If only we could all remember to stay out of the sun, swear off alcohol and tobacco, drink eight glasses of water a day, sleep 10 hours a night, and moisturise daily from the age of 18, we might still have the flawless, unlined skin we were born with.
But for most, reality paints a starkly different picture: first the dullness and fine lines, then the sun spots and sagging jowls, and finally the deep creases and extreme dryness. Thankfully, there is now a potion to treat every sign of ageing - and in many cases, all the signs at once.
The year's biggest skincare innovations combine proven elements such as antioxidants and peptides with innovative botanical extracts and the latest DNA science to prevent - and even reverse - the ravages of time.
"It used to be taught that nothing could be done about ageing skin. Now we know that, while there are some changes that occur with intrinsic ageing, much of the deterioration in our skin is due to sun damage, other environmental damage and general health issues," says Dr Brandith Irwin, dermatologist and author of The Surgery-Free Makeover: All You Need to Know for Great Skin and a Younger Face. "Increasing the number and activity of healthy skin cells help to reverse this."
To that end, skincare brands have spent years and millions of dollars trying to unlock the secrets within our skin cells.
"When you go deeper [than the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin], you have cells with a nucleus and inside the nucleus we have the DNA. This is where the genes are," says Nathalie Issachar, director of marketing development and scientific communication at Clarins.
"Clarins did a study where we tried to assess which genes are involved in ageing - which ones are over-expressed and which ones are under-expressed - and then tried to select the ingredients that act on those mechanisms."
The result, Clarins' new Double Serum, is a combination of water-soluble and oil-soluble plant extracts that act on five vital functions of the skin: hydration, nutrition, oxygenation, protection and regeneration.
The star ingredient, cangzhu extract, is used to stimulate a protein in the cell membranes and boost the efficacy of other ingredients such as organic macadamia and rosehip oils.
"What we are trying to do is to mimic what nature would do," Issachar says. "In plants, you have the most active ingredients on earth."
Shiseido has turned to another Chinese plant extract for its new Revital Vital-Perfection Science Cream AAA. Rubus leaf extract AAA is taken from the leaves of the perennial shrub and are said to help minimise fat cells, thereby reducing sagging and the appearance of laugh lines. Other ingredients, such as olive leaf and rose apple leaf extracts, work to refine skin texture, lighten spots and improve resilience.
These and most of the new anti-ageing products appearing on the market are intended to stimulate DNA activity, encouraging cellular renewal and collagen synthesis to keep skin looking firm and plump. Valmont's Time Master Intensive Program contains liposomes said to penetrate the cells and deliver DNA-boosting ingredients. The 28-day regimen focuses on treating skin hydration, wrinkles, firmness, energy and radiance.
Helena Rubinstein's latest Prodigy cream is designed to work on five layers of the skin to inhibit the ageing process from deep within, while Estée Lauder's new Perfectionist [CP+R] Wrinkle Lifting/Firming Serum contains a protein and amino acid complex said to boost skin cells' internal energy "pump". Both aim to enhance the skin's natural support structure and ability to repair itself.
While the actual efficacy of such cutting-edge products is largely unproven, experts say creams and serums can work on the cellular level - with results visible in about 30 to 90 days. "Products put on the skin can signal cells in the outer layer [epidermis] and also the upper part of the deeper layer [dermis]," says Irwin, who also offers skincare advice at www.skintour.com "The effects of these creams on the activity of the cells themselves come about through complex signalling pathways on the surface of cells."
Irwin cites retinol (a form of vitamin A), some hydroxy acids and good-quality antioxidants as some of the most effective anti-ageing ingredients - and some of the few with "quality research and 'track records' behind them".
Pure retinol is a key ingredient in Clé de Peau Beauté's new Wrinkle Correcting Concentrate, used to prevent and reduce the depth of expression lines caused by "constant creasing".
Internationally renowned plastic surgeon and founder of South African skincare brand Environ Dr Des Fernandes also champions vitamin A in the less irritating form of retinyl palmitate. "Vitamin A is head and shoulders above everything else. It's the only chemical that can be described as anti-ageing," he says, describing it as the keystone that holds skin cells together. "It also works on the DNA, getting it to work like a younger cell."
Anti-ageing product choice aside, experts agree that sun protection is key as most signs of ageing are either caused or accelerated by sun damage. "The most important factor for skin ageing is UV [ultraviolet] light, so a good sunscreen [and the correct use of it] remains the most important step," says dermatologist Dr Tinny Ho of Skincentral.
"For patients who come to me for anti-ageing skincare advice, there are three things I usually advise them to use: sunscreen, an antioxidant skincare product (a good vitamin C formulation usually combined with other antioxidants for synergistic effects), and an alpha hydroxyl acid or glycolic acid product that can help stimulate healthy cells and collagen growth."
Younger women can opt for a gentler approach, with a focus on prevention. New products such as Sulwhasoo's Innerise Complete Serum specifically target younger skin with ingredients to detoxify, enhance moisture absorption and boost blood circulation.
"Eighty per cent of the damage you get in your lifetime is in the first 18-20 years. When we talk about reversing in your 40s, you have to recognise that you're about 30 years too late. That said, you can improve," Fernandes says. "Remember, you're getting older at the same time. Every bit that you hold back is important."
Sulwhasoo Innerise Complete Serum
Clé de Peau Beauté Wrinkle Correcting Concentrate
Valmont Time Master Intensive Program