I know what you are thinking: “Aren’t these all the same?” – Well yes, and no. Some formulas and products that are prescribed contains retinoic acid and is known for fighting signs of ageing, while the nonprescribed alternative products and derivatives first need to be converted into retinoic acid by the skin. Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A and is much more worth using. There are clinical studies that show that retinol is more gentle than retinoic acid and therefore it takes longer to see results says Dana Sachs, a professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical School. This non-invasive, topical ingredient is making itself more and more popular with its list of beneficial results. Retinol is continuously used in chemical peels and professional products for its proven results against photodamage, acne and ageing due to its ability to effectively remove dead skin cells and to stimulate the production of collagen.
Retinol has various skin care benefits such as improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, plumping up the skin, firming the skin, and improving your overall skin colour and complexion. But there comes a time when using too much of one thing leads to unwanted consequences.
Dr Patterson, a cosmetic Doctor at Woodford Medical, stated that one of the problems of overusing retinol is that the new skin cells that are formed do not function properly because they have been rapidly produced – this leads to the lack of the necessary adhesion and lipid production that is needed to properly protect the skin.
Our skin cells have the main function to divide in order to repair the tissue in our body, so if we use way too much retinol in your younger years i.e. in your 20s, 30s and 40s we actually diminish all of the healthy cell divisions that we actually are supposed to store for our older years. The main function of the top layer of our skin is to protect us from harmful environmental factors. The more retinol we put on our skin, weaker our skin barrier becomes – this is why a lot of clients experience some peeling, flaking and irritation after application, says Dr Patterson. Before you start thinking about using Vitamin A, is to make sure that your skin barrier is healthy and repaired, with minimal levels of inflammation; which can be done with proper moisturisers and regular professional treatments.
Like mentioned above, retinol does leave you with some unwanted evidence 2-3 days after application. You could be left with skin peeling, excessive redness, dryness, tightness and a rougher skin texture lasting for more or less one week after application. The higher the concentration the higher the risks. Some formulations of retinol are known to cause photosensitivity as retinol stimulates cell turnover and the new skin that is formed is fragile and should not be exposed to the sun; it is therefore recommended to be applied at night or the use of a daily sunscreen is highly recommended to reduce the risk of getting sunburnt.
So here are some guidelines if you are just starting out or are keen to try retinol products:
- Start with a lower concentration of retinol and gradually increase the concentration when you see that your skin is becoming more tolerable.
- Start with once a week and gradually increase.
- You can apply it close to the eyes – that is when you get the best results
- Be patient, you will see results after a few weeks
- Once you’ve opened your product be sure to use it within a couple of months as Vitamin A breaks down when exposed to the sun.
- Avoid it when you are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Prepare the skin prior to use, to ensure you make the best of your retinol application
- Wear your sunscreen!