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  • Writer's pictureSam Delarosa

Retinol: Why it’s Everyone's Superstar Ingredient!

Everyone needs Retinol

First things first, what is retinol?

Retinol is a type of Retinoid aka vitamin A. Retinol can address a variety of skin issues. It is good at treating acne, pigmentation, pore size, texture, dullness, fine lines, and boosting collagen production. Retinol has the power to communicate with our cells in our body to make them behave better. It is a potent ingredient and there are a lot of ways to incorporate them into a skincare routine. Almost everyone can use it, however it is not suited for pregnant and nursing mothers. We will dive in more about things that retinol can help treat.

First off, the biggest use for retinol: anti-aging. We all are searching for that fountain of youth and are trying to slow down the signs of aging. When we age we start to lose collagen which in turn causes our skin to sag and to start developing fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol is a great ingredient to help stimulate that collagen production to correct some fine lines and to prevent new ones from forming. The way it works is that Retinoic acid interacts with skin cells, more specifically with fibroblasts – the cells responsible for producing collagen. It helps signal these fibroblasts to produce more collagen, an ability they tend to lose as we age. Apart from stimulating collagen production, retinol has another trick up its sleeve. The skin contains enzymes responsible for breaking down collagen, a process that gets accelerated with age and sun exposure. Retinol works to stop the activity of these enzymes, making sure that the newly produced collagen remains intact for longer periods. One of retinol’s noteworthy attributes is its ability to accelerate skin cell turnover. This means that damaged skin cells on the surface are shed more rapidly, making way for newer cells. This process aids in revealing the newly produced collagen, ensuring that it’s not hidden beneath layers of damaged skin. The retinol-collagen interaction isn’t just a scientific discussion; the effects are visible and real. When retinol is used collagen fills the dermal layers of the skin, plumps up the skin, and effectively reduces the appearance of wrinkles. More collagen means skin can bounce back more quickly, retaining its natural elasticity. With an increase in collagen, the skin’s texture becomes smoother and more refined.

Another big use for retinol is acne. Your skin has tiny holes called pores. Sometimes these pores get blocked by oil, dead skin cells, makeup, sweat, and other nasty gunk. When this blockage happens you are more likely to get acne, which can show up as whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples. Sometimes when there's a lot of buildup they can turn into cysts which are painful and hard to get rid of. Here is where retinol can help. Remember how we said acne can be caused by dead skin cells? Well, retinol speeds up the rate at which our skin renews itself. This means it helps get rid of old skin cells faster and brings out new ones. This process keeps our pores from getting clogged up. Oil Control: A lot of people with acne have oily skin. Retinol can help control the oil production on our face, ensuring that there’s just the right amount. Less oil means fewer chances for those pesky pimples to pop up. Redness and Swelling: You know how pimples can sometimes get red and puffy? Retinol can help reduce that, making the pimples less noticeable. Retinol can also help with acne scarring. It's not just the active zits retinol can help with. If you have had acne that's gone away but left marks or scars behind, retinol is like a magic eraser. By boosting the skin’s renewal process, it helps in gradually fading those scars, giving you clearer skin over time. Acne unfortunately is not curable. People who are acne prone will always have to deal with unexpected breakouts. Acne sufferers must be diligent with their routine and continue to use retinol even if their skin has cleared up.

Since retinol increases cellular turnover and sheds old dull skin that means it's also great for hyperpigmentation.

First thing, what is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is when parts of your skin turn darker than your normal skin tone. It's like if you had a blank sheet of paper and some areas got extra pencil marks. This happens because of an increase in melanin, the natural substance that gives color to our skin, hair, and eyes. Hyperpigmentation can be caused by a variety of factors. It can be caused by sun exposure, pregnancy, acne, heat, injuries, hormonal imbalances and overall aging. So, how does retinol tackle hyperpigmentation? First off it speeds up cell renewal: Our skin is constantly changing. Old cells at the surface die and get replaced by new ones from below. Retinol accelerates this process. So, if you have dark spots, this means that they will be replaced by fresh skin cells faster, gradually lightening the spots. It then interrupts melanin production. Retinol has a way of saying, “Hey, let's not produce too much of that!” When there is less excess melanin being produced, it reduces the chance of hyperpigmentation.

Retinol boosts collagen: Collagen is like the skin’s natural support system. It keeps the skin looking plump and youthful. More collagen means smoother skin, which can make any hyperpigmentation less noticeable.

Now that we’ve discussed what things retinol is good for, let's discuss how to start using retinol and how to incorporate it into your skin care routine. Since retinol is a potent ingredient it is best to start incorporating it slowly into your routine. Starting slow is key. You can begin with lower concentrations. Retinol products range in concentration from 0.01% to 1%. If you're a retinol rookie, initiate with a lower concentration to let your skin acclimate. Most people start out by using a retinol with a concentration of .025%. Next you should limit the frequency. Start by applying retinol once or twice a week. As your skin builds tolerance, you can gradually increase its frequency. The goal is to use retinol a minimum of five nights a week up to nightly. Consistency is key. Like all good things in skincare, results are not overnight. Regular, consistent application over weeks and months is essential to witness retinol’s collagen-boosting magic.

