge Rescue & Protect Facial Cream, Dior Capture Totale Multi-Protection Creme, Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Mushroom Skin Relief Advanced Face Serum, Dr. Brandt Do Not Age Beauty Sleep Serum, Dr. Brandt Do Not Age Time Reversing Cream, Dr. Brandt Do Not Age Transforming Pearl Serum, Dr. Brandt Do Not Age with Dr. Brandt Dream Night Cream, Dr. Brandt Laser FX Perfect Serum, Dr. Brandt Needles No More, Dr. Brandt Xtend Your Youth Face Cream, Dr. Scheller Anti-Wrinkle Care Night Organic Pomegranate, Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, Elizabeth Arden Prevage Anti-Aging Overnight Cream, Erno Laszlo Transphuse Rapid Renewal Cell Protocol, Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex, Estee Lauder Advanced Time Zone Night Age Reversing Line/Wrinkle Creme, Estee Lauder Perfectionist [CP + R] Wrinkle Lifting/Firming Serum, Estee Lauder Revitalizing Supreme Global Anti-Aging Creme, Eucerin Q10 Anti-Wrinkle Creme, Eucerin Q10 Anti-Wrinkle Sensitive Skin Creme, Farmacy Sleep Tight Firming Night Balm, First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydra-Firm Sleeping Cream, Freeze 24/7 Instant Targeted Wrinkle Treatment, Garnier Ultra-Lift Miracle Sleeping Cream, Goodal Want Night Sleep Anti-Wrinkle Cream, Guerlain ‘Orchidée Impériale’ Cream, Hada Labo Tokyo Skin Plumping Gel Cream, Indie Lee Swiss Apple Facial Serum, Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Anti-Wrinkle Overnight Cream, Kate Somerville Age Arrest Anti-Wrinkle Cream, Kate Somerville Deep Tissue Repair Cream with Peptide K8, Kate Somerville Nourish Hydrating Firming Mist, Kiehl’s Creamy Midnight Recovery Concentrate, L’Occitane Immortelle Divine Cream, L’Occitane Immortelle Divine Youth Oil, L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Deep-Set Wrinkle Repair Day Lotion SPF 15, L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Serum, La Mer The Regenerating Serum, La Roche-Posay Active C, Lancome Advanced Genifique Youth Activating Serum, Lancome High Resolution Night Refill 3X, Lancome High Resolution Refill 3X SPF 15, Lancome Renergie Lift Multi-Action Lift and Firming Night Cream, Lancome Renergie Night Anti-Wrinkle Restoring Treatment, Lancome Visionnaire Advanced Skin Corrector, Lashem Picture Perfect Instant Wrinkle Reducer, LIERAC Exclusive Premium Ex Wrinkle Filling Premium Cream, Living Nature Radiance Night Oil, Lumene Bright Now Visible Repair Day Cream SPF 15, Lumene Bright Now Visible Repair Night Cream, Lumene Complete Rewind Night Cream, Lumene Complete Rewind Recovery Day Cream SPF 15, Lumene Time Freeze Firming Night Cream, Mario Badescu Peptide Renewal Cream, Mary Kay TimeWise Repair Volu-Firm Day Cream Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30, Murad Rapid Collagen Infusion, Natura Bissé The Cure Cream, Natura Bissé The Cure Pure Serum, Nature’s Gate Advanced Care Forget Your Lines Wrinkle Diffuser Serum, Neutrogena Triple Age Repair Night Moisturizer, NUDE Skincare Advanced Renewal Serum, NUXE Nirvanesque Enrichie First Wrinkles Smoothing Rich Cream, Olay Professional Pro-X Wrinkle Smoothing Cream, Olay Regenerist Instant Fix Wrinkle & Pore Vanisher, Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream SPF 30, Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Serum, Olay Regenerist Night Recovery Cream, Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum Fragrance Free, Olay Total Effects 7-in-1 Anti-Aging Moisturizer, Ole Henriksen Express the Truth Face Creme, Olivella Anti-Wrinkle Face Cream, Paula’s