​​Stop! Before Using Retinol and Retinoids These are the Essential Things to Know
Image Credit Ron Lach

Using retinol is a delicate process. It’s a pathway to clearer and brighter skin when used correctly. But when not used effectively, it not only fails to produce the best results, it can cause flaking, dryness, and sensitivity to the sun. 

What is retinol?

Retinol is a specific derivative of Vitamin A that has anti-ageing effects on the skin, which can be found in off-the-shelf beauty products. 

It shouldn’t be confused with the term retinoid, an umbrella word for all Vitamin A compounds and derivatives. Retinol is a type of retinoid, but one that does not require a prescription. Other types of retinoids that are not retinol are retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, and retinol propionate. 

Naturally, retinol is derived from animal products— like liver, some fish, egg yolks and fortified foods.

How does retinol work?

Retinol exfoliates the top layer of the skin— the stratum corneum that helps improve texture and tone. It also works beyond the epidermis. It goes deeper into the dermis (middle layer of the skin) to help with the production of collagen and elastin, the proteins responsible for thickening and plumping the skin. If used effectively, products containing retinol reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and improve skin elasticity, improve acne, help with reversing sun damage, and even minimize the appearance of pores. 

When cells turn over faster, dead skin cells which have accumulated on the top layer of the skin, are removed, making way for new cell growth. Blemishes resulting from clogged pores clear up with renewed regeneration. Our skin appears brighter, younger, fresher and clearer.

Who can use retinol?

If you have dark spots, wrinkles, large pores, or fine lines, retinol can help reduce them by increasing cell turnover. Retinol’s stimulation of collagen and elastin production also enhances the skin’s appearance, to bring a youthful glow.

The hype— and its dangers

For some time, retinol had been seen as a holy grail of anti-ageing. The problem with this view is that excitement overcame caution, and many beauty consumers ended up with damage on the skin that they had to repair, rather than the youthful effects they wanted. 

That’s because retinol can’t be used indiscriminately. 

It’s not for everyone, at every time of your life, in every season, or every location. 

It’s also a commitment! When you have the right retinol match in your cupboard, it can take up to 6 months to see a noticeable improvement. Imagine choosing the wrong retinol— 6 months can cause damage. 

When to be cautious with Retinol

If you have sensitivity. When your skin behaves with sensitivity, has rosacea, experiences dryness, or suffers from contact allergies, starting with a lower strength retinol or patch test to test sensitivity is the best way to go as a higher strength might be too powerful and cause serious irritation.

If you are pregnant. During pregnancy, doctors recommend avoiding retinol products and especially stopping all retinoids (strong, prescription-level vitamin A drugs), which have in some cases, proven to lead to birth defects. While topical creams have a low amount of retinoids, if you are planning to get pregnant, it is best practice to avoid using retinol products.

If you have sun exposure. When your skin is experiencing faster turnover thanks to effective retinol usage, your skin is more sensitive to UVA and UVB sun damage. That’s why, if you live in a sunny place or plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, you should always use sunscreen, to protect your skin from damage. Retinol is best used at night for this reason.

If you have never used it. New? Want to try it? The best way to get your body acclimatised to retinol is to use a low percentage. When you are new to retinol, we recommend gentler products, to alleviate undesirable effects.

If you are committed to vegan skin and body care. Retinol is found naturally in animal products. It can be found in animal livers, whole milk, butter, cheese, fish, and fish oils. However, vegan alternatives to retinol exist. They are called carotenoids, derived from beta-carotene, which can be found in vegetables like carrots. 

If you live in cold and dry climates. Retinol can lead to dry, irritated skin in the winter. Why? Because having regularly exfoliated skin in the winter, causes it to dry out even more easily. When cold weather and dry weather is already drawing out moisture from the skin, retinol needs to be paired with an effective moisturiser. 

If you are using physical skin exfoliants. Using products like salt scrubs at the same time you’re using retinol should be avoided. Too much skin turnover is an invitation for redness, pain, and damage. The use of physical exfoliants needs to be paused when getting started with retinol. 

If you are already taking prescribed retinoids. When taking an oral retinoid prescription for acne, topical retinoids may be too much of a good thing. Always check with a doctor before adding more retinoid-type products to your routine.

If you are using topical Vitamin C products. Retinol and vitamin C increase skin irritation if used on top of one another. Additionally, the effectiveness of the products can become compromised if layered together. If the products must be used together, vitamin C is best applied during the day and retinol at night.


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