The Beginner's Guide to Retinol

Fact #1: Retinol supports healthy cell turnover.

Up until you reach your early-30s, your cells turn over every 28 days, revealing a fresh layer of untouched, pristine skin. However, after you hit your mid-30s, your cell regeneration begins to slow down, turning over every 50, 60, or 70 days. That slower cell regeneration is what causes you face to look dry, dull and wrinkled. When retinol is introduced, it sinks into your skin and speeds up the cell turnover process, causing your body to pump out fresher, smoother skin quicker. Bare in mind, you may not see results overnight - it’ll take about 3-6 months of consistent nightly application to see a reduction in photo damage, acne, and fine lines.

Fact #2: Not all retinol is created equal.

Derived from vitamin A, retinol is just one of the many different types of retinoids that are on the market. A drugstore age-management formula, for example, could contain retinyl palmitate (the gentler of the retinoids), or it could contain retinol (stronger but tolerable), or retinaldehyde (even stronger). Alternatively, you could ask your dermatologist to prescribe you an even stronger retinoid like adapalene or tretinoin, which could work faster but also be very irritating.

So, which one should you choose? Ideally, you should have a derm walk you through the best option for your skin type. Regardless of which you choose, though, know that they’re all effective in the long run. In fact, studies show that you’ll reap the same long-term age-management benefits over time with a low-strength retinoid as you would with a moderate-strength option, so don’t feel like “weak” retinol won’t do much.

Fact #3: Retinoids don’t have to be irritating.

Because retinoids cause skin to shed cells faster than normal, you’re likely to experience flaking, dryness, irritation, and/or breakouts as your skin adjusts. Luckily, there are things you can do to mitigate the effects.

First, choose the gentlest formula and begin slowly - apply it just 1 night a week for 1 week, 2 nights a week for 2 weeks, 3 nights a week for 3 week, and then every other night indefinitely. Still, that doesn’t mean you should load up on retinol to speed up the process - you’ll only end up burning your face and being unhappy. Apply a thin layer or pea-sized amount over the entire face, allow to absorb for 20 minutes, and then apply your usual moisturizers and serums on top.

Just make sure your acne-fighting ingredients (like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide) on the night you don’t use your retinoid. Using both simultaneously could result in further irritation. Also, always, always, ALWAYS use a good sunscreen of at least SPF 30 or higher during the day when using a retinoid at nighttime. Retinol came make the skin very photosensitive and vulnerable to photo damage.

Fact #4: Retinoids don’t just help with fine lines and wrinkles.

Yes, retinoids are the gold standard in wrinkle-preventing and line-smoothing treatments, but they’re also excellent at plumping your skin, clearing and shrinking pores, and fading dark spots and redness. Because retinoids work at the cellular level, they’re able to deeply resurface your skin, which can completely transform your complexion overtime.

Are you now ready to use a retinoid? Are you about to make a dermatologist’s appointment or run to the skin care aisle of the nearest drugstore? Choose wisely.