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Retinol: What is It And What Does It Do?

March 02, 2021 | BY R. Motzell

A Crash Course on Retinol

Retinol is a powerful skincare ingredient worth knowing about regardless of your current skincare concerns. Whether you are struggling with spots, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, or something else, skincare products with retinol can help.  

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about retinol ­– what it is, how it works, and what products you want to look for that contain it.

Retinol and Wrinkles

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A, which is a powerful antioxidant with many benefits for your skin. 

Antioxidants help your body resist the appearance of aging by neutralizing harmful free radical activity within your body. As you age, your skin’s production of collagen can slow down due to the presence of free radical activity in your body. Using a retinol skincare product can boost your skin’s production of collagen by supplying your skin with antioxidants.

Collagen is the protein in your skin that gives it its structure and allows it to stay firm. As your skin’s production of collagen begins to slow down, the change can have a negative effect on your appearance. One of the results of a reduction in your skin’s production of collagen is the increased appearance of wrinkles. Wrinkles can be troublesome and often take a toll on your confidence as you get older. Fortunately, supplying your skin with a sufficient amount of antioxidants like vitamin A can help! 

Antioxidants can be supplied to your body through some foods and drinks including green tea, coffee, fruits and berries, and even dark chocolate. Including antioxidants in your diet is one way to boost your skin’s health by supplying it with what it needs to keep producing collagen. In addition, you can provide your skin with antioxidants by using skincare products that contain topical antioxidants. 

Retinol and Acne 

Retinol can be a beneficial ingredient to include in your skincare regimen if you are struggling to reduce the appearance of stubborn acne. Acne is often a result of overproduction of sebum, or oil, in your skin, causing your pores to clog and produce inflamed pimples. 

Clogged pores can be improved by using skincare products that aid with skin cell turnover. Healthy skin is effective in its ability to slough off dead skin cells and stay smooth and clear. Too much production of oil in your skin can inhibit your skin’s ability to maintain a healthy rate of cell turnover, leading to breakouts. 

You might think that the best way to deal with a pore-clogging excess of oil in your skin would be to dry out your skin as much as possible. After all, if too much oil is causing your breakouts, wouldn’t it make sense to make your skin as dry as can be? This line of thinking may sound logical, but there is one important caveat: When you dry out your skin, it will start compensating by overproducing oil, leading to more breakouts. In addition, dried-out skin can easily get irritated, prompting you to itch and scratch at it – and itching and scratching your skin can transfer breakout-causing bacteria from your hands to your face.

Instead of drying out your skin, the best way to manage acne is to use ingredients that help your skin stay adequately moisturized, produce enough collagen, and maintain a healthy rate of cell turnover. Using a good cleanser and exfoliator can also help with dealing with acne.

So, where does retinol come in in your acne-fighting regimen? There are a few ways to make use of this ingredient for beating acne. 

One main retinol-based acne treatment to consider is a retinol serum. Serums provide a high concentration of an active ingredient like retinol to your skin in a high concentration. Serums are lightweight and liquid-based, containing much higher amounts of their active ingredients than heavier products like creams or gels would (though creams and gels do still serve their own purposes!). 

One of the main benefits of using retinol in serum form is a serum’s ability to supply a significant amount of an active ingredient to your skin. An active ingredient is the component in a skincare product that most significantly affects your skin. While retinol can also be used effectively in other forms like gels and creams, a serum is a high-power way to deal with acne. 


Retinol, Dark Spots, and Acne Scarring 

Retinol can play a role in reducing the appearance of dark spots, or hyperpigmentation, on your skin. A deficit of collagen production in your skin can make it less resistant to sun damage, which can be a major cause of dark spots. Overexposure to sunlight means your skin can be damaged and discolored by harmful ultraviolet rays. When you’re trying to minimize the appearance of dark spots on your face, retinol can help by stimulating collagen production in your skin. 

Another cause for dark spots is acne – or, more specifically, acne scarring. If you are dealing with more severe, cystic acne, you may suffer from deep scars that are difficult to conceal or reduce. Fortunately, retinol can help promote healthy skin to start looking clear again even after a bad breakout. 

Retinol is often used as a treatment for the dark spots left behind by acne because of its ability to increase skin cell turnover. In addition, since retinol helps your skin produce collagen, it can boost your skin’s resistance to pigment changes caused by acne scarring.

How to Use Retinol 

When making retinol a part of your skincare routine, it’s important to know that this is not an ingredient to use every day. Retinol is extremely powerful and using too much of it can leave your skin overly irritated. If you are using a retinol serum, spreading out your applications by two to three days is helpful in reducing the risk of irritation. In addition, retinol serum should only be applied at night. Apply a retinol serum after cleanser, exfoliator, and toner, but before heavier products like eye cream, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Sunscreen is a MUST when using retinol, as your skin's sensitivity to sunlight increases. After performing your whole skincare routine in the morning, make sure to add SPF on top!

It takes time to see results from using retinol. When you are using retinol to reduce the appearance of wrinkles or severe acne scarring, it can take several months before you start noticing significant results. In addition, things sometimes get better before they get worse when you introduce a powerful ingredient like retinol to your skin. If you experience some irritation when first using retinol, there is generally no need to be concerned as long as it clear within a few days. 

However, if you experience severe irritation while using products that contain retinol, it is wise to talk to your dermatologist. Your dermatologist can help you evaluate any concerns you might have with retinol or any problems you have while using it.

To make sure your skin responds well to retinol, performing a patch test is helpful. To perform a patch test, apply a small amount of a skincare product to the skin on your arm and wait 24 hours. After this amount of time has elapsed, any negative side effects should show up. If all goes well, you should not develop any rash, redness or irritation from the new product. Note though that patch tests aren’t flawless, especially since the skin on your face is much more sensitive than that of your arm. 

In Summary 

When formulating a skincare regimen, it’s always important to know how the ingredients in your products interact with each other. 

If you are using retinol, talk to your dermatologist about which products to use in tandem with it and which ones to avoid. One ingredient that it is best to avoid while using retinol is benzoyl peroxide. Often used to treat acne, benzoyl peroxide and retinol do not always interact well. These ingredients can end up cancelling each other out, negating the positive effects they would have on your skin when used separately. Benzoyl peroxide is often sufficient for treating mild breakouts and the occasional pimple, but retinol is much more powerful and reliable for dealing with severe, cystic acne and acne scarring. 

If you have concerns about introducing any new product into your beauty routine, consult your dermatologist and perform a patch test before making it a part of your daily ritual.

Otherwise, retinol is definitely worth a try to help improve the overall look and feel of your skin!



Sources:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/301506

https://familydoctor.org/antioxidants-what-you-need-to-know/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-antioxidants

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