Retinol may sound scary but experts and beauty buffs can’t stop preaching the benefits of the wonder ingredient.
And if, like us, you’re constantly on the quest for great skin (who isn’t?), and have tried every lotion and potion under the sun to no avail, you might – nay, need – to take heed of this advice.
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Retinol is a hot topic in skincare at the moment, with brands clambering to launch their version as the craze for actives and proven skincare ingredients shows no sign of slowing. Need more proof that retinol is a hero ingredient? Just cast your eyes over this before and after retinol snap…
In a post titled “Hard work and retinol rlly make a difference,” a Reddit user named Egotr4p posted this snap of her skin before and after using retinol – and the results speak for themselves.
Writing in the comment, she said: “I never thought I would be where I am now. I did not go to a derm, although I had access to RX retinol.”
The user explained that she uses tretinoin .025 percent that she gets via prescription.
While the transformation took two years, she’s certainly delighted with the result.
But – as with any skincare ingredient that will actually impact your skin, you need to use it with caution. Here’s everything you need to know before adding retinol to your own skincare regime…
What does retinol do?
First thing’s first – let’s start with what retinol actually does. Many refer to it as the only proven anti-ageing ingredient and that’s kind of on the money – Dr. Murad, dermatologist and founder of Murad Skincare, neatly summarises the action of a retinol as ‘exfoliating, aiding in the production of collagen, and fighting free radicals.’ Those three jointly are a pretty powerful skin overhaul.
That said, retinols don’t work equally as well on everyone – you shouldn’t touch the stuff if you suffer from rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis as retinol can make you more vascular – meaning that you will end up with more inflammation and thereby worse symptoms of whatever it is you are suffering from, (though clinical trials have shown PHAs to offset some of the negative sides of using a retinol).
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But now to the big question…
How do you pick a retinol product?
For starters, in the case of retinol, you kind of do want to judge a book by its cover – or, rather, consider the packaging as integral to the product. Dr. Maryam Zamani explains: “Packaging and formulation is key in determining which form to use. Retinol generally can be sensitive to air and light; however, if encapsulated, retinol is less affected by these factors…”
And that’s where things get even more confusing – all retinols aren’t equal, with brands relying far too heavily on the fact that it is included rather than on the form in which it comes and how effective it’ll be when using. Consider that cosmeceutical retinols (which need to be converted into retinoic acid before the skin can use it and which generally come in concentrations of between 0.1 and 0.5%) use around ten times more retinol content than prescription retinol and you get some idea of how key formulation is.
This lends some credence to naysayers who question the importance of percentages but rather insist on choosing a retinol from a brand who formulates well. “There’s a big focus on how much retinol is in the product you end up buying – but that’s really not the full story,” explains Pam Marshall, Clinical Aesthetician at Mortar & Milk, “there’s way more to consider than just the percentage of retinol: molecular weight (which brands don’t have to disclose on packaging) is a massive factor, as is how often you use your chosen retinol.”
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Ready to brush up on your retinol knowledge? Read our ultimate guide to all things retinol to sort the fact from the fiction…
Q. Retinol & Vitamin A are the same thing.
“Also known as Retinol, Vitamin A can help increase the appearance of firmness, diminish the look of fine lines and wrinkles, significantly improve uneven skin tone, smooth and finally refine the surface of skin as well. Retinol is definitely a powerful multi-tasker.” Linda Blahr, Head of National Training at SkinCeuticals.
Q. You should apply retinoids during the day.
Retinol breaks down in sunlight, which is why most retinol products are held in opaque packaging. Exposure to UV light renders the product less active, which makes the use of it less beneficial. “Retinol is prone to increase photosensitivity within the skin,” says Linda Blahr, Head of National Training at SkinCeuticals. “Always use a high, broad spectrum sunscreen when using this product.”
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Q. Retinoids are for all skin types.
While retinol is suitable for everyone, different strengths are appropriate for different skin types.
Retinol can by damaging if your skin is sensitive, enhancing inflammation and causing eczema, rosacea and peeling. Retinol can be quite drying, so it is recommended for those with dry & dehydrated to seal the product in with a moisturiser at the very least.
Q. Retinol should be used once a week.
A. True… to begin
Retinol causes redness, dryness and even flaking – however this can easily be avoided or minimised by gradually introducing the ingredient into your skincare regime and building a tolerance to the ingredient. “Night-time only, apply a pea-sized amount of retinol to clean and dry skin, avoiding the eye area,” Linda Blahr, Head of National Training at SkinCeuticals. “For optimal results, wait at least 30 minutes before applying other skincare products. Limit initial use to once or twice a week, gradually increasing frequency as tolerated.”
Q. Retinoids thin the skin.
Retinol actually thickens the skin, increasing cell turnover and collagen production for thicker, more youthful skin.
Q. Start using retinol in your 20’s.
While there is no set time to use retinol, most dermatologists advise introducing the product in your mid-twenties, particularly if you suffer from breakouts or pigmentation. It is suggested that one uses retinol for 3 months, then takes a three month break. This is due to research that suggests cell turnover is no longer increased after 3 months of retinol usage.
Q. Retinoids are THE miracle ingredient.
A. True & False
Enzymes in the body covert retinol to retinoid acid, an active form of vitamin A. This increases cell turnover, stimulates collagen and elastin production. Thus it is appropriate for treating everything from pigmentation, cystic acne and wrinkles. There is also strong research that it clarifies and evens skin tone. In many ways it is considered the miracle ingredient, but it is important to note that, if used improperly, retinol can compromise the epidermal barrier.
Q. Retinol, Retin-A & Retinoid are the same thing.
Retin-A is a prescription level retinoid that is stronger in nature, used for acne as well as aging.
Retinol is the over-the-counter version of Retin-A, which becomes the active Retinoic Acid when it hits the skin.
Retinoids are the family that Retin-A, Retinol & Retinoic Acid belong to. It is a chemical compound of Vitamin A.
Benzoyl peroxide, AHA’s & BHA’s are known to reduce productivity within retinoids, so do not mix them. These will also compromise the skin, as both acids and retinol can cause irritation.