The 411 on Retinol for All

Retinol has been a powerful part of the anti-aging toolkit for decades. From drugstore brands to luxury skin care lines, over-the-counter or by prescription, retinol is the ingredient of choice for restoring skin’s youthful smoothness and even, glowing tone. How much do you know about retinol and what it can do for you? Here’s a quick brush-up.

What is retinol, anyway? In its natural state, retinol is a compound your body makes from Vitamin A. It contributes to the turnover of old skin cells and the production of new ones, keeping skin firm, resilient, and healthy. But production of natural retinol slows over time, and is affected by UV exposure. As we age–beginning even in our 20s–retinol depletion contributes to wrinkling and thinning of the skin, making it more susceptible to sun damage. Skin cell turnover slows, resulting in dullness. Fortunately, by the 1960s scientists discovered ways to synthesize retinol outside the body, and decades of research have shown that topical application of synthetic retinol is a great way to reverse the signs of skin aging.

Who should use retinol products? Because retinol products are available in such a wide variety of strengths and combinations, there’s probably a product for you no matter what your age or skin type. In your 20s and 30s, use retinol proactively to maintain skin’s resilience. It is also very helpful in the treatment of stubborn adult acne. By your 40s and beyond, retinol products can help you stay ahead of, or even reverse, signs of aging like wrinkling, lines, undereye darkness, and sun damage.

How does retinol work? At root, retinol is an exfoliator, helping skin slough off layers of dead cells. It also stimulates healthy cell production, not just on the surface but also in the deeper levels of skin’s infrastructure, where collagen and elastin are produced. Retinol works by drying–which is why you need good advice on choosing the formula that’s right for your skin–yet, paradoxically, promotes a healthier glow and firmer, more resilient skin.

When should you apply retinol products? Because UV radiation breaks down retinol, the best time to use retinol products is as part of your nightly skin care routine. Apply retinols on a schedule and in a manner recommended by your skin care practitioner, after cleansing and before moisturizing. A full-sprectrum sunscreen–a daily necessity for everyone!–is especially important while using retinol products.

Which retinol products are right for you? Retinol, whether used alone or as an ingredient in combination skin care products, is available in a variety of strengths. Over-the-counter products usually contain the mildest forms–buffered formulations like retinyl palmitate. These are fine for young or first-time users, or people with very sensitive skin, but they will not have the same effects as stronger concentrations. Higher-end cosmetic products and prescription formulas contain higher percentages of unbuffered retinol, sometimes in combination with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid to balance retinol’s drying effects. Retinoids, a stronger Vitamin A product, may be prescribed by a dermatologist for certain skin conditions, but have more side effects than retinol.

Need more info or advice on choosing the right retinol products for you? Call or email our cosmetic consultant Mary Lou to set up your free cosmetic consultation today. We carry a variety of high-end and physician-formula retinol products, including best-sellers from SkinMedica and others.