Choice ‘Resist’ Hyaluronic Acid Booster, Pearl Professional Anti-Wrinkle Mist, Perricone MD Acyl-Glutathione Deep Crease Serum, Perricone MD Face Finishing Moisturizer, Perricone MD High Potency Face Firming Activator, Perricone MD Hyalo Plasma, Perricone MD Neuropeptide Facial Conformer, Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 10 Percent Moisturizer, Peter Thomas Roth Professional 3% Retinoid Plus, Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Fast-Acting Serum, Phace Bioactive Rejuvenating Décolleté Cream, Philosophy Anti-Wrinkle Miracle Worker, Philosophy Anti-Wrinkle Miracle Worker Overnight, Philosophy Miracle Worker Overnight, Philosophy Renewed Hope in a Jar, Pond’s Rejuveness Anti-Wrinkle Cream, ProVectin Plus Advanced Wrinkle Repair, RADICAL SKINCARE Anti-Aging Restorative Moisture Crème, REN Bio Retinoid Anti-Aging Cream, REN Bio Retinoid Anti-Wrinkle Concentrate Oil, RéVive Moisturizing Renewal Cream, Revlon Age Defying Wrinkle Remedy Line Filler, RoC Multi Correxion Lift Anti-Gravity Day Moisturizer SPF 30, Rodial Snake Booster Oil, Sephora Collection Total Age Defy Night Moisture Cream, Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Day Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 18, Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Day Emulsion Broad Spectrum SPF 18, Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Extra Creamy Cleansing Foam, Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Night Cream, Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Night Emulsion, Sisley Paris ‘Sisleÿa’ L’Integral Anti-Age, Skin Inc. French Pine Bark Serum, SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic, SkinCeuticals Phloretin CG Gel, Skyn Iceland Angelica Line Smoother, StriVectin-SD™ Intensive Concentrate for Stretch Marks & Wrinkles, Sudden Change Intensive Wrinkle Repair Cream, Sunday Riley ‘Good Genes’ Treatment, Sunday Riley Flora Hydroactive Cellular Face Oil, Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil, Tata Harper Boosted Contouring Serum, Valmont Expression Line Reducer Factor I Anti-expression Line Smoothing Cream, Valmont L’Elixir des Glaciers Global Anti-aging Face Cream, Vichy LiftActiv Night, Vichy Normaderm Anti-Imperfection Anti-Wrinkle Resurfacing Care
Plus we wanted some AHAs.
Alpha hydroxy acids, which are derived from fruits and milk, are the second most important weapon in the fight against wrinkles — multiple studies have shown their effectiveness in improving the look of aging skin. There are many AHAs in nature, but glycolic acid and lactic acid have the ability to penetrate skin, so those are the two we targeted to find the best wrinkle cream.
They work by dissolving lipids, the adhesive that clings to old, dead cells. A wrinkle forms when there’s a faulty repair of the skin and a short collagen bond happens instead of a long one. Our bodies just start making these kinds of mistakes as we get older, and alpha hydroxy acids get in there, break up the junk, and give your skin another shot at making the right bond between cells. These guys are exfoliation powerhouses, sloughing off old cells in favor of newer, younger-looking skin at the cellular level. If you’re looking to reverse signs of photoaging (like dark spots) as well as reduce the appearance of fine lines, AHAs are your best bet.
AHAs alone will do wonders for the appearance of your skin, but by selecting a product with both retinol and an AHA, you’re getting a two-fer: the best of clinically proven anti-aging ingredients.
