Laini Moman, LA

If there are skin care products that actually live up to their hype, it is retinol and retinoids. It seems that it has been only recently that these products have become one of the most sought items when in reality, they have been around since 1971. At that time, the FDA approved a type of retinoid, tretinoin, as a topical acne treatment that proved to be much more. Dermatologists started to see the anti-aging effects this product had on their patients, and the rest, as they say, is history. Dermatologists are still prescribing tretinoin, but there are a variety of choices now that, even without a prescription, we can add to our skin routine. 

What is retinol exactly, and what can it do?

Retinol and retinoic acid (prescription retinoids) are both derivatives of vitamin A. There are various types of retinoids, but the main difference between retinol and prescription retinoids is that retinol must be converted to retinoic acid by the body before it starts to work its magic. More potent, prescription retinoids such as tretinoin already come in their active form, retinoic acid. 

These products have credible scientific and clinical data establishing their ability to have valuable and measurable effects on the skin’s health. Here is what they can do:

  • Treats acne and has also proved great at helping prevent acne scars
  • Boosts collagen and elastin
  • Improves skin cell turnover
  • Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
  • Helps with pigmentation issues such as age-related brown spots or sunspots
  • Smooths out skin texture

Be patient when watching for results.  It can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months to start seeing results. If you don’t think you’re getting the desired results, check with your Dermatologist to see what they recommend.

How to Start Incorporating Retinol into Your Skin Routine

At Vitalogy Skincare, our patients sometimes ask us what the best age is to start using these products. Retinoids are good for helping with skin aging in general, and we even use retinoic acid for teenagers with acne. If you are thinking about how to protect your skin and about having a good at-home routine, then it’s probably time to add retinol.

It is best to start using retinol and retinoids slowly. One of their side effects is that they can make your skin red, itchy, and dry, but your skin adapts typically over time. Start by using it a few times a week, on non-consecutive nights. As your skin gets used to it, you can add it every other night and then increase to using it nightly. 

Choose an over-the-counter retinol to begin with since they are less irritating than prescription retinoids. Just a tiny amount goes a long way. Because these products are not photo-stable or sunlight stable, they are best used in the evening. Make sure to follow up with a moisturizer as well!

Do OTC Retinols Work?

The over-the-counter retinols in their nature are not pure retinoic acid or retnoids. They must go through a conversion process once they are applied to the skin which ultimately causes many of the benefits of the retinoic acid to be compromised. In contrast, prescription-strength retinoids or retinoic acids are already in the active form. So, over-the-counter retinols do work; they just are not as strong as prescription-strength products and require a little more time for you to start seeing the benefits. If you have not used retinoids before, it is best to consider alternating nightly with a good moisturizer and work your way up to daily use.

What Products Compliment Retinol?

Sunscreen is an essential product to use with your retinol. Protecting yourself from the sun is the number one thing you can do to help with photoaging (fine lines, wrinkles, and the development of brown spots.) Using retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, making sunscreen even more important. Always use a sunscreen product with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Hyaluronic Acid also complements retinols well. Hyaluronic acid is excellent at hydrating the skin, helping it retain water, and regulating moisture levels. You can apply your moisturizer over the hyaluronic acid to trap that moisture, then add your retinol.

The other product to consider is a good pharmaceutical grade vitamin c. Usually, vitamin C also have other antioxidants to help the skin repair some normal damage from being out in the environment daily, and they can help give the skin a brighter appearance. Using vitamin C in the morning (before sunscreen) and retinol as part of your nighttime routine is best. If you use these products together, they can be overly irritating.

It is not recommended that you use benzoyl peroxide with retinol. If you have sensitive skin, you might want to avoid exfoliators and watch out for facial cleansers that strip your skin.

Can Anyone Use Retinol?

In general, all skin types can benefit from using retinol. Since they can cause irritation, we recommend that patients with damaged, dry, or sensitive skin start slowly. If you suffer from eczema, rosacea, or severe acne, it is prudent to check with your Dermatologist first.

The American Dermatology Association does not recommend using retinoids if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Vitalogy Skincare has been helping the Austin community with their medical and cosmetic dermatology needs since 2007.  Our Board-Certified Dermatologist, Certified Physician Assistants, and Aestheticians are passionate about working with their patients to provide effective treatments and help you meet your goals. Book a consultation with one of our Providers at any of our convenient locations.