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Retinol/Retinoids - What are they and how to use them?

Written by Our Editorial Team

Written by Our Editorial Team

There is one skincare ingredient that can fix almost everything on your skin - from acne and acne scars to dark spots and wrinkles, and that is Retinol. There's a ton of scientific research about it which proves that it can actually reverse all kinds of skin damage.

What is Retinol?

Retinoids are a group of ingredients that are derived from vitamin A, and Retinol is just one type of Retinoid.

Vitamin A is considered an essential vitamin which our bodies needed to function properly. It's something that we need for good eyesight, growth, development, and for healthy skin. Our bodies don't make it so we have to include it in our food, and in our skincare products.

What can Retinoid do for your skin?
  • They get rid of acne by preventing clogs that start pimples;
  • They slow down - or even reverse the signs of aging by speeding up the process of shedding old skin cells, and the generation of new ones.
  • They stimulate collagen production, which binds the skin together and gives it a nice, firm, plump look.

Both retinol and retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that ultimately get converted into retinoic acid. Retinoids is a basic umbrella term for both over-the-counter retinols and prescription retinoids.

In terms of retinoic acid, there's a couple of main types that are out there. The first one is called Tretinoin. It is primarily prescribed for acne, but it also helps with major signs of aging - from dark spots to wrinkles. It improves skin cell turnover, removes sebum from the duct, and helps with acne a lot. It's used in very tiny concentrations, because like any medication, it has a bunch of side effects. It's very strong so your skin will experience redness, irritation, dryness, and all kinds of other symptoms as you get used to it.

Another type of popular retinoic acid is called isotretinoin - which helps with acne. It works by shrinking the oil glands in the skin so it doesn't produce as much oil, which is a major reason for acne to form.

Retinol works more gradually compared to retinoids due to their difference in molecular structure and how they are processed in the skin. Over-the-counter retinols are in ester forms like retinyl palmitate, retinyl linoleate, retinaldehyde, propionic acid, or retinyl acetate. It takes more steps for these ester forms to be converted to the active retinoic acid. The more conversions, the ‘weaker’ the product. While retinoids and retinol do exactly the same thing, it typically takes longer to see results from retinols compared to retinoids.

Additionally, OTC retinols are often combined with other ingredients, such as moisturizing ingredients, to minimize dryness/irritation, add antioxidants, or brighten the skin. This makes them more palatable to the skin, but it also means that some products may have trace amounts of retinol in the bottle.

What can Retinoid do for your skin?

You will likely deal with irritation, dryness, redness, and even peeling. So at the beginning, use it two days a week for at least a couple of weeks, and then gradually increase to three days, and then every other day - until your skin gets used to it.

For both retinol and prescription retinoids, it is recommended that you only use them in your nighttime routine, as sunlight breaks down retinoic acid. They should be applied to clean, dry skin after toner (if you use toner, that is).

The bottom line is, it is best to speak with a dermatologist to determine if your skin can tolerate retinoids or if retinol is a safer bet. Always remember to apply them only at night, and sandwich it with a gentle cleanser and moisturizer.

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