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If there was ever a miracle in a jar skincare product, we’re sure retinol was one of the ingredients! If your current skincare concerns include fine lines, wrinkles, pore size, uneven skin tone and texture, then you may want to consider adding a product with retinol to your routine.

What Is Retinol?

Retinols and retinoids are both derived from Vitamin A. In general, you will find that retinols are available in over the counter products, while retinoids require a prescription from a physician. But the two are related as your skin gradually converts retinol into retinoic acid, the active ingredient in prescription retinoid creams. Both forms of retinol work by improving skin turnover, exfoliating the skin and producing new collagen. In skin care, retinol is the gold standard for preserving a youthful look for your skin because it is the only scientifically proven ingredient that effectively stimulates the production of collagen. And, if you are like many people dealing with aging and acne, it has the added benefit of being extremely effective against acne. Retinol promotes skin renewal and helps lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while also reversing sun damage. Because it is such an effective product for your skin, retinol is the only ingredient the FDA will allow companies to claim as “anti-aging” in the U.S.

Overall, there are many benefits from consistent use of retinol, such as:

  • Firmer, plumper skin with diminished fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Faster skin cell regeneration cycle, which encourages a smoother, more even complexion.
  • Less hyperpigmentation.

How to Use Retinols

Always follow the directions on your retinol products. After cleansing and toning, allow your skin to fully dry for up to 30 minutes as this helps reduce the flakiness many people experience when using retinol. Apply a small amount of your retinol product all over your face, focusing on the forehead, your cheeks, under your eyes (but not in your eyes), and along your jawline. In the past, manufacturers recommended using retinol products at night, as this ingredient degraded when exposed to sunlight. However, modern formulas are more stable and less sensitive to sunlight and can be used day or night. With that said, since retinol improves cell turnover and exfoliates, you do want to use sunscreen every day, just as you would when using acid-based exfoliants.

Getting Started with Retinol

The biggest issue with retinol is it can cause skin flakiness and sensitivity due to skin turnover, so you need to start slowly. When you begin using retinol, you should start with a low concentration and apply it to your face once or twice per week. You may initially experience some skin flaking, which is the normal sloughing of dead skin needed to reveal plumper more youthful skin. As your skin gets used to its effects and the flakiness subsides, you can increase the frequency of your retinol until you can use it every day.

Another option we promote for using retinol is to use a retinol oil. This is especially good for people with sensitive or dry skin as it combines the skin renewal properties of retinol with the hydrating and protective effects of oils and reduces the chance of excessive skin flakiness when starting. If you are not using a retinol oil, and use retinol on its own, apply a gentle moisturizer after the retinol has fully absorbed into your skin. Try to wait at least 20 minutes before applying any product on top of your retinol to ensure your skin is receiving the full effect of this powerful ingredient.

Using Retinol with Other Ingredients

You can use a gentle chemical exfoliation once or twice a week to help minimize the peeling that retinol can cause, especially when you first begin. Since chemical exfoliants work on the surface of the skin, while retinol works on the deeper layers of the skin, these two ingredients can be used at the same time and work in synergy for improved skin tone and texture.

The general recommendation is to not use Vitamin C and retinol at the same time because they normally work at different pH levels and won’t combine well on the skin. You can alternate using them and some people choose to use retinol at night and Vitamin C during the day due to its photoprotective properties. This is where we need to give a shoutout to our own Skin Refining Night Oil with Retinol and Vitamins C+E! It is made with a gentle form of retinol called granactive retinoid, combined with a gentle Vitamin C derivative called ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate that dissolves in oil. These two skin care stars can be combined in oil, which provides gentle hydration, to offer two great skin-loving ingredients in one product.

Finally, when using retinols try to use only one product with vitamin A in your skincare routine at a time to be sure of the amount you apply to your skin.

Retinol When Pregnant

There is a big question about using retinol when pregnant. That is because disruptions in Vitamin A levels during pregnancy can cause birth defects and taking oral Vitamin A derivatives has been shown to cause birth defects. With that said, applying retinol to your skin is not the same as taking oral medications, and does not lead to the same levels of absorption.

Vitamin A is fat-soluble and can accumulate in the body. If a pregnant woman is eating a lot of beta carotene foods AND taking supplements AND using topicals she is at risk for vitamin overload. It is always good to work with your doctor to monitor your individual intake of vitamins. If you are not monitoring your Vitamin A intake, then it is safest to simply avoid using retinols while pregnant. The good news is research shows no differences in birth defects among women who use retinol on their skin when pregnant.

Things to Keep in Mind While Using Retinol

Retinols and retinoids can be a valuable addition to your skincare routine, but you need to allow some time for your skin to adjust to these products. Retinol is notoriously irritating at the beginning phases of use, which is why a lot of women stop using it before seeing any results. Retinol oils are a great way to deliver the benefits of retinol, while reducing the downside of dry, flakey skin.

Initially, your skin may purge (bring underlying blemishes to the surface quicker), peel, and experience some mild inflammation when you start using a retinol. But once your skin settles down, it will be worth the effort. Remember to ease your skin into retinol use, and gradually phase it into your routine. Once your skin adjusts, you’ll be enjoying the benefits of smoother, more even-toned and supple skin from this effective ingredient.

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