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How Long Does It Take for a Retinol Product to Work?

September 28, 2020 | BY R. Motzell

Women of today are constantly investing in new skin care products that promise to be the end- all, be-all, cure-all miracle potion that will eliminate your dehydrated, damaged, or dry and aging skin.

Oh, the product didn't work like the label said it would? Shocker.

It can be frustrating and even downright disappointing to buy and commit to a new beauty product, use it for six weeks, and then be left staring in the mirror at the same issues you were trying to resolve in the first place. The facts are that a lot of companies make big claims about their newest and greatest products. Rarely do the results match up with the hype. 

But, there are some products on the market today, which have actually existed for years, that do live up to the hype. 

Some of these products actually have science-based research standing behind them, backing up the claims with actual tested, proven results. These worthwhile products all have one ingredient in common: retinoids. 

What Are Retinoids? 

A retinoid is the name given to a skin care product that includes an ingredient that is specifically derived from Vitamin A. There are a variety of different retinoids available in skin care products including retinoic acid, retinol, retinol palmitate, and more. The terms retinol and retinoid are often interchanged and can be misinterpreted and confused by many consumers. 

Typically, the term retinoids encompasses the different varieties of products in the retinoid family, one being the over the counter strength product, retinol. 

Retinoids can do amazing things for your skin like reduce fine lines and wrinkles, plumping the skin to ultimately result in a more youthful and supple appearance. They are also used to help with clogged pores, hydration, uneven skin tone, and dark spots. 

Retinoids can be tricky at first because they are extremely potent and must be used conservatively, especially when starting from scratch. They can easily irritate the skin, especially if being applied to sensitive or dry skin. They come in a variety of concentrations and strengths and are available in prescription strength and over the counter strength products.

person's finger touching white cosmetic cream

There are six common branches in the retinoid skin care family tree. Three are available over the counter, and three require a prescription from a doctor:

  • Retinyl Palmitate - OTC
  • Retinaldehyde - OTC
  • Retinol - OTC 
  • Adapalene - prescription strength 
  • Tretinoin -  prescription strength
  • Tazarotene - prescription strength

To work effectively, and produce lasting results, a retinoid product needs to be used continuously. Sometimes, that can be difficult because you can encounter challenges when you first start using the product. Retinoids are extremely potent, that’s why they work so well, so they have the potential of irritating the skin. 

It is essential to find the right retinoid for your skin type. Prescription strength retinoids have long been thought to be the only option available, which left no option for many people with sensitive or dry skin. It is definitely not uncommon to experience peeling, dryness or redness after you first begin to use a retinoid, but fortunately, your skin will develop a tolerance to the ingredient over time. Once that happens, you should no longer notice any unwanted side effects. 

In many people, it will seem like your skin gets worse before it gets better, but that’s why it’s important to continue using the product even though you may have mild irritations in the beginning. There are those whose skin types are just far too sensitive to use a high concentration of retinoid, or prescription strength retinoid product. Luckily, there are a plethora of effective products that use retinol instead.

What is Retinol?

Retinol is the most potent version of retinoid available for consumers to purchase without requiring a prescription. It is gentler than prescriptions containing retinoic acid, but it is considered highly effective. It is capable of producing similar effects to the prescription strength forms, but the catch is that it will take longer to see results. But, be assured if used daily, you will notice a more even skin tone, softer and smoother skin, and a decrease in visibility of fine lines and wrinkles.

Tips for Preventing Irritation

There are a few things you can do at home to try and prevent skin irritations when beginning to use a retinol product. 

First, try introducing the product every third day to your face as part of your skincare routine. It is always suggested to use this product at night because some research suggests that retinoids can make your skin more vulnerable to the sun and sunburns. After three to four weeks, your skin will usually begin to build up a tolerance to the product and then you can use it everyday. You can also try applying a small amount of moisturizer before and after you apply a retinol topically to your face to cut down on possible dryness and flaking. 

One great option is buying a retinol product that incorporates other hydrating and soothing ingredients into the formula. This eliminates having to pre and post moisturize your skin. Serums and creams are available that have vitamin E and B, or antioxidants like green tea and jojoba oil, that will naturally calm and soothe your skin, aiding in the prevention of possible side effects. 

Do’s and Don'ts When Using Retinol

There are definitely some things to keep in mind when beginning to use a retinol product. 

To start with, make sure and always apply a good SPF moisturizer or sunscreen when you're using an anti-aging product like retinol. Always use a good moisturizer, or other humectant ingredient, like hyaluronic acid to help keep and lock in the moisture you're adding to your skin. Plus, then you get the added benefits that come with using hyaluronic acid.

Hyaluronic acid will retain water and moisturize the skin, keeping it hydrated throughout the day. We start to lose this ability as we age and our skin can dry out, and that's when we begin to notice fine lines, wrinkles, and sullen, sunken in looking skin. 

Do not use exfoliating acids like AHA’s (Glycolic and Lactic acid) or a BHA acid (Salicylic acid.) If you mix these ingredients you could severely dry out your skin. Vitamin C protects your skin and retinol repairs your skin, so it is best to use Vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night. 

Over the counter retinol products work well when used correctly and continuously. The sooner you incorporate a retinol as part of your defense plan against aging and over all skin damage caused by environmental stressors, the better. Some research suggests beginning to use a retinol product in your 20s. This will give you a jump start on defending your skin from fine lines, wrinkles and dark spots.

Things to Remember

Unless you have significant damage or deep lines and wrinkles, an over the counter version of a retinoid product containing retinol should work for what you want it for. You should always start out with a lower strength retinoid to see what, if any, adverse effects or irritations may occur on your skin.

After time, you can increase the strength, and you can always consult a dermatologist if over the counter brands are not producing desirable results. After 10-12 weeks you should start noticing firmer and tighter looking skin. Your skin should begin to look brighter and more even toned, and your struggles with blemishes should begin to subside.

Retinols are proven and trusted anti aging super products, and will definitely be your trusted go to product as you begin to mature in age!


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