Algenist Advanced Anti-Aging Repairing Oil, Algenist GENIUS Ultimate Anti-Aging Cream, Alpha Skincare Deep Wrinkle Repair, Alpha Skincare Enhanced Wrinkle Repair Cream 0.15% Retinol, Boots Botanics Age Defense Protecting Day Cream SPF 15, Boots Botanics Age Defense Replenishing Night Cream, Boots Botanics Triple Age Renewal Day Cream SPF 15, Boots Botanics Triple Age Renewal Night Cream, Boots No7 Protect & Perfect Advanced Serum, Charlotte Tilbury ‘Magic Night Rescue Cream’ Intense Firming, Plumping Balm-Elixir, Clarins Younger Look Balm, Clé de Peau Beauté Wrinkle Correcting Concentrate, Derma E Anti-Wrinkle Vitamin A Retinyl Palmitate Creme, Derma E Hydrating Night Cream with Hyaluronic Acid, Derma E Wrinkle Peptide Moisturizer, Dr. Brandt Glow Overnight Resurfacing Serum, Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Lift and Firm Day Cream Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30, Garnier Nutritioniste Ultra-Lift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Moisturizer Lotion SPF 15, Garnier Nutritioniste Ultra-Lift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Night Cream, Garnier Nutritioniste Ultra-Lift Serum + Moisturizer, Garnier Ultra-Lift 2-in-1 Wrinkle Reducer Serum + Moisturizer, Garnier Ultra-Lift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Moisture Cream SPF 15, Hydroxatone Instant Effect 90 Second Wrinkle Reducer, Hydroxatone Intensive Anti-Wrinkle Complex for Day & Night, Kate Somerville Daily Deflector Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 50+, Kate Somerville DermalQuench Liquid Lift + Retinol, Kate Somerville RetAsphere 2-in-1 Retinol Night Cream, L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Complete SPF 30 Day Lotion, Lancer Advanced C Radiance Cream, Lifeline Day/Night Moisture Serum, Meaningful Beauty Anti-Aging Night Creme, Merlot Anti-Wrinkle Cream, Murad Resurgence Age-Balancing Night Cream, Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Anti-Wrinkle Deep Wrinkle Night Moisturizer, Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Deep Wrinkle Moisturizer SPF 20, Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Deep Wrinkle Moisturizing Night Cream, Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream, Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream Night, Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer SPF 30, Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Night Moisturizer, Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum, Nip + Fab Viper Venom Extreme Night Fix, Olay Age Defying Anti-Wrinkle Lotion SPF 15, Olay Age Defying Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream, Perfect Image Hydra-Repair Wrinkle Cream, Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM, Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Turbo Face Serum, Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Turbo Line Smoothing Toning Lotion, Philosophy Help Me, Philosophy Miracle Worker SPF 50+, Philosophy Miracle Worker SPF 55 Miraculous Anti-Aging Fluid, RoC Retin-Ox Wrinkle Filler, RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream, Sisley Paris ‘ Sisleÿa Global’ Anti-Age Extra-Rich, Sisley Paris ‘Supremÿa’ Cream at Night, Skincare Cosmetics Retinol Night Cream, SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0, StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Night Treatment, Studio 35 Pro Retinol Deep Wrinkle Night Cream, Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream, Sunday Riley Bionic Anti-Aging Cream, Trish McEvoy ‘Beauty Booster®’ Advanced Repair Retinol Eye Cream, Verso Skincare Day Cream, Verso Skincare Night Cream, Verso Skincare Super Facial Serum, Vichy LiftActiv Retinol HA Night Total Wrinkle Plumping Care, Yes to Blueberries Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
And finally: hyaluronic acid.
Retinol and AHAs work behind the scenes targeting long-term results. Hyaluronic acid, on the other hand, will give you immediate benefits while you wait for those other guys to kick in. This acid is different than the ones in AHAs; it’s actually a humectant.
Humectants work by forcing water into cells and keeping it there — and hyaluronic acid (and its derivative, sodium hyaluronate) is the latest and greatest humectant out there. “There’s been a renaissance in skin care products, particularly topical ones, which now include a number of ingredients to improve wrinkles. Hyaluronic acid is one of those ingredients now available topically,” says Dr. Diane Ford, a DC-area dermatologist and lecturer. A hyaluronic acid molecule can hold 800 to 1,000 times its weight in water, and it’s been engineered to the point that it can actually penetrate the epidermis rather than just sit on top. That immediate turbo-hydration helps skin look plumper and full of life, but it has longer-term benefits too, ranging from improved skin elasticity to reversing UV damage.
Jack Black Line Smoother Oil-Free Moisturizer, Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 10 Percent Hydrating Gel, Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Night, Philosophy Time in a Bottle, Philosophy Ultimate Miracle Worker Multi-Rejuvenating Cream SPF 30, RoC Deep Wrinkle Night Cream, SK-II Wrinkle Specialist Moisturizing Serum
After running all 237 through what we considered a pretty easy wish list, guess how many passed muster? Four. Four! So we tossed three more to try out into the mix, making sure they contained at least retinol, but not necessarily AHAs or hyaluronic acid, and started having some fun.
We examined the packaging.
Anti-aging ingredients, especially vitamin A derivatives like retinol, are wildly sensitive to sunlight. UV rays can break them down immediately and render your hundred dollars of product completely ineffective. “Have you ever noticed how vitamins and prescription drugs are distributed in containers to protect from UV light? Those amber prescription bottles from CVS are amber for a reason!” says chemist Jennifer Reid.
