The Best Wrinkle Cream
Runner-Up: Good Ingredients, Poor Packaging
Runner-Up: Good Ingredients, Poor Packaging
Runner-Up: Budget Pick
Runner-Up: Budget Pick
A thin serum that provides a triple whammy of retinoids, AHAs, and hyaluronic acid to undo wrinkles, encourage new skin growth, and keep your face hydrated and supple ($88).
Our former top pick, this luxurious lotion is every bit as potent as Dr. Dennis Gross and has a light, creamy texture our testers adored. But it's pricy, starting at $530.
The same ingredients as our top picks, but comes in a jar, which means it may degrade faster. It's also a little cheaper, at $72.
Another runner-up that has all the right ingredients but comes in a jar. It's the mildest lotion on our list: Good for sensitive skin but slow-acting. ($48).
The only drugstore brand in our list of finalists, RoC's wrinkle gel lacks the powerful moisturizers of our top picks and should be paired with a face lotion ($18).
Like RoC, The Ordinary should be paired with lotion. It's a thin emulsion, and some testers found application tricky, but you can't beat the $10 price tag.
The Best Wrinkle Cream
- Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution -
- La Prairie Cellular Power Charge Night -
- Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer -
- It Cosmetics Confidence in a Cream Moisturizing Super Cream -
- RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream -
- The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion -
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 even the best wrinkle creams, we invest in the routine 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 two overall favorites are Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution ($88) and, if you can afford it, La Prairie Cellular Power Charge Night ($530). Out of 112 products, these were the only two that met all of our criteria. They contain retinoids and exfoliants to undo wrinkles and keep skin looking young and healthy, plus sodium hyaluronate — a super-charged moisturizer that helps skin stay plump and hydrated. Because retinoids, in particular, are extremely fragile and degrade easily, we appreciated that both formulas also use packaging that minimizes exposure to light, air, and dirty fingers.
The real difference between the two is texture: Dr. Dennis Gross Brightening Solution is a thin, lightweight serum applied via a dropper. La Prairie is a creamy, luxurious-feeling lotion with a faint citrus scent that we loved. Your choice comes down to your budget and personal preference.
We also found a number of runners-up that aren’t quite perfect, either because they come in tubs that expose the product to air and light (Dr. Dennis Gross Anti-Aging Moisturizer and It Cosmetics Moisturizing Super Cream), or because they lack sodium hyaluronate and will need to be paired with a standalone moisturizer (RoC Night Cream and The Ordinary Retinoid Emulsion). Still, if you want to shop around, these brands represent decent options at a range of price points.
How We Found the Best Wrinkle Cream
Anti-aging products made up a $130 billion market in 2017, a number that the Infinium Global Research Group projects will continue to rise. It’s a big business. Needless to say, there are a lot of formulas to choose from: Whole aisles in drugstores and department stores are devoted to combating wrinkles, fine lines, and sun-damaged skin.
We began our search for the best wrinkle cream by pulling top-sellers from major retailers like Walgreens, Amazon, and Target, compiling a list of 112 creams, gels, and serums — everything from high end brands like Estee Lauder and Lancome to drugstore staples like Neutrogena and L’Oreal. From here, we reached out to cosmetic chemists and dermatologists: We wanted to find out which ingredients would help skin look youthful, and which weren’t worth the hype.
Retinoids are the best anti-wrinkle ingredient on the market.
Retinoids are one of the most well-documented wrinkle fighters around, reversing the signs of aging in study after study (after study). A class of chemicals derived from vitamin A, retinoids work in two ways: First, they help your skin slough off old cells and make new ones — a process our bodies are good at when young, but which slows down as we age. Second, they spur collagen production, improving elasticity and filling in lines — another natural process that tends to slow down with age.
"Retinol is a truly effective wrinkle reduction treatment. It is much better to have a product with retinol than without it."
There are different kinds of retinoids, and they vary in strength. As cosmetic chemist Kevin Gallagher explained, this strength comes with a trade-off: the stronger the retinoid, the faster it works — and the harsher it is on skin. The strongest retinoids are only available with a prescription. But that’s not to say over-the-counter formulations are ineffective. A three-month, double-blind, randomized study of 34 women showed there was no significant difference in efficacy between an over-the-counter 1.1 percent retinol cream and 0.025 percent prescription tretinoin. In short: Retinoids work.
