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Topical Treatments & Injections for Aging Skin

Dermatologists and plastic surgeons at NYU Langone offer several noninvasive techniques to improve the appearance of aging skin, including topical creams, chemical peels, and injectables. These treatments, which often have long-lasting effects, improve the elasticity and firmness of skin, as well as minimize the appearance of wrinkles, lines, and dark spots.

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Topical Retinoids

When applied to the skin, topical creams and gels called retinoids stimulate the production of new collagen proteins, which make skin appear fuller and firmer. In addition, retinoids increase the rate of cell turnover, which causes the top layer of skin to create new cells. This process can decrease the appearance of age spots and uneven pigmentation.

Topical retinoids are available as creams, gels, and ointments. They are available in different potencies.

Retinoids are available in both over-the-counter and prescription formulations. Prescription products contain a higher concentration of medicine than retinoids available over the counter, and may be more effective in making skin look younger. However, the side effects—including dry skin, redness, and itching—may be more noticeable.

Your doctor determines the appropriate retinoid product for your skin, demonstrates how much to apply at a time, and tells you how frequently to apply it. You also schedule follow-up appointments during the first three to six months of use, so your doctor can monitor how your skin reacts.

The dose or application frequency is adjusted, if necessary, to help ensure that you obtain the best results. Most people see improvement within four to six months. For continued effectiveness, topical retinoids can be used safely for the long term.

Chemical Peels

Chemical peels, which are typically made from concentrated glycolic acid or trichloroacetic acid, exfoliate the top layer of skin and can minimize wrinkles and lines and brighten skin tone. Removing the top layer of skin cells helps to stimulate the growth of a new, smoother layer of skin. Chemical peels may also lighten age spots and reduce the appearance of pigmented acne scars.

To perform a chemical peel, a specialist applies a layer of acid solution to the affected skin. The strength of the solution is typically adjusted to each person’s needs and is determined by the doctor. After a few minutes, the solution is washed off.

Improvements typically take effect in a few days to two weeks, depending on the strength of the solution. Your skin may be red, itchy, and more sensitive to sunlight during this time.

Doctors recommend wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher in the days following a chemical peel.

Botulinum Toxin Injections

Botulinum toxin, one brand of which is Botox®, is a substance that blocks nerve impulses to muscles, temporarily relaxing them. When botulinum toxin is injected directly into facial muscles, the lines caused by muscle movement relax, resulting in smoother looking skin. The most common areas to inject are the forehead, between the eyebrows, around the eyes, and around the mouth.

Using the injection on smaller wrinkles and lines may prevent them from deepening. A smaller dose of medication is usually required to minimize their appearance.

Botulinum toxin injections are available in varying potencies. Our skin specialists determine the appropriate dose based on the area being injected, the appearance of wrinkles and lines, and your age.

The effects of a botulinum toxin injection are noticeable within a few days and typically last for about four months. Under the care of an experienced NYU Langone dermatologist or plastic surgeon, injections can be administered three times a year. Some people may need injections only once or twice a year to maintain the effect.

Injections are almost painless. Each injection feels like the skin is being pinched. Our doctors administer injections in the office, and the procedure takes 15 to 20 minutes.

There is essentially no recovery time, though doctors recommend avoiding exercise for four hours after the injection. On the day of the procedure, you may notice slight redness and puffiness at the injection site.

Hyaluronic Acid Injections

Hyaluronic acid is a substance in the skin that helps retain moisture. Doctors use an artificial version of hyaluronic acid with long-lasting hydrating properties to make skin appear firmer and fuller.

Hyaluronic acid fillers are often used to eliminate deeper lines and folds in the face, including those between the nose and the corners of the mouth and folds that develop under the eyes. In addition, hyaluronic acid fillers can be used to plump lips, which can thin as you age.

A skin specialist administers these injections, which come as a gel, in a doctor’s office. The procedure takes 15 to 20 minutes. Injections may be somewhat uncomfortable, so our doctors often mix a small amount of anesthetic with the filler to numb the area and lessen discomfort.

Results are visible within minutes of the injection and typically last six to nine months or even longer. Doctors recommend injections of hyaluronic acid fillers once a year. Side effects may include redness, bruising, or tenderness at the site of the injection.

Our Research and Education in Aging Skin

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.