Retinol (a form of Vitamin A)  is THE ingredient in anti-ageing skincare right now.  From creams to serums to oils you’ll find this in products everywhere.

But do you know what it is, or how to best use it?

What is Retinol?

Retinoic Acid (the strongest form of retinoid, only available by prescription) has been prescribed since the 1950’s to treat acne, and in the 1980’s it was starting to be used for its anti-ageing benefits.  Because it was very strong it started to get known as a product that would increase skin irritation and to cause issues such as burning and skin peeling

Dermal scientists then produced retinol, which is a milder (but still effective) retinoid.

Retin-A (retinoic acid) is still used to address acne, while the retinol and its derivatives are used for its anti-ageing benefits.

What does retinol do?

Helps to address fine lines and wrinkles, smoothing the skin and helping to minimise new lines from forming by stimulating collagen and elastin production in the skin.

Helps speed up the production of new skin cells, and helps the old cells shed faster,  so that fresher, younger skin comes to the surface

Addresses uneven skin tone and dullness by stimulating the production of new blood vessels in the skin, which improves skin colour

Slows down the production of melanin, and this, in conjunction with the increased cell turnover, can help with hyperpigmentation (age spots, freckles).

It may help reduce the appearance of large pores

Are all the retinoid ingredients in my skincare products the same?

The retinoids in over-the-counter skincare products differ in strength and in the amount that is added to the formulation.

The two most common forms of retinoid you will find in your skincare are  retinyl palmitate (the weakest of the over the counter retinoids) and Retinol (the next strongest and most tolerable), 

Are there any side effects to using retinol?

Retinol increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so you should always use a broad spectrum sunscreen if  using retinol products.  It can also cause some stinging,  peeling, redness and flaking (known as retinization) – although these symptoms do not always occur, and generally disappear after a few weeks.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding it is recommended that you stop use of retinol products.

When used on sensitive skin for a prolonged period of time or in concentrations that are too high, retinol can cause dermatitis.

What should I do (or avoid doing) when using retinol products?

Always use a broad spectrum SPF when using retinol products, as your skin will be more sensitive to the sun and more likely to burn.

For the first few weeks that you introduce retinol your skin may be more sensitive and you should change up your skincare routine accordingly.  Use a gentle cleanser that doesn’t strip your skin of its natural oils and add extra moisturising products while you are using retinoid products.  I love Marula Oil and Squalane Oil for an extra boost of moisture

Avoid using any products with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid as they can be too harsh on your skin during the first few weeks of using retinol.

You should make sure that you choose the right strength for your skin – start with more gentle formulations, then move up once your skin has acclimatised.

If you are using retinol (especially one of the stronger formulations) then you don’t need any extra exfoliation products so skip the AHA’s, Glycolic, BHA’s.  If you absolutely must have your exfoliation in your routine you can use the retinol at night, then your exfoliating acids in the morning.  If in doubt speak to a skin specialist.

If you are using a retinol product and experience extreme redness, flakiness or irritation you should stop using the product and see your doctor

Photo Credit: Dave Lucas Portraits

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