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There are a dizzying number of trendy skincare ingredients floating around the internet, but retinol is one that really lives up to the hype. A darling of dermatologists and estheticians, it can be found just about everywhere, from nighttime serums and moisturizers to daily acne treatments, and for good reason: “Retinol is the OG exfoliant, skin thickener, and moisture booster.” “Collagen. Of all the skincare ingredients, it’s the one to keep using,” says Karan Lal, a dual-board-certified cosmetic and pediatric dermatologist. BAZAAR.com.
What is retinol?
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A, which also includes retinal (or retinaldehyde), along with over-the-counter and prescription retinoids, such as tretinoin. Retinaldehyde is more potent than retinol, but less irritating than a prescription retinoid. But before these ingredients can have an impact on the skin, they must be converted to retinoic acid.
“Retinaldehyde is considered more potent than retinol because it only requires one step to convert to retinoid acid for it to have its effect on the skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick at MDCS Dermatology in New York. “While retinol can be used by all skin types, it’s especially good for someone who can’t tolerate a prescription retinoid, such as someone with dry or sensitive skin.
Retinaldehyde is a great option for someone who has been able to tolerate a retinol but isn’t seeing the desired results and wants to try something more potent, or for someone who can’t tolerate a prescription retinoid. As an over-the-counter or prescription retinoid, it helps regulate skin cell turnover, prevents pore clogging, and improves overall skin tone and texture while increasing collagen production.”
Do over-the-counter retinols really work?
As for what’s available at your local drugstore, Garshick notes that over-the-counter retinoids are synthetic and consist of fine-line-reducing retinols (available in concentrations, acne-fighting adapalene, and retinaldehyde, which is great for those who they look for more advanced improvement.
For patients who are new to retinol, she often recommends RoC’s Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream, a hyaluronic acid treatment to help with the signs of aging. Both Garshick and Lal also suggest Clinical Skin Retinol and Peptide Refining Serum 2.5, which is safe for sensitive skin. Combines ingredients like retinol, bakuchiol, ceramides, and more to reduce fine lines and discoloration without irritation. And for the delicate eye area, Lal is a fan of La Roche-Posay’s hard-working Redermic R Retinol Eye Cream.
At what point in your routine should retinol be used?
Retinol is best applied at night, usually after cleansing and before moisturizer. “It’s important to remember to apply only a small, pea-sized amount all over your face to minimize the chance of irritation,” advises Garshick. If you have dry or sensitive skin, experts often recommend applying a moisturizer first, followed by retinol to further reduce the risk of skin inflammation.
When can you expect to see changes in your skin?
It takes at least around four weeks and at most up to three months to start reaping the benefits of retinol, as dermatologists say the skin renewal benefits align closely with the timeline of collagen production.
Can pregnant or lactating women use retinol?
While it is not recommended for pregnant or lactating women to use topical retinol products, safer alternatives such as bakuchiol, azelaic acid, peptides, and low concentrations of alpha hydroxy acids may be just as beneficial for refining texture and the skin tone.
Why does retinol irritate your skin?
Since retinol is available in varying percentages, from 0.5 to 2.5, dermatologists recommend starting small with the initial application once or twice a week when adding one to your regimen. Also, it’s best to only use one retinol-based product at a time to avoid irritation. “If you notice redness, flaking, or burning on your skin, it may be time to take a retinol break,” Lal says. “These are signs that your skin is very reactive to retinol. Take a break, use a moisturizer, and slowly incorporate retinol into your routine once your skin has healed.”
For more recommendations on which retinol, retinal, or prescription retinoids are best for you, consult with a board-certified dermatologist who can provide a plan of action specific to your skin’s needs.
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