Lipstick was once a girl’s best friend. Today, however, that spot is reserved for retinol, skincare’s answer to Superwoman. Heralded as one of the only active ingredients that can actually change the quality of the skin, it comes highly recommended by dermatologists and facialists as part of any targeted (and intelligent) skincare routine. “Research shows that retinol can help target fine lines and pigmentation, alongside boosting collagen production and improving skin cell turnover, leading to a brighter, smoother complexion,” says Dr Anjali Mahto, a consultant dermatologist at Skin 55 and author of The Skincare Bible.
Despite the plaudits from the experts, it’s an area of skincare that can be confusing for consumers, given the sheer number of different types of retinoid, all with different names. Retinoid, as Mahto explains, is an umbrella term used to describe a class of compounds—of which retinol is one—that contain vitamin A.
In the interests of making your life simple, here are five rules of retinol to commit to memory.Rule 1: You don’t need a prescription strength retinol for good results
As mentioned, a number of different compounds sit under the retinoid umbrella. Daniel Isaacs, director of research at Medik8, a brand renowned for its over-the-counter retinoid products, says there’s a reason why retinol is the one we’ve all heard of—it is “tried and trusted in numerous dermatological journals”. That means it has undergone enough rigorous clinical testing for the skincare world to be confident the ingredient really works. “When retinol is applied to the skin, it undergoes two conversions; first, it’s converted to retinaldehyde, and then to retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is the active form of vitamin A that can actually be utilised by the skin—it triggers cellular renewal and collagen production for the amazing effects you hear about,” Isaacs explains.
But there are forms besides retinol to familiarise yourself with. Retinaldehyde (or retinal) is dubbed as a “next generation” vitamin A that can deliver results up to 11 times faster than classic forms of retinol, rapidly resurfacing the skin while helping to rebuild collagen, in addition to having antibacterial properties (it’s a great one for acne sufferers). It can be found in Medik8’s Crystal Retinal, which it claims is the closest thing you can get to prescription-strength retinoic acid. Then there’s retinyl retinoate, a hybrid molecule that “fuses retinol and retinoic acid”. “It improves the anti-ageing activity of retinol, without the irritating side-effects of retinoic acid; increases collagen production and wrinkle repair by up to eight times more than standard retinol; plus, it’s much more stable in sunlight, meaning it can be used day and night for accelerated results,” says Isaacs.
Neither of these compounds are prescription strength—they can be bought over the counter – but they are clinically proven to deliver excellent results. Dermatologists including Mahto still regard the prescription product tretinoin as the gold standard of the vitamin A world (“it will produce better results than over-the-counter products as it is a drug, not a cosmetic agent”), but they do acknowledge that over-the-counter retinol products can benefit the skin. But “it may take longer to see results and the effects will be less pronounced,” Mahto points out. If it is a prescription strength retinoid you’re after, look to online dermatology clinic Dermatica, whose dermatologists can analyse your skin and prescribe the product you need. Meanwhile, Isaacs warns against using esters (a type of compound) like retinyl palmitate or retinyl linoleate, since they have little effect on the skin. “It’s important to look for brands that use only clinically-proven, potent types of vitamin A.”Rule 2: Choose your percentages wisely
After finding the right kind of retinoid for you, it’s time to consider the strength of the product you choose. With a straightforward retinol, Mahto recommends starting off with a product containing at least 0.1% retinol, while Isaacs at Medik8 advocates a 0.2% strength. It’s best to err on the side of caution, particularly if you have sensitive skin. “Formulas that have time-release technology built in are a good option, too,” says Isaacs, “because vitamin A will be drip-fed into the skin slowly overnight, reducing [the risk of] any potential irritation or sensitivity.”Rule 3: Slow and steady wins the race
“Retinol can cause irritation when it’s first used, so start off using the product once or twice weekly and gradually build up to every night,” advises Mahto, who says the same rule applies whether you’re introducing a prescription retinoid or an over-the-counter product. Once your skin has come to tolerate the product you start with, you can consider maximising your results by upping the percentage.
There are other ways to minimise irritation, too. “Applying a moisturiser 20 minutes after applying your retinoid can help reduce the redness, sensitivity, peeling, flaking and dryness often associated with vitamin A,” says Mahto.Rule 4: Don’t expect results overnight
As with all good things in life, you’ll have to wait to see this working. Mahto says that it can take at least 12 weeks to see the benefits of retinoid use, though anecdotally users often say it takes even longer, but ultimately the results will be worth the wait (and the religious approach to application). Hopping on the retinol bandwagon will stand your skin in good stead, whatever age you are.Rule 5: Wear SPF
A cardinal sin of skincare is failing to wear SPF in the day while using a retinoid overnight (though you should be applying sunscreen daily regardless). They make our skin particularly susceptible to the sun because they cause our skin cells to lose some of their protective action, so wearing a high SPF is essential in order to fend off skin damage.7 retinoids to try nowLa Roche-Posay Retinol B3 SerumEstée Lauder Perfectionist Pro Rapid Renewal Retinol TreatmentVotary Intense Night Oil Rosehip and RetinoidNo7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night ConcentrateMurad Retinol Youth Renewal Eye SerumThe INKEY List Retinol SerumMedik8 Crystal Retinal Serum
This article was originally featured on Vogue.co.ukAlso read:
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