Anti-aging creams may come and go, but one ingredient remains the gold standard: retinol. Derived from Vitamin A, retinol has been used safely since the 1970s. But what exactly is it, how does it work, and should you incorporate a retinol cream into your beauty routine- even if you don’t have wrinkles?
What is Retinol?
Retinol is derived from vitamin A. The most famous retinol product is Retin-A, which was approved by the FDA in 1971 as a prescription treatment for acne.
But while the user’s pimples were vanishing, they started seeing other benefits to their skin. Fine lines and sunspots were fading, and skin texture looked smoother. Even pores looked smaller. Skin just looked better, glowier, and more vibrant. Sounds like a miracle product?
While there’s no such thing as a miracle, retinol and retinoids come close. Or put another way- retinol is the best anti-aging product money can buy that isn’t injectable.
Related: Best Retinol Eye Cream
Since the debut of retinol, it has found its way over the counter, at drugstores and department makeup counters in products that contain high doses of retinol in safe but effective formulas. Think of retinol as multi-taskers and one of the hardest-working products in your beauty arsenal.
What Does Retinol Do?
Retinols exfoliate the skin, purging it of old skin cells and creating new ones, which results in new, fresh skin with a smooth texture. They also help to shrink pores and increase cell turnover inside the pore, making it less likely to clog with dirt and oil. Retinols work by thinning the top layer of the skin while thickening the smoother second layer (the epidermis) which makes skin look dewy and firm.
But perhaps retinol’s biggest claim to fame is that it can help support collagen production. When it comes to tackling the signs of anti-aging, collagen is key as it’s what gives skin elasticity and firmness. Think of it as a support structure for the skin, and keep in mind that collagen creation starts to diminish in your 30s.
Are Retinol Creams Only For the Face?
Retinol laced products are available in face creams, eye creams, neck creams as well as body creams to tackle skin issues ranging from fine lines and dark spots to stretch marks.
Related: Best Retinol Serum
What is the Difference Between a Retinol and Retinoid?
Retinol and retinoids are all forms of vitamin A. They have the same function but their main difference is how they are converted to retinoic acid, the active form of vitamin A, in the body.
Retinoic acid is the strongest version and is available by prescription. It is also known as tretinoin. “Retinoids” is an umbrella term that includes both over-the-counter and prescription versions of vitamin A, while “retinol” refers only to the over-the-counter version.
Some products contain pro-retinol which are listed as retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate on the packaging. These are more gentle than retinol and can take longer to see results with them. However, one benefit of over-the-counter retinol is that it may not cause as much irritation as a prescription-strength version.
Who Should Use A Retinol Cream?
The quick answer is everybody. Just about all skin types can benefit from using a retinol product but it’s best suited for anyone who has normal to oily skin that isn’t overly sensitive.
Anyone with acne-prone skin may benefit from using it. While retinol can cause irritation (more on that later), the key is finding the right percentage and frequency of use that is best suitable for your skin.
What Age Should I Start Using Retinol?
When it comes to anti-aging, prevention is half the battle- so don’t want until you start to see lines and dark spots to do something about it. The general rule of thumb is to start incorporating retinol into your routine around the mid to late 20s.
How Long Does it Take for Retinol to Work?
Everyone’s skin will react differently to retinol, but in general, it takes about 12 weeks to six months to see results. Patience- and consistency of use- are key to seeing results.
What Strength of Retinol Do I Need?
Over-the-counter retinol products come in a variety of concentrations, ranging from 0.01% up to 1%. What exactly does this mean? It comes down to the strength of the product, which is important as retinol can be irritating to the skin.
If you’ve never used retinol before, start with a low concentration and see how the skin tolerates it before moving up to a moderate strength, which tends to be from 0.04% to 0.1%. The highest percentage is between 0.5% and 1% retinol.
But bigger isn’t always better when it comes to retinol concentration. The skin will still gain benefits from a lower-strength product, as consistency of use is key. But if your skin has plenty of sun damage, deep wrinkles, and sunspots, you will want to build up to a stronger concentration.
Does Retinol Have Any Side Effects?
Yes, side effects can occur when using a retinol cream. Retinol is powerful, especially in higher concentrations, and can cause irritation, peeling, and redness.
Anyone who has rosacea or particularly sensitive skin may be prone to irritation from using it. Usually, side effects can be managed easily by reducing the frequency and concentration of the retinol.
It is also important to wear a sunscreen with a broad spectrum SPF while using retinol as skin may burn more easily.
Are Retinol Creams Safe?
Retinol is one of the most studied skincare ingredients and has been used since the 1970s. However, most physicians suggest that pregnant or breastfeeding women avoid using it. Always check with your doctor for any concerns.
How to Use Retinol
If you have never used a retinol product before, start slowly to prevent any redness, flaking, or irritation. Apply a pea-sized amount of product once or twice a week and gradually build up your skin’s tolerance until you find a balance between benefits and irritation. And be patient.
While some women see improvements in as little as two weeks, it can take up to six months to see a change. Make sure to incorporate a good moisturizer into your skincare regimen when using retinol to offset any dryness. Take extra precautions when in the sun and be sure to apply an SPF daily — which everyone should do regardless of retinol use.
How to Pick A Retinol Cream
When it comes to choosing the right retinol product for your skin, packaging plays a part. Vitamin A is not stable- meaning it breaks down when exposed to sunlight and air. Try to choose products that come in a sealed tube or pump but if you do buy a product in a jar, try to select one in a dark container.
Here’s a look at some of the best retinol creams
The best retinol cream of 2021 is the Formulyst’s Anti-Aging Night Cream.
Here’s the entire list.