What is retinol? Does it work? Will it make my skin red? Can I not go into the sun with retinol? These are just a few of the hundreds of questions that are the most common in researching retinol.
Retinoids (the umbrella term for retinol products) are powerful enough to improve skin texture, pigmentation, and tone in just a few drops of serum or dollops of cream. The transformative effects on your skin are due to very potent formulations, which have caused retinols to garner a lot of differing opinions — and even more questions.
When Should I start using Retinol?
“I often recommend to my patients who are starting to notice fine lines (at 30-plus) to incorporate an OTC retinol into their nightly skincare routine,” saysNYC dermatologist, Whitney Bowe, M.D. “Not only does retinol help to diminish fine lines and wrinkles, but it can even help reverse some of the side effects of sun damage.”
If you’re struggling with acne, Bowe says to start even sooner, particularly comedones, which are bumps that occur when dirt and oil clog the skin. “Be more aggressive about titrating up the strength of your retinoid,” she says. “OTC retinols won’t clear up moderate to severe acne the way that prescription retinoids can.”
“Retinoids are great for preventing and treating acne, especially comedones [blackheads] because they help unclog pores, addsAustin-based dermatologist Lela Lankerani, D.O. “And because of its collagen-stimulating ability, it can be beneficial for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and scarring.”
How do I use Retinol?
Whether it's in a serum, cream, or comes from your doctor—retinols are best applied at night. Many retinols are formulated with hydrating ingredients to minimize potential dryness and irritation. Still, those side effects can occur, especially when you’re new to the ingredient. “I typically recommend using one pea-sized amount for the entire face, every other night, as you adjust to it,”Dr. Joshua Zeichner says. Follow with a moisturizer to keep flakiness under control.
Few Myths Debunked
Retinoids work by exfoliating your skin.
Honestly, we thought they swept away dead skin cells, too. "There's often peeling and redness, but that's a side effect of the irritation, not a true and even exfoliation like the one you get from an ingredient like glycolic acid," saysDana Sachs, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical School toldAllure."The peeling is certainly not why people start looking better. In fact, it's why most people give it up." Retinoids work at a much more profound level by affecting gene expression and causing enhanced collagen production, skin smoothing, and an evening of pigmentation.
How Often Can I use Retinol?
Retinol causes redness, dryness and even flaking - however this can easily be avoided or minimized by gradually introducing the ingredient into your skincare regime and building a tolerance to the ingredient. “Night-time only, apply a pea-sized amount of retinol to clean and dry skin, avoiding the eye area,”Linda Blahr, Head of National Training at SkinCeuticals. “For optimal results, wait at least 30 minutes before applying other skincare products. Limit initial use to once or twice a week, gradually increasing frequency as tolerated.”
All in all, I think the most important thing is to remember to pay attention to your skin. If you start to experience dry skin, make sure you are hydrating with pure oils and moisturizers.