Retinol is an increasingly popular ingredient in skincare, and for good reason – it works. With decades of scientific research proving its effectiveness, many call retinol the industry’s gold standard ingredient for ageing skin, acne, sun damaged skin, uneven pigmentation and more.
But many first-time retinol users give up on the product before they ever see the full results. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about retinol, and why you shouldn’t give up in those early days.
What is retinol?
Retinol is the technical name for vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant which plays an important role in skin health, vision and maintaining a strong immune system, amongst other things. When applied topically, retinol is converted into retinoic acid – and it’s this retinoic acid which holds the power to transform your skin. Retinoic acid affects skin at a cellular level, increasing cell turnover, thickening the skin, stimulating collagen and elastin and evening out pigmentation. Retinol is available in many different preparations – and this is where some confusion can come in.
Understanding the differences between retinoids
As stated above, retinol converts to retinoic acid on the skin – but products containing retinoic acid itself are available on prescription, and these are the most widely studied and effective formulations. Retinol and other, weaker retinoids, such as retinyl acetate and retinyl palmitate are available in over the counter formulations, and their effectiveness and side-effects vary.
Tretinoin is a direct preparation of retinoic acid and is often used in conjunction with the Obagi Nu-Derm System. It is a strong product which attains great results but it needs to be prescribed by a doctor and the effects need to be monitored regularly. Often people are put off by using such products as side effects can include redness and dry, flaky skin – however, this does not need to be the case. Of course, you can be treated more aggressively to get to the desired end point quicker but you can also be managed more conservatively so that side effects are minimal, if at all. The results of such products are incredible, especially with hyper-pigmentation.
Retinoids cause skin regeneration and it can take time for your skin to acclimatize. Irrespective of which form and strength of retinoid you are using, it’s always best to start of slowly and gently, under supervision and to increase the dose as your skin becomes tolerant.
Other common retinoids include retinol itself, which, while weaker is gentler on the skin, and retinyl palmitate, which is the ingredient in No7’s popular skin serum. Retinyl palmitate is the weakest yet gentlest formulation of retinol and is often used in non-cosmeceutical over-the-counter cosmetics. Which retinoid is right for you will depend on both your desired outcome and your sensitivity to side effects.
Looking after your skin when using Retinol
When using any retinoid, it’s important (as always!) to make sure you use a high factor SPF – we recommend Heliocare’s broad spectrum protection range. Retinoids increase photosensitivity, as the new cells it stimulates are sensitive to sun damage, so make sure you take special care of your skin. If you’re going on holiday and will be in direct sunlight it is advisable to stop the retinol a few days before you go away. This also goes for any treatment you might be having which creates heat as retinoids make your skin more sensitive and treatments may be more uncomfortable with longer downtime.
Retinol is one of only a handful of skincare ingredients with decades of research behind it, proving its effectiveness, and at WY we’d recommend it to anyone who wants to see a real change in their skin.