Dermatologists, estheticians, and skin care experts all seem to be obsessed with retinol, claiming it’s the best-ever, anti-aging and anti-acne ingredient for skin. But what exactly is it?
What Is Retinol?
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A. It’s an antioxidant, meaning it helps the skin fight cellular damage and produce cells at a faster rate, halting or slowing down the formation of wrinkles, pigmentation and acne.1 Retinols are found in OTC creams in milder quantities and in prescription-based treatments with far higher concentrations.
Prescription-Strength Retinoids (AKA Retinoic Acid)
Any cream that contains retinoids or retinoic acid falls under the prescription category – so it must be used under the supervision and guidance of a dermatologist. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, retinoids are effective in combating UV skin damage that may result in pigmentation and wrinkles.2
Retinoids like tretinoin are extra strong, and they need to be used with caution. Why is that? Retinoids speed up the skin regeneration process, meaning the cells get renewed way faster than before.This can cause skin peeling (dermatitis) along with redness, inflammation, and even a little pain.3
OTC Retinol and Derivatives
If you’d prefer not to see a dermatologist or want to start with something a bit more gentle, you can start with an over-the-counter (OTC) serum or cream.
The fastest-working OTC retinol is retinaldehyde, which converts into retinoic acid when absorbed by skin. A step below retinaldehyde is retinol. Once the skin absorbs it, it converts retinol into retinaldehyde before it turns into retinoic acid. Obviously, a cream containing retinol will take more time to make a visible change in the skin than one with retinaldehyde. Finally, there are the vitamin A esters such as retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate. These ingredients will take the longest to help your skin become better simply because once absorbed, these esters are converted into retinol, then to retinaldehyde and finally to that one magical ingredient: retinoic acid. 4
How Does Retinoic Acid Work?
In a study conducted by the University of Michigan Medical School, researchers found that application of OTC creams containing retinol increased the production of glycosaminoglycan and procollagen, both of which are structural components that help “build” the skin, cell by cell.5
By increasing the rate of cellular turnover, retinol helps to naturally slough away the top skin layer that mostly comprises dead and damaged skin cells. This top layer of the skin manifests damage as wrinkles, pigmentation, sun spots and inflammation. Once this top layer is naturally removed, visibly younger, fresher, and relatively unmarked skin takes it place.
How to Start Using Retinol
Depending on the person, skin naturally renews itself every 28 to 35 days (that number increases with age). Since retinol speeds up this process, the skin will need some time to adjust and can become red, dry, and irritated. Start with an OTC retinol cream unless you’ve specifically been advised by the dermatologist to use retinoids.6 Use the retinol once or twice each week until skin gets accustomed to the ingredient, then progressively increase usage. Feel free to add a layer of moisturizer after the retinol has completely absorbed into the skin. Remember, you know your skin best – if it starts flaring up, it’s telling you it needs some TLC!
Also, any retinol-based product is best applied at night before bedtime, because retinol-treated skin is often more sensitive to the sun. During the day, always use waterproof, broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Retinol in itself is a rather unstable molecule and breaks down in the presence of oxygen and light. This means the retinol in your serums and creams can break down pretty quickly if not stored or used properly and with great care. According to The International Dermal Institute, the solution to this instability is encapsulated retinol, in which a laboratory process literally traps the retinol molecule within a stable capsule of multi-layered fats so it becomes impervious to light and oxygen. 7
The “capsule” or membranes dissolve upon application, letting the skin absorb the fat-soluble active ingredient. This way, your skin gets all the benefits of retinol and the light or air around it does not affect or disrupt its functioning. That’s why it’s the star ingredient in our new, revolutionary Restore + Resurface daily multi-acid pads. Science is awesome, isn’t it?
Retinol is one of the rare ingredients studied by researchers and praised by credentialed experts all over, so it may be worth considering adding to your anti-aging ritual. But like with all great things, it isn’t the easiest thing to incorporate quickly, so make sure you start slow. By exercising patience, you’re paving the way for beautiful skin!
For more health and wellness tips, keep reading:
1. “Wrinkle Creams: Your Guide To Younger Looking Skin – Mayo Clinic”. Mayo Clinic. N.p., 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
2. “Dermatologists Share Skin Care Tips For Your 40S And 50S | American Academy Of Dermatology”. Aad.org. N.p., 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
3. Siddharth Mukherjee, Günther Weindl. “Retinoids In The Treatment Of Skin Aging: An Overview Of Clinical Efficacy And Safety”. PubMed Central (PMC). N.p., 2006. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
4. Ganceviciene, Ruta et al. “Skin Anti-Aging Strategies”. N.p., 2012. Print.
5. “Vitamin A Helps Reduce Wrinkles Associated With Natural Skin Aging”. ScienceDaily. N.p., 2007. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
6. Siddharth Mukherjee, Günther Weindl. “Retinoids In The Treatment Of Skin Aging: An Overview Of Clinical Efficacy And Safety”. PubMed Central (PMC). N.p., 2006. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
7. Howard, DIanna. “Is Microencapsulated Retinol Better Than Ordinary Retinol?”. N.p., 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.