Retinol is a powerhouse ingredient with numerous benefits for your skin, and is an active ingredient found in many over-the-counter skincare products. Renowned for its blemish-fighting and anti-aging benefits, retinol can make major improvements to your complexion.
In this article, you’ll learn what retinol is and how it works to keep your skin looking youthful, healthy, and clear. In addition, you will learn when the best time is to start including retinol in your skincare regimen, as well as how to use retinol for best results.
Retinol as an Antioxidant
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A. Vitamin A is known to have a plethora of benefits for your eyes, skin, immune system, and more. Vitamin A is an antioxidant, meaning it protects your body from the damaging and age-inducing effects of free radical activity in your body. Free radicals are formed in your body during a process called oxidation. Oxidation occurs when oxygen molecules separate into two atoms with unpaired electrons. These atoms are free radicals. Free radicals search within your body for electrons to pair within your cells.
Oxidation and the formation of free radicals in your body can occur as a result of a poor diet and lifestyle, among a whole bunch of other things like exposure to pollution or even just your body’s natural daily chemical reactions. Junk food, smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol can all also increase free radical activity in your body.
However, oxidation unfortunately cannot be avoided by cutting these things out. Oxidation and its effects on your body is a natural part of the aging process.
You might be wondering what all of this has to do with your skin. The answer is, in reality, quite a lot.
Excess free radical activity in your body can lead to oxidative stress, which causes your skin cells to weaken and slow down their production of the proteins that keep your skin strong and flexible. One of the best ways to hinder the harmful effects of free radical activity on your body is to get enough antioxidants in your diet.
Dietary sources of antioxidants include a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as coffee and green tea. Taking a high-quality multivitamin can also supply your body with antioxidants. However, you can also apply some antioxidants like vitamin A, or retinol, to your skin.
Using Retinol for Anti-Aging & Blemish-Concealing Benefits
Topical application of antioxidants like retinol can nourish and rejuvenate your skin, targeting wrinkles, lines, dark spots and other age-related skin issues and reducing their visibility on your complexion.
Retinol is also extremely beneficial for dealing with blemishes and scarring caused by breakouts by supporting a firm, rejuvenated complexion.
The scars left behind by acne are often difficult to get rid of, even long after a breakout has faded. In many cases, a combination of exfoliation and retinol use can reduce the appearance of acne scars faster than what your body does on its own.
In fighting the appearance of blemishes, retinol is often used in tandem with a gentle exfoliating agent. Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells from your face. Retinol itself is not an exfoliating agent, but it can be paired with one to maximize its benefits. Combining retinol with glycolic acid can improve your complexion and skin texture, but also slough off dead skin cells that could cause your pores to get clogged.
For more severe acne cases, prescription retinoids are often recommended by dermatologists. Retinoids have a much higher concentration of retinol and tend to be necessary for the treatment of cystic acne and the deep scars it leaves behind. One of the strongest forms of retinol, Accutane, is taken orally for severe acne and can only be used if prescribed by a dermatologist.
Products That Include Retinol
Retinol can be applied to your skin in numerous forms.
One of the most effective and powerful ways to use retinol is in the form of a retinol serum. A serum contains a higher concentration of its active ingredient than heavier products would. This means you only need to use a few drops of retinol serum each time you apply it. In addition, you can space out your uses of retinol serum by a few days to reduce the risk of irritating your skin.
You can also apply retinol in the form of a heavier product like a retinol gel or retinol cream. These products can be used in more generous amounts since they contain a lower concentration of retinol. When using a retinol cream or gel, it is best to apply the product after putting on lighter products, as well as after using a cleanser, exfoliator and toner.
When taking prescription-level retinol in the form of a retinoid, follow your dermatologist’s instructions for how and when to apply. Prescription-level retinol can often cause irritation and skin peeling if misused. Lower concentrations of retinol can also cause similar side effects, although not usually as severely. If you have concerns about how your skin might react to retinol, your dermatologist can get you prepared to deal with any potential side effects.
When to Start Using Retinol
Retinol is often marketed as an anti-aging ingredient. However, as you now know, retinol has benefits for younger people as well. Products that contain retinol are worth trying at any point when you are dealing with acne, dark spots, wrinkles, fine lines or other similar skin concerns.
As with the introduction of any other new ingredient into your skincare regimen, it’s best to start out with minimal use of retinol and work your way up to more frequent use to make sure your skin reacts well to the ingredients.
As you would imagine, prescription-level retinol is best to save as a last resort after trying to improve your skin with over-the-counter retinol or natural retinol beauty products. Retinoid gels and creams, as well as Accutane, are heavy-duty products that should never be used without careful supervision by a dermatologist.
If you specifically struggle with severe cystic acne that has not improved with use of over-the-counter products, prescription retinoids are worth looking into. If your blemishes are less severe and you simply have not found a combination of products that helps yet, over-the-counter retinol in the form of a serum or cream is a better first option.
Retinol With Other Products
When using retinol on your skin, pairing it with a moisturizer and an exfoliator is essential. Retinol does not actively moisturize or exfoliate your skin, so you’ll need to stack a few ingredients to keep your skin thriving. Pairing retinol with glycolic acid for exfoliation and hyaluronic acid for moisture is a good plan to follow. If you are using retinol in serum form, you can opt for use of a microdermabrasion cream as an exfoliant and a hyaluronic acid-based cream as a moisturizer.
Microdermabrasion cream is a great exfoliator to pair with retinol because it allows for gentle exfoliation. Some exfoliators contain harsh chemicals that can irritate your skin, as well as rough particles that can cause tiny tears from scrubbing. Because retinol itself can cause some redness and irritation, especially towards the beginning of use, using a gentle exfoliator is essential.
Using a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid allows for increased water retention in your skin, preventing your skin from dulling or drying out while you use retinol. Hyaluronic acid also stimulates the production of collagen.
When combining ingredients like antioxidants and acids, make sure to perform a patch test with each new product you use. This will ensure that you know how your skin reacts to the introduction of any new ingredients to your skincare routine. In addition, consulting your dermatologist while constructing your beauty regimen is always a good idea.