What Does Retinol Do?
Retinol is one of the purest forms of vitamin A, and is one of the most widely researched and proven skin care ingredients with clinical evidence for treating problems related to acne, aging, and skin discoloration.
Retinol enhances collagen production, thickens the dermis layer of the skin, and accelerates turnover of the top layer of the skin. These effects lead to plumper, more firm, refined and youthful appearing skin. Retinol diminishes the appearance of existing wrinkles, and prevents the development of new lines and creases. It also brightens dull skin and produces a more even complexion, while fading dark spots (hyperpigmentation) and even treats acne scars.
The benefits of retinol only increase the longer you use it, and the younger people start, the more results can be seen in terms of preventing fine lines and wrinkles. I recommend all patients over age 25 to add a retinol to their skin care regimen (if not pregnant or breastfeeding).
Retinol vs Retinoid
Retinol interacts with enzymes in the skin to become active once absorbed.
Retinoids (available only by prescription) are already in their activated state, which makes them more potent and efficacious, and also potentially more irritating. Prescription retinoids may be appropriate if you have clinically significant acne requiring treatment.
How to Use Retinol
In the evening, after cleansing, apply a pea-sized amount to the tips of the fingers. Spread a thin layer of the product onto your face, avoiding the eye area and massage firmly until it has absorbed into skin. Moisturizer is applied after the retinol product. Retinol is inactivated by sunlight, which is why it is always used at night.
High quality retinol creams stimulate cellular turnover, and because of this, new retinol users may notice minor side effects, including redness, dryness and peeling for a limited adjustment period. This irritation can be minimized by gradually adding retinol to your skin care regime, starting off using the product one night per week initially, then adding an additional night per week, with a goal of nightly use. The "sandwich technique" is another strategy to limit irritation from retinol use, which involves applying moisturizer, then applying the topical retinol, followed by another layer of moisturizer. Finally, the short-contact method can be used for those who are very sensitive to retinol: in this method, the topical retinol is applied and left on as a mask for 20 minutes, then rinsed from the skin before applying moisturizer and going to bed.
Avoid using products containing salicylic acid (also known as beta hydroxy acid, BHA) at night with your retinol, as these two products may inactivate each other.
Retinol makes your skin more sensitive to UV light; you must always wear a sunscreen SPF 50+ when using retinol.