If you had been following along with the series, you would have definitely come across the term ‘retinol’. In the part 1 and 2 of the series, dermatologists have recommended the use of retinol in your skincare routine. However, we understand that not many understand the use of retinol nor do some know how to use a retinol to its full potential. Hence in this blog post, we will be looking at some facts and benefits about retinol, as well as how to maximise your results with the use of retinol.
Retinol is a form of vitamin A that is commonly used to treat acne and reduce wrinkles. It is one of the many types of retinoids — an umbrella term used for all vitamin A derivatives.
Retinoids come in a variety of strengths and are known by different names, but Retinol is the most common type. Retinol is weaker than most retinoids and usually added to over-the-counter products. These are readily accessible and don't need a prescription for use, unlike more potent forms of retinoids.
Retinol works by triggering the skin cells of the outermost layer of the skin to turnover faster so that new skin cells can generate. This results in smoother and more even-looking skin.
It increases the production of natural chemicals like hyaluronic acid in the skin. These chemicals help to keep the skin moist and plump. Retinol also boosts collagen production and prevents the breakdown of collagen that already exists.
Retinol doesn't become biologically active until it is transformed into retinoic acid once it's inside the skin.
According to research published in the Journal of Clinical Dermatology and Therapy, clinical data from thousands of people shows that retinol is highly effective in treating both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne. It was proven to reduce the visibility of pimples on the skin and also stop the development of new pimples and acne blemishes.
One way retinol can improve the appearance of acne is by encouraging cell turnover, says Lindsey Bordone, MD a Dermatologist at Columbia Doctors and Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Acne develops when a combination of dead skin cells and oil collects inside hair follicles on your face. With retinol, those cells are shed and replaced more quickly.
"It also decreases oil production in these cells by binding to the specific receptors for retinol within the cells of the skin," says Bordone. Decreased oil production prevents oil from blocking your pores and helps to prevent acne.
"To make sure you clear up your acne and keep it clear, we usually recommend three months of use to get to your optimal results," says Bordone.
Retinol works as an anti-aging treatment in three major ways. It reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, helps with sun damage, and gets rid of dark spots.
Collagen is a protein made by our body that keeps our skin looking smooth. Wrinkles and fine lines are caused by a decrease in collagen production. Retinol works to reduce the appearance of these fine lines and wrinkles by boosting blood flow to the skin, which increases the production of collagen. This helps to improve the appearance of wrinkles, by thickening the inner layer of the skin.
It helps with sun damage and dark spots by encouraging skin cell turnover, allowing you to shed discolored skin cells. But retinol also makes you more susceptible to sun damage. This is why retinol products should only be used at night, alongside a broad-spectrum sunscreen each morning, even when you are indoors.
A 2000 study, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, studied the effect of applying retinol on aged skin in 53 participants who were aged 80 or above. Researchers observed that retinol application for 7 days, led to a reduction in the breakdown of collagen and an increase in collagen production. They concluded that this showed that retinol should be effective as an anti-aging treatment.
If you are using retinol for its anti-aging properties, continuous use is encouraged. "With anti-aging, retinol use should be a continual process, because you are constantly trying to turn back the hands of time. It can help with sunspots, fine lines, and wrinkles, but it's something you want to continue using for years, to stay on top of an anti-aging regime," says Bordone. It might take three to six months of regular use to see an improvement in wrinkles.
Retinol also helps to brighten dull skin. Dull skin can be caused by several things including pregnancy, stress, sun damage, poor lifestyle habits like smoking and drinking alcohol in excess, or environmental pollution.
Retinol works by calming down the skin cells that produce melanin, a dark pigment. These cells are responsible for skin conditions like melasma, which causes discoloration of the skin. Retinol causes the skin cells to turn over, so the skin becomes healthier and looks brighter.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology studied the effect of a product which contained 0.5% retinol on 25 people with mild to moderate hyperpigmentation. By week 4 participants showed an improvement in their hyperpigmentation. Researchers determined that the product worked well for skin brightening, especially when used with a complimentary skincare routine that includes sunscreen.
While mild flaking and redness occurred early in the study, by week 10, participants reported no stinging, itching, dryness, or tingling.
As effective as retinol is when it comes to reversing damage, how you apply it can affect the results you see. Because this product can cause skin to dry out and sometimes turn red, it’s best to talk to your dermatologist before starting a retinol regimen. Most dermatologists advise to start with products that contain a low concentration (0.25% or 0.3%) of the ingredient first and see how your skin reacts before moving to higher concentrations.
Step 1: Wash your face and apply eye cream. An eye cream will help protect the delicate skin around your eyes.
Step 2: Wait a few minutes until your skin is completely dry. This is important, because if your skin is at all damp, the retinol will be able to absorb more deeply into your skin and might cause irritation. We want to apply moisturizers and serums to slightly damp skin, but never retinol.
Step 3: Take a pea-size amount of your retinol and, starting at your chin, apply with your fingertips in upward and outward motions.
Step 4: Finish with your moisturizer.
Step 5: Remember to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen the morning after, as retinol makes skin more sensitive to the sun.
Start by applying a pea-sized amount of retinol to your entire face every other night, recommends Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Remember that it takes several weeks for your skin to adjust to the product, so it’s best to use it sparingly at first and gradually increase your use as time goes on. If your skin becomes dry or irritated, Dr. Zeichner suggests holding back to every third night or even once per week.
When first starting a retinol regimen, or if your skin is sensitive, it’s best not to combine retinol with other potentially irritating ingredients, such as alpha or beta hydroxy acids or physical exfoliants and scrubs. The best product you can use in conjunction with retinol, according to Dr. Zeichner, is a moisturizer, which can help hydrate skin and reduce the risk of irritation from retinol. “Some people even prefer to mix their retinol with a moisturizing cream to dilute it out,” he says.
If you want to use other active ingredients (such as vitamin C) as part of your skin care routine, consider using them at a different time of the day than when you apply your retinol product. Dr. Jason Emer, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California, says, “I prefer to use my vitamin C during the day to fight free radical damage and my retinol, peptides and growth factors at night.”
One product you must use every morning, according to Dr. Zeichner? “[Retinol] can make you more sensitive to the sun so make sure to wear a daily sunscreen.”
As with any other skin care product, the key to seeing results is consistent use. “Retinol will not deliver visible results quickly, so patience is essential,” says Dr. Shereene Idriss, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “Improvements in textural changes take about two to four months to start to become visible.” With continued use, you’ll see more and more positive changes—so find a retinol you love and stick with it.