Runner-Up in the Wrong Packaging
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer This comes in a pot, not a pump, making it more susceptible to contamination — and trickier to portion out.
We took each bottle or tub into a dark room and shone a flashlight through it to see if light could penetrate the container. (It felt like a kindergarten science project in all the best ways.) Our top picks all passed this test — even the containers that looked transparent actually had an opaque liner. Well played.
Not so well-played was packaging that protects against contamination. Namely: tubs. Reid explains, “Sticking your fingers directly into the product can introduce bacteria, and open tubs also expose a large surface area of the product to oxygen.” Like UV rays, oxygen can degrade the effectiveness of our key ingredients. But bacteria is a whole other mess. Studies have shown contaminated beauty products contain nasty bacteria like staph and E. coli. How do they get in there? Your fingers.
Who knows why 109 of our 237 contenders come in tubs, because it makes no sense whatsoever. (Maybe they’re all trying to look like La Mer?) Sure, you might wash your hands and face before applying your wrinkle cream, but what if you don’t get every particle of dirt out from under your nails? Boom: bacteria.
Of course there are ways around that. Some tubs come with applicators: little spoons that you’re supposed to use to take dollops of the product out. Maybe you’re the type that can always follow the rules (we’re not) — so while we didn’t declare tubs a deal breaker, we did consider it.
And tried them all on.
Did any smell off-putting? Did they hurt or sting in any way? Did we have any negative reactions? Keeping in mind that everyone’s skin is different and we all react to products in a unique way, we looked for any glaringly obvious issues in the immediate aftermath of use. We didn’t evaluate any product on its results — even the best wrinkle creams take around six months before results are visible. Those ingredients need time to do their thing.
Our Picks for the Best Wrinkle Cream
Best Overall (If You Can Afford It)
La Prairie Cellular Power Charge Night Retinol, AHAs, and hyaluronic, all in a sleek pump bottle.
We were pretty ticked that the best wrinkle cream is also the most expensive. We’re talking really expensive: over five times as much as any of our other top picks for slightly less product (only 1.35 oz). Come on. For $510, you can buy a roundtrip plane ticket to Cancun, where they sell prescription Retin-A in the airport for $35 (not that we’re recommending this…).
But La Prairie’s Cellular Power Charge Night has everything you want in an over-the-counter wrinkle cream: all three of our wishlist ingredients, plus a completely opaque bottle with a pump. The packaging has an otherworldly feel to it. It’s sleek, minimal, and futuristic. It looks like the wrinkle cream androids would use. The airless pump bottle means not only no contamination or oxygen degradation, but also that each portion is tightly controlled — you’re not at risk of over-serving by even a single drop.
Equally important as including all three ingredients is including enough of each. Retinol stood out here at spot 12 on the ingredient list — the second-highest of all the top picks, with Neutrogena’s Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum coming in first with retinol at number 11.
And the texture is sublime: It’s a very lightweight serum that absorbs instantly with no residue. One thing about these wrinkle treatments is that they can be drying, so there’s a temptation to add a heavy duty night cream on top. With the thicker wrinkle creams (like the ones we tested by Peter Thomas Roth and Dr. Dennis Gross), it’s cream overkill, but La Prairie’s practically invisible formulation lends itself to layering.
The serum felt good, and it smelled clean and crisp. Best of all, we felt no irritation upon application or the following morning, which we couldn’t say about many of the other creams. With each of the other top picks we woke up feeling something. Not pain necessarily, but definitely tightness. Not so with La Prairie. This is probably due to the addition of plenty of plant-based oils, which packed the top of the ingredient list. The other top picks listed a jumble of unpronounceable “-xanes” and “-xides” before getting to our wrinkle fighters. Something about seeing words like jojoba and sunflower seed oil up top soothed our minds as well as our skin.
We searched and searched for other options that did wrinkle cream as well as La Prairie, but couldn’t. This one just nails it. A brief survey of eBay reveals that there’s a hot second market for it (or for knockoffs) — and we found it on Amazon for closer to $200 — so we’re not alone in thinking the price tag is simply ridiculous. Elle Magazine also notes its effectiveness in the face of a blinding price tag. If you have the cash, you can feel confident spending it here, but if you’re just a regular person and not a cartoon oil tycoon, there are more reasonable alternatives.
