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What Does Retinol Cream Do For Face
While several of the key skincare ingredients have become household names, one is a constant part of the conversation: retinol. We’ve all heard it, but after discussions both in and out of the office, it’s clear that most people still aren’t quite sure what it is or how it works. Some of us use retinol as an antiaging skin care product, while others have heard it described as an acne treatment. Something we know? We are all interested but unaware.
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To learn (and, of course, live our best wrinkle-free lives), we spoke to two top dermatologists and a celebrity esthetician for the full uses of retinol. They answered everything we wanted to know about using retinol in our skincare routine, including why, how and when to use it, what products to take, and precautions to follow.
Keep scrolling for answers to every retinol question you’ve ever had and expert advice on how to add this powerful antiaging serum to your skincare routine.
Who should use it: In general, everyone to reduce the signs of skin aging. Retinol is not recommended for women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding. Those with irritated eczema or rosacea should not use retinol.
How often you can use it: Start twice a week to avoid irritation. Apply at night, as the sun neutralizes retinol, followed by moisturizer.
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Avoid: Heavy scrubs, astringents, toners, alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, benzoyl peroxide, and vitamin C irritate the skin.
Retinol is a type of retinoid, a derivative of vitamin A, used for antiaging and found in many skin care products. Although many people think of retinol as an exfoliant, it is actually an antioxidant. Mikhail says that the drug itself (retinol) works on the skin through two stages. “It’s converted to retinaldehyde and then to the active retinoic acid,” he explains. But if you use retinol, you have to go through three steps to be active because you have to convert to retinol first. “Once retinoids are converted to their active form, retinoic acid, they are introduced into the cells and under your skin to influence how they behave. Pure retinoic acid is available by prescription (tretinoin), while retinol esters, retinol and retinaldehyde are available over the counter,” says Mikhail. “The closer you are to retinoic acid, the better it works, but it’s also more drying and irritating.” In other words, retinaldehyde is the most potent, followed by retinol, then retinol ester.
“Using a well-formulated and stable product with retinol will reduce sun damage, dark spots, wrinkles and enlarged pores. It can stimulate skin cell metabolism and boost collagen production,” Rouleau explains. “Its magic lies in its ability to restore skin’s texture for smoother, smoother skin.”
Both retinol-A and retinol belong to a class of drugs known as retinoids, Nazarian says. “Both can help promote faster skin cell turnover, and both have been shown to help reverse the signs of skin aging,” she says. “However, retinol requires reverse conversion to its active form in the skin, whereas Retin-A is a prescription product that is stronger and slightly more effective at reducing wrinkles and fighting acne. You should talk to a dermatologist to get a prescription.”
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“Retin-A restores cell organization through the cellular materials in the epidermis, making them less likely to sink into and block pores—resulting in less constricted pores and fine lines,” says Rouleau. “It also improves the appearance of wrinkles by resurfacing and lifting the skin and reducing the size of pores.”
Retinol has many benefits; in fact, Mikhail says, “I often tell patients to use retinol and over the counter if they don’t do anything else.”
Reduces the signs of aging: As retinol increases the turnover of skin cells, you will be able to experience a more youthful quality in your skin.
Your skin’s texture is better: By increasing collagen production, your skin will have more firmness, structure and strength. Plus, the cells on the surface of your skin will renew more quickly, helping to keep skin smooth and plump, reducing the dry appearance of dead skin.
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Even skin tone: Retinol can even out not only the texture of your skin, but also its tone. “With continued use, retinols work to fade hyperpigmentation (dark spots and uneven skin tone) and provide the appearance of softer, non-drying skin than the prescription form,” explains Rouleau.
Clears acne: Retinol reduces the function of glands and opens overactive oil pores. Mikhail says it clears the skin, minimizes pores and prevents wrinkles. Plus, it has the potential to be an active ingredient in other acne-fighting ingredients, so you may see enhanced results if you use it with other cleansers.
Increases collagen production: This helps reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and skin laxity. “At the same time, it prevents the loss of collagen and elastin that we already have by slowing down the enzyme that breaks them down,” says Mikhail.
Reverses the effects of sun damage: Retinol dip helps repair sun-damaged skin and also lightens dark spots.
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“The side effects of retinol are dryness, flaking and irritation,” says Mikhail, adding that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use retinol. “Retinoids can only harm the skin if you have a super-sensitive skin condition like itchiness or rosacea, and it can flare up and increase inflammation,” says Nazarian. “Patients with sensitive conditions such as rosacea can still use a retinoid, but they should gradually work the retinoid into their skin regimen, perhaps once a week, before applying a moisturizing topical to their skin.”
“It can make your skin sensitive to other products, routines, and sunlight,” says Mikhail. “Avoid using retinol with harsh scrubs, astringents, toners, alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, benzoyl peroxide, and vitamin C [as] the combinations can dry out and irritate the skin.”
Mikhail says you should stop using retinol for at least a week before getting a facial, laser treatment, chemical peel, waxing, or intense sun exposure because it increases your sensitivity. If you must go out in the sun, there are some essential sun precautions. “If you want to use a retinoid in the summer, use a high SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen every day,” says Nazarian. “With sunscreen, avoid the peak hours of the sun and wear a wide-brimmed hat outside, as your risk of burning is very high.”
Depending on your skin care, it can take weeks to months to see results from retinol, so be patient. Our experts shared tons of tips on how to get the most out of retinol.
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Mikhail says it’s best to start with a very simple retinol regimen. “In the morning, use a gentle cleanser, followed by moisturizer and sunscreen,” she advises. At night, wash with a gentle cleanser and apply retinol followed by moisturizer.
All of our experts say that your skin needs the ability to synthesize retinol. Start by applying once or twice a week on non-consecutive nights. “Unfortunately, increase the frequency you use based on how your skin reacts, but not by how much.” If there is any redness or irritation the next day, skip the application that night,” says Rouleau. So, she said to work on using retinol for two nights, one night and the other with an acid exfoliating serum and nourishing serum treatment. “Because retinol pushes the skin to the surface more quickly, retinol can cause small peels (invisible peels) on most skin types, so it’s important not to use it every night.”
Rouleau continues, “Since it takes two days for surface cells to regenerate and the skin to shed scales, an exfoliating serum [on the third night] is perfect for removing visible dead cells. Also, retinol works better, where does it work? [on the fourth night] reapply to the skin, because already the acid from the night before can penetrate deep into the skin, you need to add a moisturizing serum to the mix once a week to break down and calm the skin. Skin with ingredients that nourish and restore the skin barrier. It has a high level of performance overnight and lasts all night.” explains Rouleau.
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