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Retinol and retinoid products have become a powerhouse in the skin care industry. We have all seen the commercials enticing us to try one product or another. You may not realize it, but these products have been around for a while. In 1971, the Food and Drug Administration approved a type of retinoid, tretinoin, as a topical acne treatment. Not long after that, Dermatologists realized it also had some practical anti-aging effects. We asked the Board-Certified Dermatologists at Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute, to talk about retinol and why it is so great.

Q: What is retinol exactly, and what can it do?

Retinol and retinoic acid (prescription retinoids) are both derivatives of vitamin A. There are various types of retinoids, but the main difference between retinol and prescription retinoids is that retinol must be converted to retinoic acid by the body before it starts to work its magic. More potent, prescription retinoids already come in their active form.

Here is what it can do:

Treats acne and is great at helping prevent acne scars

Boosts collagen

Improves skin cell turnover

Reduces fine lines and wrinkles

Helps with pigmentation issues such as age-related brown spots or sunspots

Smooths out skin texture

Be patient when watching for results. It can take anywhere from six weeks to three months to start seeing results. If you do not think you are getting the results you want, check with your dermatologist to see what they recommend.


Q: What is the best way to start incorporating retinol into our skin routine?

We usually tell people to start slowly. Retinol can make the skin red and dry, but your skin really will adapt over time. Start by using it a few times a week, and as your skin gets used to it, you can increase to using it nightly. If you continue having some side effects, just take a short break. Be sure to use a moisturizer with this product!


Q: What other products complement retinol?

Sunscreen is the most essential product to use with your retinol. Protecting yourself from the sun is the number one thing you can do to help with photoaging (fine lines, wrinkles, and the development of brown spots). Always use a sunscreen product with an SPF of 30 or higher. Using retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun; thus, making sunscreen even more important.

The other product to consider is vitamin C cream. Usually, vitamin C creams also have other antioxidants to help the skin repair some normal damage from being out in the environment daily, and they can help give the skin a brighter appearance. It is best to use vitamin C in the morning (before sunscreen) and retinol as part of your nighttime routine.

Q: How young do you think we should start using retinol?

Retinoids are good for helping with skin aging in general, and we even use retinoic acid for teenagers with acne. If you are thinking about how to protect your skin and about having a good at-home routine, then it is probably time to add retinol - if you aren’t using one already.


Q: Do over-the-counter retinol products work?

The over-the-counter retinol products are in the container as a different form of retinol and need to be converted by the body into the active ingredient. In contrast, prescription-strength retinoids or retinoic acids are already in the active form. So, over-the-counter retinol products do work; they just are not as strong as the prescription-strength versions. You can find many vitamin A creams in stores, but retinols are the strongest available over-the-counter formulation. Check for retinol in the ingredient list when looking for a product.


Q: My skin is strongly reacting to retinol – what should I do?

Take a day or two off from the product! Retinols cause thinning of the stratum corneum (the top layer of the skin); for some people, this can lead to some redness, irritation, a tight feeling, or even slight peeling. This is all completely normal! If this happens, We recommend taking a day or two or three off to give your skin a chance to adjust and then restart.


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