Retinol, its been all a buzz in the skincare and beauty world for a decade or more.
It’s in everything from your morning coffee to your pillowcase. That’s not true, at least not yet. Although I am certain that retinol coffee and retinol infused silk pillowcases are only a ‘marketing brainstorm away’.
I have wanted to join the retinol party since 2015, but retinol was not my friend. She was a harsh mistress who me red, stingy, dry and itchy. Those are the four horses of the ‘retinol purge’ right there.
I tried many times to be friends with retinol. I spent lavishly ( I am looking at you Medik8 Retinol 6TR) foolishly thinking that the more expensive ane the higher the ‘dose’ the better. Because that always works, doesn’t it?
Retinol did not make me glow like Jlo. Retinol made me look like Jack Nicholson with a bad sunburn.
I sadly pushed my retinol’s (yes I tried many, I am skin obsessed after all) to the back of the cupboard where all expensive serums go to retire, before I Marie Kondo them out.
When my sisters and girlfriends would rave about their latest ‘holy-grail retinol’ I would roll my eyes while checking my makeup in the reflection of their glowly, dewy cheeks and forehead.
That was 5 years ago and things have come a long way, my friends, I am now a regular retinol party goer. It took time and research and for companies to become much more transparent about what exactly they were putting in their products.
But I am happy to report that I suffer retinol breakouts no longer. I have done the research so you don’t have to. I actually read the science. I’m not joking, I read scientific clinical trails into retinol and all its lovely little retinoid babies.
I want the benefits of Retinol I will not be denied!
Retinol is backed by science and the ‘claims’ of fading sun damage, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, making your skin glowly fresh and unblemished are no longer ‘claims’ but proven facts.
Retinol or more accurately retinoids are AH-mazzhing.
But, why is there always a but? Not all Retinols are created equal. There is marketing hype, pseudoscience and multi-million dollar ad campaigns spent on launching new ‘retinol’ holy grail products.
A lot of the marketing around cosmeceuticals uses fear-based tactics, designed to make us, the consumers become scared of not using ‘Insert latest hype product’.
They use FOMO to try and get us to believe that we will become ‘old, haggard, wrinkly and die alone, with our cats’.
I am all down for getting old, and wrinkles? You don’t scare me. What I want is my skin to serve me in the best way possible. I want to look glowly, dewy and awake. That’s my choice and if retinol can help me do that, then sign me up.
You of course are not the normal ‘consumer’.
Anyone who reads skinkins and follows us on social media is windswept and interesting. Skinkin readers care about what goes into the products they buy and want to know the science, not the marketing hype. Amiright?
Great! Let me break this down for you. Turn the lights down low it’s about to get sexy. Well, if chemical formulas and clinical trails are your sexy place. I am not here to judge, I am here to give you the knowledge and let’s be honest knowledge is always sexy.
Retinol is the scientific name for vitamin A. ‘Retinol’ belongs to the retinoid family (a squad of ingredients derived from vitamin A).
This retinoid squad includes retinol and it’s natural derivatives such as retinoic acid, retinaldehyde, and retinyl palmitate(2).
Retinol is the most popular and commonly used retinoid because it packs a punch without the severe irritation which can be caused by other retinoids.
It’s widely used in cosmeceuticals industry for its powerful anti-ageing benefits(1), it has also been shown to lighten hyperpigmentation caused by sun exposure and stimulate collagen (the stuff that keeps skin plump and smooth) production in the skin(3).
Retinoids meet the Klingman Standard which means they have the ability to penetrate the skin and interact with it in a beneficial way.
Retinol started out life as a drug called tretinoin. Dr Albert Klingman, the creator of the Klingman Standard was an American dermatologist who manufactured tretinoin into a prescription-only drug called Retin-A. Retin-A was used to treat acne, and very successful it was at doing that.
Soon people using Retin-A started reporting smoother fresher skin and a decrease in pigmentation as a side effect.
This lead to scientists isolating and developing the ‘youth giving’ properties of tretinoin specifically as an anti-ageing drug.
Retinoic acids like tretinoin, alitretinoin and isotretinoin are ‘active’ vitamin A. Meaning that they will be taken up by the skin immediately.
This makes retinoic acids powerful and quick-acting, but they can also be very irritating, causing stinging redness, irritation, hyperpigmentation and extreme dryness.
