What you need to know about retinol (and is it really worth all the hype?)

What you need to know about retinol

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Author: Alexandra Donaldson


What you need to know about retinol (and is it really worth all the hype?)

Is the anti-aging ingredient retinol worth all the hype? You better believe it!

One of the most potent anti-agers on the market was discovered by accident. Twenty-five years ago, dermatologists noticed that retinol, an acne treatment, also reduced fine lines, refined large pores and reversed sun damage. But there was a catch: The vitamin-A derivative also irritated skin, causing dryness and redness. As a result, many women were reluctant to add it to their skin-care regimens.

Today, however, retinol comes in a variety of formulations and strengths, so you can get the benefits without the irritation, says Dr. Paul Cohen, a dermatologist at Rosedale Dermatology Centre in Toronto. "The industry has come a long way," he says. Here's how you can take advantage of modern retinol.

Anti-aging dictionary

Retinoid: A vitamin-A derivative available only by prescription.

Retinol: An over-the-counter derivative of vitamin A, found in concentrations of up to one percent.

Microencapsulation: This delayed-release delivery can help prevent skin irritation.

Solid science

"Skin has its own natural renewal process, but as we age, skin renews itself less often," explains Dr. Cohen. "This results in the early signs of aging," including fine lines, wrinkles and sun damage. Vitamin A, either in an over-the-counter retinol or a  a prescription retinoid, works by "stimulating cell turnover to help skin repair itself," says Dr. Cohen. The result: diminished fine lines and wrinkles, a more even skin tone and a finer texture.

Finding your formulation

Retinol is available in cream, gel and serum form. Whichever you choose, consider the overall strength of the product. For over-the-counter retinol, one percent is the highest strength allowed by Health Canada, but stronger isn't always better. "You don't necessarily have to go to that one-percent level in order to reach the results you want," says Kirk Brierley of RoC Skincare. If you're concerned about sensitivity, consider a lower strength that will deliver retinol to the skin in a more gentle manner. You can also try microencapsulated retinol, which is gradually released into the skin.

The perfect application

The best time to apply retinol will depend on the product. Serums should be applied immediately after cleansing, and creams after serum. Dr. Cohen recommends using a pea-size amount of retinol every other night to start, and eventually upping application to every night. "If your face gets red and itchy, or if it peels or burns, skip retinol for a day or two," he says. You can also apply a layer of moisturizer before your retinol; it will act as a barrier, keeping skin hydrated and reducing the risk of irritation. Finally, despite what you may have heard, retinol won't sensitize your skin to sun exposure. UV rays do, however, destabilize retinol, rendering it ineffective. So as long as you wear sunscreen every day (which you should in any case), retinol is your anti-aging friend.


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What you need to know about retinol (and is it really worth all the hype?)