They aren’t quite miracle ingredients — it may take a few months of routine use before you’ll see a difference — but they’re the closest we could find, and they represent your skin’s best shot at looking younger. We cut all formulas without them.
Alpha hydroxy acids are the second best ingredient to fight aging.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are usually derived from fruits (like apples and oranges) or sugars. They are exfoliation powerhouses, and multiple studies have demonstrated their effectiveness in improving the look of aging skin.
Wrinkles form for a variety of reasons, but photoaging (damage to the skin from sunlight) is a big one. Sunlight breaks down collagen and elastin in the skin — two proteins which help the skin connect and remain flexible. As they break down, the skin slowly becomes weaker and less supple, leading to drooping.
AHAs save the day by dissolving lipids, the adhesive that clings to old cells. This exfoliation process allows old cells to be sloughed away and alerts our bodies to make new cells as a replacement, resulting in fresher, younger-looking skin. There are many types of AHAs 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.
"Treatment with AHAs produced significant reversal of epidermal and dermal markers of photoaging"
AHAs on their own will help improve the appearance of your skin, but by selecting a product with both a retinoid and an AHA, you’re getting two of the best clinically proven anti-aging ingredients in one.
Wrinkle creams should be worn at night, so we skipped formulas with sunscreen.
Four of our remaining wrinkle creams advertised sunscreen built in: L’Oreal, Neutrogena, Philosophy, and StriVectin. Do you need a wrinkle cream with sunscreen in it? Turns out, that’s an interesting question.
Traditional advice holds that you should only wear a retinoid cream at night, when there’s obviously no need to wear sunscreen. Retinoids applied during the day were once believed to make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, and more prone to burning and peeling. But current research suggests this isn’t true, and that the retinoids themselves are the reason that your skin may feel tender.
There’s an additional concern that’s more grounded, however. Retinoids degrade very quickly in the sunlight, losing their potency. More worryingly, the 2010 handbook of Cosmetic Dermatology Products and Procedures suggests that retinoids may release free radicals as they degrade — molecules that harm your skin rather than helping it. Because of this, the handbook concludes, “it is still recommended to avoid UV exposure when using topical retinoids” (312). Sunblock does slow retinoid degradation, according to a 2008 study, but the retinoids still degrade to some extent. Ultimately, this wasn’t a risk we felt comfortable taking. Until there’s been more extensive research on the topic, we’ve opted to skip all sunscreen-containing products.
Hyaluronic acid is less essential, but keeps skin hydrated and smooth.
Retinol and AHAs are the two non-negotiables for the best wrinkle cream: They work behind the scenes and target long-term results. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a nice-to-have: It gives you short-term benefits while you wait patiently for those other guys to kick in.
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant — different from the acid found in AHAs. Humectants work by drawing water into the cells, making skin look plumper and more full of life. And hyaluronic acid is the latest and greatest humectant out there, each of its molecules capable of holding 800 to 1,000 times their weight in water. That’s a lot of plumping power. Even more effective than HA is sodium hyaluronate, a derivative that has smaller molecules, making it better at sinking deeply into the skin.
“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."
We wanted an anti-aging cream with a full arsenal of defenses, so we required our top picks to contain hyaluronic acid of some type. But we opted to bring all 8 of our remaining contenders into the office for hands-on testing — four with HA and four without. This allowed us to check out drugstore runners-up like RoC, which are a lot cheaper and easier to find than brands like La Prairie (and can be paired with a face moisturizer containing HA).
Our finalists for best wrinkle cream
Wrinkle Creams with Hyaluronic Acid:
- Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer
- Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution
- IT Cosmetics Confidence in a Cream Moisturizing Super Cream
- La Prairie Anti Aging Rapid Response Booster
Wrinkle Creams without Hyaluronic Acid
- Algenist Retinol Firming & Lifting Serum
- Dermalogica Age Smart MultiVitamin Power Firm
- RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
- The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid* 2% Emulsion
To keep our wrinkle creams potent, we preferred opaque tubes and pump-tops.
