When I discuss retinol with people I usually get one of two reactions. The first one being, "Oh yes, retinol is great." and the other the exact opposite, "Oh, I don't want retinol, it makes your skin sensitive to the sun." It is interesting how there are two extreme perceptions around retinol. This post is to help clear up any misunderstandings or controversies surrounding this long time anti-aging ingredient so you can make an informed decision regarding using it or not.
What is retinol versus retinoid or vitamin A?
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A and has been a top choice skin care solution for dermatologists for decades. It is used for acne, wrinkle reduction, reversing sun damage, and shrinking pores; basically everything you would want.
Retinol and retinoids are not exactly the same, but are both chemical derivatives of vitamin A, a vitamin needed for many functions of the body. Both are used in skin care, particularly reducing wrinkles, improving collagen production, and treating acne. Retinoids are more potent and are classified as a pharmaceutical, meaning you need a prescription to use them. Retinols have a naturally weaker affect than retinoids and are found in over-the-counter creams not needing a prescription. Regardless, retinols are still effective, but the results won't be as stark and will take longer to appear than if using a prescription retinoid. Despite this, they're very accessible, you are less likely to have a negative skin reaction, and you don't need a prescription. Often, retinols are a good place to start for people who are just starting. Personally, I'm a huge fan of retinols and likely the majority of dermatologists you speak to are using some type of topical retinoid or retinol regimen themselves.
Benefits of retinol/retinoids
All trans retinol is effective treatment used in skincare products. After just four weeks of use epidermal (Skin) thickness and upregulated genes for collagen protein were shown. Analysis of facial imaging showed significant reduction in facial wrinkles after just 12 weeks of retinol application. Skin biopsies and noninvasive imaging analyses show topical application of retinol significantly affects cellular and molecular properties of the skin.
Scientific studies show topical application of retinol significantly affects both cellular and molecular properties of the epidermis and dermis. Retinol's effectiveness on skin were confirmed by the significant facial anti-aging effects observed in the retinol efficacy clinical study.
Side Effects of retinol/retinoids
Some of the not so flattering concerns regarding retinol is that it can make your skin itchy, dry, or even make it more susceptible to sun damage. A person may not experience any of these side effects and they are temporary resolving once your skin gets used to the retinol product; a phenomenon called the retinization period.
One of the biggest concerns is retinol making your skin more sensitive to sunlight. However, if you are using sunscreen then this isn't an issue. If you have fair or sensitive skin and are still concerned, then use your retinol product at night which will decrease your skin sensitivity during the day. If you are planning to be in the sun for a prolonged period of time i.e. tropical vacation, then save your retinol for night or stop using three days prior to your trip. I personally have both sensitive and fair skin. I use retinol products morning and night but I also use sunscreen every morning and have never had an issue. Regardless, everyone is different and you have to listen to your skin.
Overall, retinol has so many wonderful anti-aging properties that the benefits far outweigh any temporary sensitivities it may or may not create. You can always consult with your dermatologist if you have questions regarding your skin specifically. Generally speaking, retinol will help your skin be healthier and you look younger than your chronological age.
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