You constantly hear that vitamin A is the go-to ingredient for fighting fine lines and wrinkles, dark spots and clearing up skin. We would certainly agree, but with all the products containing variations of vitamin A, prescription and non-prescription, it's easy to get confused about which is right for you. Retinoids, retinol, retinoic acid, Retin-A, Renova, and Tazorac (and the list goes on) are all forms of vitamin A or contain derivatives of this nutrient found naturally in the skin, but what's the difference between them all? Read on for a crash course in retinol to clear up this common confusion.
First, let’s start with retinoids, which is the general, all-encompassing term for a class of chemical compounds related to vitamin A. Retinoids are used in various skin and beauty related products and treatments to address issues from acne to wrinkles. Retinoic acid, which is the main active ingredient of the prescription drugs Retin-A, Renova and Tazorac, is the real star when it comes to treating acne and aging skin.
Now on to retinol, which is a type of retinoid that is usually found in non-prescription wrinkle creams. Retinol found in many over the counter skin-care products can convert retinoic acid, but the operative word is can. The conversion is not predictable, so just because a product contains retinol, it doesn't mean that it can or will do what retinoic acid can do in terms of acne or even as a wrinkle treatment. The most important factors that determine this are: how the formula is made, the percentage used, how it’s delivered into the skin, and how stable it is. Good brands and formulations you can trust are available which is why when it comes to this ingredient you want to purchase a product from a physician or knowledgeable skincare professional.
So which retinoid is the best for you? That depends on your concerns and your type of skin. The skin's reaction is determined by the chemical variations and molecular structure of the retinoid product. Generally prescription formulas are best for treating acne and suited for oily, tolerant skin. Skin sensitivity is a major factor. If you ARE sensitive the prescription is not best for you. Most people do have a certain degree of skin sensitivity which is why its can be a good idea to start with a non-prescription retinol first, eventually transitioning to using a prescription. With that said, if you have any of the following conditions:
- Comedonal acne – This is the type of acne that appears as whiteheads, blackheads, closed comedones and clogged non-inflamed bumps. Retinoids restore the organization of cells through cell turnover, in turn, preventing cells from getting trapped and blocked in the pore lining which is what causes those little non-infected bumps.
- Premature aging - Someone over age 35 with a long history of sun damage (hello Florida sun!). You may feel like your skin shows more visible signs of aging than other people your age.
- Scarring – Someone who, regardless of age, has pitted, indented facial scarring from acne in your younger years
- Melasma – Dark brown spots or patches from the sun, heat, pregnancy or hormones will benefit from something stronger to work deeper and faster. However keep in mind that retinoids will make your skin more sensitive to the sun so daily sunscreen with diligent reapplication if very important. Also, expectant mothers should avoid any Vitamin A products during pregnancy.
Skip a prescription and go straight to a retinol if you’re:
- Some one who, regardless of age, has thin, dry and or sensitive skin. This includes rosacea, a history of eczema or simply easily irritated skin types. While most skin’s will develop a tolerance to retinoids with continued use, these skin types may never adjust to a prescription due to the skins easily compromised, delicate barrier.
- Someone under age 35 with no major acne issues who would like to prevent wrinkles, lighten discoloration, reduce pore size and smooth texture. Sticking with retinol and occasional peels is perfect because you’re getting ahead of the aging process. There’s not as much repair work to do in those younger than 35.
- Someone over the age of 35 who is interested in trying retinol for the first time and wants to start slowly.
We have addressed the what and who, but when and how should retinol be used? While the exact age can vary depending on skin type, typically between the ages of 26-30 is a good time to start using retinol to prevent the appearance of lines and wrinkles. Vitamin A can speed up the skin’s turnover which begins to slow in your early 30’s. When you’re younger your skin is already very metabolically active. Using retinol too early might actually stir up breakouts, rashes and more by disrupting the skin’s natural balance. As for how to use it, I typically recommend starting by using a thin layer on clean, dry skin, 2-3 times per week gauging your sensitivity and working up to 5 nights a week. If you’re experiencing dryness or irritation you may be using too much or using it too often, remember, using retinol successfully is a marathon, not a sprint. Avoid applying moisturizer immediately after application of your retinol, which could dilute it slightly. While that can sometimes aid in tolerability, it’s generally best to let it absorb for 20 minutes before continuing with your regimen. Retinol in and of itself is photosensitive, breaking down when exposed to sunlight in addition to increasing your skin's sensitivity to harmful UV rays, so the general rule with retinoids is to use them at night.
At Paradise Dermatology we offer a formula called Retinol Complete which is encapsulated and time-released and formulated with antioxidants, so it not only boosts skin’s radiance but also enhances it overall condition! Whether you are a newbie or a veteran, it’s a good idea to examine your retinol options and make sure you are using the best formula for you in the correct way for optimal results! Please visit us for a 15-minute complementary consultation so we can assess your specific concerns and needs and set you on the right retinol path.