Since retinoids are so sensitive to sunlight, leaving a clear glass jar of wrinkle cream by your bathroom window could render it 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. So the first thing we did was double-check that none of our 12 finalists came in clear packaging, a test they passed without difficulty.
But we weren’t done. To ensure safety and efficacy, we also preferred wrinkle creams that came in tubes or pump-tops rather than tubs or jars. 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. 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 jars 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.
Finally, we tested each wrinkle cream for comfort and absorbency.
The best wrinkle cream should be pleasant to put on and wear. You’re committing to a long-term routine, after all. Keeping in mind that everyone’s skin is different, we looked for any glaringly obvious issues in the immediate aftermath of use.
Testers found most of the creams delightfully soothing, with textures ranging from the thin serums of Dr. Dennis Gross and The Ordinary to the petroleum jelly consistency of Dermalogica. They typically came with light citrus smells, or no scent at all. Only one wrinkle cream stood out for the wrong reasons: Dermalogica’s Age Smart MultiVitamin Power Firm. Even uncapping the tube released the potent odor of overly sweet fruit. Our testers weren’t thrilled with the idea of smelling like Jolly Ranchers.
The one thing we didn’t test for was results. Even high-quality wrinkle creams can take months of consistent use before you notice any changes. Instead, we looked for products offering the best combination of must-have ingredients, practical packaging, and no noxious smells.
Our Picks for the Best Wrinkle Cream
Dr. Dennis Gross Brightening Solution succeeds where virtually every other wrinkle cream fails. In addition to having retinol and AHAs — bringing exfoliating and regenerative power to your daily routine — Dr. Dennis includes sodium hyaluronate. This built-in moisturizer means you won’t have to add in a separate cream to keep your skin hydrated. The icing on the cake? It comes in an opaque bottle and can be applied without dipping your fingers into an open tub. Out of 112 finalists, the only other product that hit every single check box was La Prairie, a $530 wrinkle cream that made Dr. Dennis’ $88 price point seem like a steal.
Our one mild quibble is that Dr. Dennis Gross Brightening Solution is not strictly a cream — it’s a serum, with a thin, oil-like consistency. If you like the skin-feel of lotion or thick cream, you may want to consider either La Prairie or one of our not-quite-perfect runners-up below. That said, we found the formula easy to apply. The angled dropper allows you to precisely deposit small drops onto your face or finger and then rub it in. The package also includes a wrapped stack of microfiber pads if you’d prefer to apply this way.
We found the formula pleasantly lightweight when we tested it. It only took us about four drops to cover our entire faces, and the serum absorbs within a couple of minutes. Its scent is fairly light — you might have to focus to catch it, as opposed to Dermatologica’s knock-your-socks-off approach — and has herbal and medicinal tones that none of our testers objected to.
We had high expectations for Dr. Dennis Gross after the brand also impressed us in our eye cream testing, so we were glad its wrinkle cream lived up to our expectations.
La Prairie was our top pick the first time we reviewed wrinkle creams, back in 2016. At the time was the only product we found that offered the triple whammy of retinoids, AHAs, and sodium hyaluronate. And there’s a lot to love about La Prairie. Testers adored its texture, both immediately after applying, and hours later. It’s a lightweight formula that absorbs nearly instantly, and rests almost invisibly on the skin. This is particularly impressive given that La Prairie also includes a host of moisturizing plant-based oils like jojoba and sunflower seed oil. These absorbed quickly when we applied in the evening, and helped soothe our skin so our faces felt refreshed and moisturized in the morning.
We also liked La Prairie’s packaging choice. Its completely opaque pump bottle carries an even smaller risk of exposure to oxygen and sunlight than Dr. Dennis' eye dropper, and means you can precisely measure out how much cream you need. Testers also liked the sheer appearance of the bottle itself calling it “otherworldly.” It’s sleek, minimal, and futuristic. That said, La Prairie is almost six times the cost of our Dr. Dennis top pick (although it comes with 1.7 ounces of product to Dr. Dennis’ 1.0 ounces). If you want to see more before committing to $530, we had good luck tracking it down at our local Nordstrom’s.
