Let’s talk anti-aging powerhouses: In this corner (of the drugstore) is the flashy titleholder, retinol. In the other corner, looking menacing, are peptides. Both promise to smooth skin and fight wrinkles, but which is the prizewinner?

Retinol (aka vitamin A) scores points because it’s a proven ingredient. Time and again, dermatologists recommend it to fight sun damage, breakouts and uneven tone. It’s an ingredient that actually talks to skin cells, telling them how to act like a younger version of themselves.

The major caveat with retinol is that it can – and often does – cause irritation. My skin headed into the flake and chafe zone for a month before clearing. Now I’m hooked.

Mildly dry and pink is expected; red and peeling means you need to slow down. In fact, the best approach is to apply your retinol product every few days at first, working up to every other day and eventually daily. Boosting your use of a moisturizing face cream during this time can also help.

Fight the good fight

Peptides are made up of amino acids, the building blocks of cell proteins. They signal the production of new collagen and promote healing and regeneration. But dermatologists are divided on how well peptides function within skincare products.

“The effectiveness of peptides in collagen stimulation has been demonstrated through many clinical trials,” says Vancouver dermatologist Frances Jang, “but the extent to which this effect can be replicated in skincare products is probably mild to moderate.”

The verdict? Use both. If you’re stepping into the ring, it’s a good idea to bring all your moves (including my other faves, sunscreen and antioxidants) for the best one-two punch.

Note: Retinols make your skin more sun-sensitive, so apply at bedtime and wear sunscreen during the day; use a peptide cream in the morning after cleansing.

Here are some helpful products to try.

  • High-dose antioxidants combine with peptides in B. Kamins C-Resveratrol Serum ($125).
  • Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Anti-Wrinkle Deep Wrinkle Filler ($27) uses retinol and hyaluronic acid to smooth skin’s surface.
  • SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream ($58) has a lovely texture and won’t clog pores.
  • Vitamin B3 and high levels of peptides in Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Serum ($40) help firm the look of the face and neck.
  • Target crow’s feet with a light peptide serum such as Alyria Revitalizing Eye Serum ($50).
  • Peptides and retinols join forces in NeoStrata Intense All-in-One Night Serum ($84).
  • Kinerase C8 Peptide Intensive Treatment ($124) (not shown) uses peptides, antioxidants and plant growth factors to fight wrinkles.


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