Runner-Up in the Wrong Packaging
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer Good ingredients, but at lower levels — and unfortunately in a pot instead of a pump.
This wrinkle fighter came in a package that looked the most medicinal of all those we tried: It’s in an amber-tinted pot and the logo is a little cross like you see outside of pharmacies. You may think that’s some marketing sleight of hand (“Ooh, this looks like it came from an old-timey apothecary! It must be good!”), but Dr. Dennis Gross packs a punch in terms of ingredients. Retinol shows up the lowest on its ingredients list out of our three top picks (around 20th), so it won’t be quite as efficacious as La Prairie, but it does include both glycolic and lactic acid (which Neutrogena lacks), plus a hyaluronic element. It feels luxurious going on — a little thinner than a night cream, a little thicker than a moisturizer — and has a pleasantly light citrus and lavender scent.
Now, for the bad news: It’s in totally the wrong packaging. There is a white plastic liner inside the pot so the cream isn’t getting exposed to light at all times — but what about when you open the container? If you can trust yourself to either thoroughly wash your hands or use a spoon to take the product out of its pot (and to only do that far away from any windows), we say it’s worth trying. After La Prairie, $72 feels like a steal, but be warned: You only get 1.7 ounces and portion control can be tricky without a pump.
Best Drugstore Wrinkle Cream
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum The highest levels of retinol for the lowest price. Too bad there are no AHAs.
We were so happy to have found this stuff. Our other drugstore pick, RoC Deep Wrinkle Night Cream, did only so-so in our testing — which is especially surprising since the “R” in RoC stands for retinol. Out of Deep Wrinkle Night’s 35 ingredients, retinol was buried at 27th out of 35, and its best attempt at an AHA was 19th. “If you see the word ‘retinol’ listed in the first few ingredients, it will probably have a more significant effect. However, if it is listed as one of the last ingredients, it may not be as effective for anti-aging and wrinkles,” says Ford. When we realized we weren’t happy with any of the drugstore creams we’d been recommended, we set back out to CVS and read the ingredients list of literally every wrinkle fighter in the store to find a decent product for those of us with tighter budgets.
According to its box, Neutrogena’s Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum is new to market, and we’re pretty sure this one is going to take off in a big way. Unfortunately, it lacks any AHAs — but it does include enough retinol and hyaluronic acid to be effective, and it comes in the right container. Best yet: It’s under $20.
It calls itself a serum, but the texture is more like a thin moisturizer — it’s quite creamy. That needn’t bother anyone too much, but if you’re a stickler for grammar, you might want to take a Sharpie to the packaging. The only other thing we disliked about it: its scent. The fragrance is strong. For a daytime treatment, that might be fine, but we’re not sure you’ll want to go to bed smelling like a perfume counter.
Other Wrinkle Creams to Consider
Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Night and Peter Thomas Roth Mega Rich Intensive Anti-Aging Cellular Creme. Packaging aside (more pots — we feel like a broken record) we liked both of these anti-wrinkle creams well enough. Un-Wrinkle has the most retinol (listed 12th) as well as some glycolic acid, but you’ll be shelling out over $100 for 1 oz of product that doesn’t have any coveted hyaluronate. Its counterpart, the Cellular Creme, is a more affordable $85 for 1.7 oz, but unsurprisingly its retinoid is much lower in the ingredients list and its hyaluronate is nearly last.
Philosophy Ultimate Miracle Worker Night ($80). It contains our three wishlist ingredients (although it has the least retinol of all our top picks) and is comparable in size and price to Dr. Dennis Gross, but the Ultimate Miracle Worker had some downsides. Denatured alcohol as one of the first ingredients which is ultra-drying in the bad way, plus you have to stir little “pearls” into the cream to “activate” it when you first open it — so gimmicky!
Did You Know?
The very best way to tackle wrinkles is to prevent them in the first place.
Everyone we spoke to — dermatologists and chemists alike — noted that the most important wrinkle-fighting product you should own is sunscreen. And not just any sunscreen: a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 (if you’ve read our review on the best sunscreen, you’ll have learned this lesson already). Stick with SPF 30; wear it every single day; and reapply as often as the instructions tell you to.
Skin tone doesn’t matter; season doesn’t matter; and being indoors most of the day doesn’t matter — you are still exposed to UV rays, which break down collagen and elastin fibers in the skin, accounting for 80 percent(!) of wrinkles. The best wrinkle creams work to combat those effects by boosting collagen production, but they don’t have to work so hard if sunscreen is helping them out.