Other Wrinkle Creams to Consider
Right Ingredients, Wrong Packaging
A couple of creams checked all the boxes of our ingredient wish list but came in the wrong packaging. They both use jars. Unlike squeeze tubes and pump bottles, a jar means that the entire cream is exposed to air, sun, and bacteria every time it’s used. If you’re sold on the idea of a thick lotion or cream, these runners-up are the closest competitors to the $530 La Prairie. And if you do opt for a wrinkle cream in a jar, we’d suggest the following precautions: Wash your hands thoroughly or use a clean applicator wand for each use, and keep your cream in the fridge (bacteria grow more slowly in the cold).
We truly did enjoy Dr. Dennis Gross’s Ferulic Acid + Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer — it’s the cousin cream to our top pick serum. It has a rich creamy texture that absorbs quickly, and a gentle orange scent. Like our two top picks, it has retinoids, AHAs, and sodium hyaluronate, which means that it will fight wrinkles by encouraging your skin to regenerate more quickly,, while also moisturizing and plumping your skin. This cream is packaged in a jar, but it’s also less expensive than our two top picks, retailing at $75.
IT Cosmetics’ Confidence in a Cream Moisturizing Super Cream ($48) is another wrinkle cream in a jar that’s worth a mention. Like Dr. Dennis and La Prairie, it contains retinoids, AHAs, and sodium hyaluronate. It’s a little cheaper than Dr. Dennis, but it also uses a type of retinoid (retinyl retinoate) that’s weaker than the retinol that’s found in Dr. Dennis and La Prairie. This means it may take longer to see results but is less likely to irritate your skin, especially if you're prone to sensitivity. While it comes in a jar, testers liked its mild citrus scent and creamy formula.
Right Packaging, Not-Quite-Perfect Ingredients
A couple of affordable and readily available drugstore brands landed in this category. They contain retinoids and AHAs, the two most important anti-wrinkle ingredients. All they lack is sodium hyaluronate — our favorite moisturizer. An easy work-around is to add a face moisturizer to your routine — preferably one that does contain sodium hyaluronate. (Our top picks for best face moisturizer both feature it, if you need a recommendation.)
RoC’s Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream ($24) was rated highly by testers for its luxurious moisturizing feel — it has a texture similar to petroleum jelly, although it’s not sticky and absorbs much faster. It comes in a squeeze tube to protect the formula from light and oxygen. The drawback is its scent, the strongest among our top pick. It reminded us of scented baby wipes, and testers were split on whether they’d be willing to tolerate the strong aroma and wear it nightly. Again: It has retinoids and AHAs, but no HA, so double up with a quality moisturizer.
The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion ($10) had no real scent, smelling only like a mild lotion. It’s an emulsion, which is similar to a serum, with a consistency that put us in mind of liquified lotion. Like our top pick, Dr. Dennis, The Ordinary is applied with a dropper, but testers preferred Dr. Dennis’ angled tip over The Ordinary’s straight one, which they found trickier to control.
Notably, The Ordinary is the only one of our finalists to have two types of retinoids on its ingredient list: a retinol and a retinoate. This means that it may be a little stronger than our other picks. And, in fact, it was the only formula where our testers noticed a light burning sensation after application. It's not unusual for retinoids to cause stinging, itching, or tenderness, and it's usually a sign to cut back on your use: Only apply the product once every two or three days while your skin adjusts, and monitor your reaction over the course of a few weeks. If your skin continues to react poorly, take it as a sign to choose a gentler formula or consult with your dermatologist for other options.
A Consistent Routine is Key for Good Results.
Don’t overdo it. It can be tempting to layer on lots of cream, especially if you’re excited about trying out a new product. But everyone's sensitivity to retinol and AHAs is different, so it’s best to be cautious until you know how well your skin will tolerate the product. Dr. Ford recommends 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.”
Don’t give up. It’s tough to be consistent when you won’t see results for weeks, months, or sometimes even years. But keep the faith. A wrinkle cream with the right ingredients will ultimately keep you looking younger. “These products won’t work if you don’t use them consistently for several weeks,” says Dr. Ford. “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.”
Don’t neglect the rest of your routine. This includes the obvious: Wash your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser. If you wear heavy eye makeup, invest in a dedicated eye makeup remover to avoid tugging at the delicate skin around your eyes more than necessary. You may also want to explore eye creams, which use many of the same ingredients found in wrinkle creams, but in gentle doses intended for the very thin skin under your eyes.