With its ability to turn back the clock on aging skin, clear acne, and improve skin tone and clarity – it’s no wonder that Retinol has long been considered the gold standard ingredient in skincare. But, many people are hesitant to use Retinol products because of a bad flaking or peeling experience in their past, most likely with the acne drug, Retin-A. Luckily, formulations have come a LONG WAY to prevent adverse reactions, and everyone (and every skin type) can now comfortably reap the rewards of Retinol!
What exactly IS Retinol?
Retinol is a form of Vitamin A. It is part of a family of ingredients commonly called Retinoids. Whether you ingest it or topically apply it, Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that can defend our cells from free radical damage and prevent the breakdown of our collagen and elastin matrix, which leads to wrinkles. It also helps our cells repair damaged DNA and normalizes the function of our cells and how quickly they turn over. Vitamin A essentially makes our skin behave like a younger version of itself!
Are there different kinds of Retinol?
Vitamin A is such a great ingredient in skincare because it can change our cells’ behavior. Our cells have receptor sites that recognize Vitamin A and can metabolize it, but it needs to first be in a formulation called Retinoic Acid. The prescription, Retin-A, is pure Retinoic Acid, which is why it is so strong and can cause irritation to our skin.
Most topical Retinols start as one of the Retinoids below, which later convert to Retinoic Acid in our skin. Below are the stages and order of Vitamin A conversion in our skin from weakest to strongest. The further the form is from Retinoic Acid, the more transformation needed and the weaker the effect and amount of irritation.
- Retinyl Esters (sometimes shown as Retinyl Palmitate)
- Retinoic Acid
What are the benefits of using a Retinol product?
As our skin ages, the rate at which we produce collagen and elastin slows dramatically. Collagen and elastin are the building blocks of youthful, thick, firm, and elastic skin. When collagen breaks down, wrinkles form. This is also why acne scars form after a pimple has infected our skin and our white blood cells rush to the site to clean up the infection but also end up destroying healthy surrounding collagen, which can create a depressed scar. Vitamin A stimulates the growth of fresh collagen and elastin, making wrinkles appear smoother and softening acne scars!
Our rate of cellular turnover also decreases with age, making skin appear ashy and lackluster. Retinol products speed up cell turnover, which removes damaged cells more quickly and leaves your overall complexion looking brighter and more luminous. This characteristic of Retinol is especially beneficial to some forms of acne, which results from an overproduction of skin cells (hyper-keratosis) that combine with oil to clog a pore. Retinol can help normalize the cell production of acneic skin and restore a clearer complexion.
Are there any drawbacks to using Retinol?
There can be some trial and error with integrating a Retinol product into your skincare regimen. It’s essential to work with your skincare provider on when and how frequently to use a retinol product so she can track and monitor your progress and make any needed adjustments. Some common obstacles with Retinol include:
- Vitamin A can be a highly unstable ingredient that deteriorates quickly, so it’s beneficial to use an encapsulated formulation to prolong its viability.
- If initially used in too strong of a concentration or too frequently, Retinoids can cause redness, irritation, and flaking. It’s important to partner with a skincare provider who understands your skin and retails reputable retinol products in various concentrations to build up your skin’s tolerance.
- Because Retinol essentially resurfaces your skin, it can also make it sensitive to sunlight.
- For this reason, most formulations are applied at night, and an SPF must be worn in the daytime to protect the skin.
- Retinol can thin the top layers of your skin, making you contraindicated to receive such treatments as eyebrow waxing, chemical peels, and/or laser skin treatments.
- For this reason, most people use Retinol in the Fall and Winter and omit use in the Spring and Summer.
So, why do millions of people swear by Retinol if there are drawbacks? Because the results are worth it! A bright, even, clear, youthful-looking complexion is worth a little trial and error for most people. Plus, if you partner with a knowledgeable skincare provider, she can help you slowly and steadily integrate Retinol into your skincare regimen with little to no adverse effects!
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