Move over, retinol and peptides—there's a new anti-aging skincare ingredient on the scene


Quick, what does the word cholesterol make you think of? Probably a greasy plate of bacon and eggs or clogged arteries, not face cream, right? That's about to change, as cholesterol is now a key player on the skincare scene.

"Cholesterol is one of the most common lipids in our body, giving our cells structure and fluidity," explains Sherry Ingraham, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Katy, TX. And it plays an especially important role in our skin. "Think of the stratum corneum, the outer layer of your skin, as being made up of bricks and mortar. Cholesterol is an integral component of that mortar," she says. Young, healthy skin has thick mortar, with no cracks. As we age, cholesterol levels in our skin decrease, by about 40 percent by age 40. The result? Thinner mortar and a dilapidated "brick wall," AKA a dry, wrinkled complexion. (Find out How to Buy Skin Care That Works, Every Time.)

But that doesn't mean that only the over-forty crowd can benefit from topical cholesterol. No matter how old you are, every time you wash your face, exfoliate, or apply an aggressive anti-aging treatment, you strip the skin of its natural lipids, including cholesterol, notes Ingraham. Do this too often and you can end up with a compromised skin barrier-moisture seeps out, irritants get in, and skin becomes dry, irritated, and inflamed. (Psst... This is The Best Skin Care Routine for Dry Skin.) Using a product containing cholesterol helps to replace these essential fats, keeps the skin barrier healthy, and ultimately results in a smoother, more hydrated complexion.

So why is cholesterol only now becoming buzz-worthy? Ingraham cites two reasons: First, a negative connotation (think back to that greasy plate of bacon and eggs), though she's quick to note that applying cholesterol topically does not affect cholesterol levels in your blood (a common misconception). Plus, "the focus has always been on adding new ingredients to the skin. Now it's about replenishing what should naturally be there," she adds.

To find a cream that contains cholesterol, just scan the ingredient panel. If you don't see it listed as such, look for either wool extract or lanolin extract (cholesterol is commonly derived from both). And make it the final step in your skincare routine. "These creams are like a top coat that you apply over everything else to seal in moisture and any other products," Ingraham says. If your skin is super dry, use it morning and night; stick to evenings only if you're oily. Try three of our cholesterol-containing favorites:

For face: Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 ($125; has the optimal ratio of cholesterol, ceramides, and fatty acids needed for healthy skin, not to mention an insanely cushiony texture.

For eyes: Supremely hydrating Epionce Renewal Eye Cream ($70; smooths the look of crow's feet and has a soft focus finish that helps tone down dark circles.

For body: Cholesterol isn't just for your complexion. It delivers similar skin-strenghtening and hydrating benefits when used on your bod; find it in the new CeraVe Hydrating Body Wash ($10.99;