In recent years, no skincare ingredient has had more buzz than retinol. From the local drugstore to Sephora, it can be found in skincare products everywhere. Historically, it’s been used as a treatment for acne, but all the buzz is around its anti-aging effects, so what’s all the excitement about?
Is retinol as amazing as everyone says, or is it just another skincare craze? The answer might surprise you.
What Is Retinol?
According to Harvard Health, retinol and retinoids are umbrella terms for an ingredient that’s a derivative of Vitamin A. It has a variety of benefits including preventing wrinkles, fading dark spots, treating acne, and brightening the skin.
Retinol and retinoids are umbrella terms for an ingredient that’s a derivative of Vitamin A.
And unlike so many skincare ingredients du jour, retinol lives up to the hype 100%. Dr. Murad Alam, a dermatologist in Chicago and president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, told The New York Times that retinol is, “the best-studied and most-evidence-backed topical medication for reducing the visible signs of aging due to sun exposure.”
How Does Retinol Work?
Retinol is essentially the ultimate chemical exfoliator. It works by increasing cell turnover. This clears the pores, which can help to stop acne in its tracks and improve the general texture of skin.
It also helps increase collagen production, which makes the face look younger and plumper. So, if you’re concerned about both adult acne and aging, retinol can help kill two birds with one stone.
The Side Effects
Using retinol can cause increased skin sensitivity, including flaking and peeling. So, it’s incredibly important to wear sunscreen every single day.
Retinol can also be very drying. So if you are trying a retinoid for the first time, it’s best to go easy and build up to using it every day or every other day. You need to let your skin adjust or you risk ending up with a painfully dry, sensitive face (been there done that, and it wasn’t pretty).
Retinol can cause increased skin sensitivity and dryness.
Choosing the Right Product
Not all retinoids are alike or appropriate for every skin type. For example, a basic drugstore anti-aging cream can contain Retinyl Palmitate, which is the weakest of the retinoids. Retinol is stronger than Retinyl Palmitate, while Adapalene, which is used to treat acne, is one level up from that. Formerly a prescription-only product, you can now buy Adapalene (also called Differin) at most drugstores or even on Amazon.
Then there are prescription-only retinoids (at least in the US) like Tretinoin, which is better known as Retin A. Considered the most effective retinoid, it’s often prescribed for adult acne. The “off label” use of Tretinoin is as an anti-aging product, which is marketed as the drug Renova.
You can get a prescription for Tretinoin from your general practitioner or dermatologist in person or online. There are websites like Apostrophe and Dear Brightly that sell various prescription-strength formulations. However, a medical professional must approve the order before the product is shipped to you.
There are so many skincare products out there that it can be a challenge to sort through what really works and what doesn’t. So, trust science! If you’re worried about aging or get the occasional breakout, retinol is as good as it gets.