Because tretinoin has these side effects it is a prescription-only drug. What was a scientist backed by millions of dollars of cosmetic companies who wanted to profit from retinoids to do? Well, develop a retinoid that was less irritating than tretinoin but retained all of its benefits.
And so it was that retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinyl palmitate were born. Ahhhhh.
Retinol is NOT a prescription drug. It is the alcohol form of retinoic acid. That means it’s chemically related tretinoin and does have some similar skin-refining properties of retinoic acids. It’s as effective as the retinoic acids but it takes longer to see these effects(5).
Retinol is turned into retinoic acid by your skin and then absorbed. It is because of this extra step that Retinol is less irritating than Retin-A.
The ‘pro’ of retinol is that it is much less irritating to the skin(4). The ‘con’ of retinol is that it’s very unstable and is easily oxidizes when exposed to air and light(6).
Other family members of the retinoid family retinaldehyde and retinyl palmitate have to take more step to be turned into retinoic acid so they are even milder, while still providing benefits.
There really is a retinoid for everyone, you just have to know what to look for.
Retinoids have a potent effect on the skin and while they are used for the treatment of acne they can make acne worse in the first few weeks of use. Particularly if you have sensitive skin, this is also known as . . .
If you are a retinol newbie then you need to become familiar with the skin purge sometimes called retinoid dermatitis.
Retinoids can penetrate deep into the skin, that’s a good thing we want our retinoids to go deep. Because of retinol’s ability to go deep, it can speed up the cell turn over. This means that the new fresh cells from your dermis get brought to the surface of your face quicker. This process can cause your skin to go through an adjustment period.
Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to transition into using retinol and even sensitive skin can be trained to tolerate it.
My issue when I tried using retinoids a few years ago as I went in too hard and to fast and then dismissed retinol as ‘not for me’.
It’s hard to deny its benefits however when shopping with my sister who is 12 years older than me recently and the assistant asked us which one of us was older!
My sister has been using retinol for the last 6 months and at 56 had the glowing skin of well, someone younger than 44!
Retinoids come in varying strengths and different formulations. Serums and gels, creams and lotions. Choosing the right type of retinoid can be tricky. But never fear because we have laid it all for you.
Because of the instability of retinol, it’s important to buy one that is encapsulated, sustained released or buffered. This means that instead of all the retinol being released all at once when you apply it to your face it is released slowly allowing you skin time to adapt.
Retinoids can be irritating, but we still want them to be effective so choosing a product is about getting maximum benefit for minimal irritation.
For OTC products the magic number is 0.5% Retinol. Be warned even 0.5% retinol can be irritating for some folks. In which case you should try retinyl palmitate. It may take longer to see results but using some type of retinoid is better for your skin than not using retinol.
1. Start slowly
If you’re using retinol for the very first time, start by using it at night once a week.
Apply it over your moisturiser if you think you may be sensitive to it. Otherwise, apply it under your moisturiser as you would a normal evening serum.
Try it for a month and if you feel as though your skin is ready for more, you can increase application to twice a week.
2. Only use it at night
Retinol makes you more sensitive to the sun, as it increases cell turnover. It’s always best to use retinol at night while your face isn’t exposed to UV.
3. Wear sunscreen every day
It’s important to always wear SPF every day. When using retinol it is even more important to protect your gorgeous new fresh skin against sun damage.
Plus, as the sun is the biggest cause of ageing, you’re future-proofing your face against UV-induced fine lines and sunspots.
Think of sunscreen as your daytime anti-ageing defence. Retinol is your night shift, anti-ageing warrior
4. Incorporate other nourishing and hydrating products into your routine
To help reduce any side effects caused by retinol use, add in a good moisturiser like hyaluronic acid into your nighttime routine.
5. Don’t mix it with Vitamin C
Don’t mix your retinol and your vitamin C. Vitamin C should be applied in your morning skincare routine because it is antioxidant and should be helping to protect your skin during the day when your out and about.
Also, some studies show that putting retinol and vitamin C together can make them neutralise each other unless they are the same pH level.
So just play it safe and don’t mix them.
Never apply retinol close to your eyes there have been cases of irritant conjunctivitis when retinol has been applied close to the eye(7).