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While a comprehensive skincare routine is undoubtedly key when it comes to the pursuit of attaining perfect skin, it should go without saying that there is truly no topical skincare product that works just like Botox, or that even comes close to rivaling the results of injectables like filler and neurotoxins (aka Botox). With that being said, if you are going to commit to spending a few extra minutes in front of the mirror each morning and night (not to mention a pretty penny on product) knowing the best active ingredients and formulations that will give you the most bang for your buck is essential, whether you’re ready to resort to needles or not. To get the bottom of finding out which skincare products come the closest to mimicking the magical effects of dermal injections, I figured, who better to ask than an experienced professional who performs in-office injections on the daily.
I sat down with Nancy Pellegrino (aka Nurse Nancy), RN, MN, NP, owner and operator of NP Aesthetics Inc, and co-founder of THE ROUTE, a medical-grade skincare line that she recently launched with her patient, friend and beauty industry vet, Courtney Baber to get the low down on some of her favorite injectable alternatives, and to help us debunk some common myths about neurotoxins and fillers. As I mentioned (and as I presumed that she would too), Nurse Nancy admitted that indeed, there’s nothing that’s really going to work just like injectables, but there are a few things that will deliver similar results with time and consistency.
“There’s [really] is nothing that completely mimics Botox. It smooths out the outer layer of skin on top of the muscle to prevent wrinkles.” Neurotoxins like Botox and Dysport work to smooth existing lines and prevent future ones from forming by temporarily paralyzing the muscle, while cosmetic fillers like Restylane and Juvéderm use Hyaluronic Acid to smooth and plump the skin to fill in lines. “[Botox] smooths out the outer layer of skin on top of the muscle to prevent fine lines from forming into deep wrinkles, and if you already have a deep wrinkle — I call them “coin slots,” — when you paralyze the muscle with a neurotoxin, you allow the skin to grow in again.”
So, while there’s nothing that can “freeze” your muscles topically, there are plenty of alternatives that help to prevent the signs of aging without succumbing to an in-office procedure. Naturally, as any derm or skincare professional will tell you, SPF and sun protection is paramount in any skincare routine. “90 percent of our aging comes from sun damage. Without it, you might as well just forget it.” Now, onto the good stuff (because you already know how important SPF is, right?) According to Nurse Nancy, there a few main active ingredients that will give you visible results, and is the closest to topical injections you’ll get: peptides, retinoids and acids.
“Biomimetic Peptides (one type of peptides) can mimic the way Botox works because they’re able to go through the skin and to relax the muscle a little bit,” she says. This type of peptides has been dubbed as “Botox-Like” because it is similar to the peptides that naturally occur in the body. Peptides are responsible for signaling our skin to produce more collagen — which we lose as we age. Hence, applying peptide-infused products works like “topical Botox” by signaling nerve cues to hinder the formation of lines that form due to expression and facial movements.
Now onto acids. “Acid products like our Party Peel work to soften lines, improve texture and combat a sallow complexion by exfoliating our skin over time.” Essentially, these chemical exfoliants work to slough away rough, dead skin to reveal a brighter, more even layer of skin underneath. While exfoliating is one sure-fire way to improve your skin and prevent the signs of premature aging, it can also be harsh — especially if you have sensitive or reactive skin. While medical-grade and in-office superficial peels will give you a quicker result (with some downtime) using AHA peels at home will give you similar results—you’ll just have to wait a bit longer for the benefits to become visible. “Our Party Peel is is safe for sensitive skin because we formulated it with an oxygen delivery system. Typically, exfoliants work best when the skin is completely product-free and stripped of moisture, but the “scrubbing bubbles” that form when you apply allows the product to penetrate better, all without having to strip the skin.”
While exfoliants and peptides are key if you’re looking to reap the benefits of injections, protecting the skin’s barrier (i.e. not over-stripping it with excess product) is also key. “There are many ways that we age. You can’t have beautiful skin unless you have healthy skin. We lose our hyaluronic acid and collagen that keep our keracintypes intact as we get older, so it’s key to maintain a healthy barrier with active ingredients and moisture,” she says. Finally, when you apply your product apparently, does matter. “Our skin has its own circadian rhythm. Our skin tends to close down during the day and then it opens up at night and replaces all of our water loss.” This is precisely why it’s often advised to apply your active ingredients like acids and retinoids before bed (noted.) If you’re looking for a non-invasive way to combat lines and firmness, these products are the next best thing.
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Frownies Facial Patches
These old school facial patches were the go-to before the advent of Botox for movie stars and models.
The Ordinary Glycolic Toner
This seven percent glycolic acid toner is a great option for sensitive skin.
Dermelect Bounceback Forehead Line Treatment
This bouncy line-erasing gel-cream is chock-full of anti-aging antioxidants and multipeptides, the Bounceback treatment is designed to target the “11 lines” and expression lines on the forehead (the two most common spots for Botox and neurotoxin injections). If you’re down to go the injection route, this velvet-soft formula is an awesome alternative.
Olay Collagen Peptide Microsculpting Serum
This affordable serum is infused with collagen peptides to help lift and contour over time.
Differin Adapalene Gel
This formerly prescription-only retinoid is the closest thing to RX retinoids like Retin-A (tretinoin) and it’s also great for acne.
“You can use it at home right before a party or a first date without the risk of irritation. Just pop it on for a few minutes and you’ll be good to go,” says Nurse Nancy.
This potent firming serum is chock full of Botox-like peptides that mimic the same proteins our bodies naturally produce.
Elta MD Mineral Face Sunscreen
Nurse Nancy prefers a mineral SPF to a chemical, and this non-greasy formula won’t clog pores and trigger breakouts.
This all-in-one day cream (note: there’s also a nighttime version), contains all of the actives and moisturizers you need for a glowing complexion and healthy skin barrier.
Unfortunately, retinoids are known for causing peeling and irritation, but The Golden Rule uses a next-generation retinoid formula that delivers the same anti-aging effects without stripping the skin.
A version of this story was originally published on Dec 18, 2019.