And, this is very important to note: If you are using retinol and/or AHAs, be it in a wrinkle cream or other skincare product, your skin will be more sensitive to the sun. Wearing an effective sunblock daily becomes even more crucial. Dr. Ford’s recommended routine: Apply your wrinkle cream in the evening; wash your face in the morning to remove the product; apply your sunscreen.
Only wear your wrinkle cream at night.
“Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E are particularly susceptible to UV damage,” says Reid. Retinol is vitamin A, and in addition to making your skin more sensitive to sun damage, its powers can be destroyed by sun exposure even when it’s already applied. With wrinkle cream price tags as high as they are, the risk of wasting even a day’s worth of product to the sun is scary.
Watch out for allergic reactions — but don’t despair.
After using a wrinkle cream, “patients sometimes break out and think that means they’re allergic to the product as a whole as opposed to just one ingredient,” says Dr. Ford. The most likely culprit in these anti-aging products, she says, is actually vitamin E, an irritant that also showed up a lot in our review on the best lip balm.
So before you bag wrinkle creams altogether, look for products that don’t contain vitamin E, commonly listed as tocopherol. (Of our top picks, only the Neutrogena is vitamin E-free.) If you find that you’re still having a bad reaction, Dr. Ford advises that you try a product that has just one of the powerhouse anti-agers or consult with your physician. If you can’t handle all three, maybe you will tolerate a retinol-only product. Or maybe an AHA-only product. Think of it like an elimination diet that eventually informs you that the thing in your Caesar salad giving you hives isn’t the egg, but the anchovy.
The Bottom Line
Wrinkles are a fact of life. Protecting your skin at an early age is the best way to prevent them, but if you’re already there, find a product with retinol, AHAs, and hyaluronic acid and stick with it. It won’t be a quick fix, but over time, these wrinkle creams will keep your skin looking its best for years to come.
Best Overall (If You Can Afford It)
La Prairie Cellular Power Charge Night It's (really) expensive, but wrinkle creams don't get any better.
Take it slow in the beginning. Because retinol and AHAs actually work in exfoliating and cell turnover, the amount of sensitivity can vary greatly from person to person. Dr. Ford recommends, especially for wrinkle cream newbies, a graduated approach: “We tell our patients to begin using retinol on Mondays and Thursdays for a few weeks, then up it to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a few more weeks, and eventually you’ll just be taking weekends off. Some people can tolerate these products every day of the week.” Listen to your body, and only use wrinkle creams as often as is comfortable.
Stick with the program. “These products won’t work if you don’t use them consistently for several weeks,” says Dr. Ford. This is a tough one, because again, you won’t see results overnight and may not notice them at all for months — or even years. But with diligent use, you will look younger than you would have without them. “Try taking a selfie at the beginning of treatment and again at 90 days,” she recommends. “See if change is occurring: your freckles should be lighter, wrinkles should be less noticeable, and your skin more radiant.”
Talk to your dermatologist. Nowadays, many dermatology offices have rebranded to “med spas” and started selling over-the-counter products. These are usually higher-end products like Skinceuticals and Vi that have gone through rigorous testing — and that’s music to a doctor’s ears. Ask yours if they have a product or an ingredient they’d recommend for your skin type or particular issue. You might not even be a candidate for retinol (folks with skin conditions like rosacea or eczema sometimes have to avoid it altogether), or maybe you’ll see better results with a chemical peel or a prescription for Retin-A. Only your doctor knows for sure.
- Ditre, C. M., Griffin, T. D., Murphy, G. F., Sueki, H., Telegan, B., Johnson, W. C., Yu, R. J., & Van Scott, E. J. (1996). Effects of α-hydroxy acids on photoaged skin: Apilot clinical, histologic, and ultrastructural study. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 34 (2, Pt 1), 187-195.
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- Ho, E. T., Trookman, N. S., Sperber, B. R., Rizer, R. L., Spindler, R., Sonti, S., Gotz, V., & Mehta, R. (2012). A randomized, double-blind, controlled comparative trial of the anti-aging properties of non-prescription tri-retinol 1.1% vs. prescription tretinoin 0.025%. Journal of Drugs and Dermatology, 11 (1), 64-69.