When you are ready to add retinol into your routine you are going to want to use it at night only. Retinol can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so it's generally advised to apply it in the evening unless directed differently by a medical professional. At night you want to start with a clean slate so use a gentle cleanser to make sure your face is washed of any oil, sunscreen, makeup, sweat, etc. from the day. If you are only using retinol and no other skin care serums you will then want to apply the retinol and follow it up with a moisturizer. When you are applying your retinol you do want to make sure your face is completely dry. Making sure your face is dry will minimize any irritation. If you are adding it to an extensive routine then generally you would want to apply it second to last, right before your moisturizer. Since retinol does make your skin more sensitive to the sun it is always recommended to wear sunscreen everyday.

While retinol is a potent and beneficial ingredient, it is not exempt from potential side effects. Some individuals might experience dryness, redness, or peeling. It’s crucial to monitor your skin’s response and consult with a dermatologist or an esthetician if uncertain. There are a lot of retinol out on the market with different formulations that contain more moisturizing ingredients, so if you feel like your skin can’t handle one retinol you may need to try a different one. If you are someone who is just super sensitive you can try the buffering technique: If direct application causes excessive irritation, try mixing retinol with your moisturizer or put your retinol on top of your moisturizer. It really isn’t uncommon to experience redness, peeling, or dryness when starting retinol. This is your skin's natural way of acclimating to the product. These side effects often subside as your skin builds tolerance. While you are using retinol there are some things that you should avoid. If you are someone who gets any type of facial waxing, you will want to stop your retinol at least three days before your appointment. Waxing, by its nature, is an aggressive procedure. Hot or cold wax is applied to the skin and quickly pulled off, taking with it the unwanted hair. This action doesn't just remove hair; it also exfoliates the top layer of skin. Now, combine this exfoliation process with skin that's already shedding faster due to retinol. The result? A high likelihood of excessive skin removal, leading to raw, irritated, and potentially injured skin. If you are planning to get any type of facial, peel, or laser treatment it is also advised to discontinue your retinol.

Let’s dive into understanding the specific groups and situations where retinol might not be the best choice.

1. Pregnant and nursing people

Research has shown that oral retinoids, like Accutane, have a direct link to congenital disabilities when taken during pregnancy. These findings have led to strict guidelines around its prescription to women. However, the evidence on topical retinoids is less definitive. While the amount of retinol absorbed through the skin is minimal, and thus the risk is believed to be low, the potential for harm exists.

Even if the risk of topical retinoids causing harm during pregnancy is low, the consequences are significant enough (i.e., potential birth defects) that many experts believe it's better to be safe and avoid them.

While there hasn’t been concrete evidence showing that topical retinoids directly lead to congenital disabilities, the lack of evidence doesn’t confirm safety either. Clinical trials on pregnant women are limited due to ethical concerns. Therefore, much of the data comes from case studies or animal studies, which don't always directly translate to humans.

Considering the potential risks, most dermatologists and obstetricians recommend that pregnant women avoid both oral and topical retinoids.

For those who rely on retinol for skincare benefits, there are safer alternatives during pregnancy. Hyaluronic Acid: For hydration and reducing the appearance of fine lines. Vitamin C: An antioxidant that can brighten the skin and reduce signs of aging. Glycolic Acid or Lactic Acid: Alpha hydroxy acids that can help with skin texture and mild breakouts without the potential risks of retinol. Always consult with a healthcare professional before introducing or continuing any skincare product during pregnancy.

Pregnancy involves many changes, both physically and emotionally. While it might be frustrating to pause a beloved skincare routine, it's essential to remember the broader context: ensuring the health and well-being of both the mother and the baby.

2. Individuals Undergoing Certain Skin Treatments

If you're getting specific skin treatments, such as chemical peels, laser procedures, or even some facials, retinol might increase sensitivity and interfere with recovery. Procedures like chemical peels and lasers intentionally damage the skin to stimulate repair. Adding retinol, which also accelerates cell turnover and can induce irritation, might overwhelm the skin. It can increase the risk of side effects and potentially compromise the results of the treatment.

3. People who won’t wear sunscreen

Sun damage can lead to premature aging, hyperpigmentation, and increased risk of skin cancer. Using retinol without adequate sun protection can accelerate these risks. If religious application of high-SPF sunscreen isn’t realistic, retinol might do more harm than good.

4. Individuals Using Certain Medications

Some medications, especially those that impact the skin, can react adversely when combined with retinol.

For example, medications like certain antibiotics or antifungals can make the skin more photosensitive. Introducing retinol might amplify this sensitivity. Furthermore, oral retinoids like Accutane, which are already potent in their action, can clash with topical retinol, leading to increased side effects. Always consult with a healthcare provider if you're on medications.

5. People with Fresh Wounds or Burns

Applying retinol on freshly wounded or burned skin can exacerbate irritation and potentially delay healing.

The primary focus for injured skin should be healing and recovery. Retinol, being an active ingredient, can interfere with the skin’s natural healing processes and introduce unnecessary complications.

In conclusion, retinol is a do it all type of ingredient. Retinol is like a superhero for our skin. It is like a daily vitamin that helps make our skin look and feel better. If you want fewer fine lines and wrinkles, retinol can help with that. If you want to lighten some of your dark spots or even out your skin tone retinol's got you covered. If you have problems with acne and acne scarring it can reduce those too and help with the marks they leave behind. It even helps protect our skin from things that can hurt it, like the sun's harmful rays (though you should still wear sunscreen). It is a powerhouse ingredient that I feel is under used due to misconceptions on it. If you want to age gracefully or improve the look of your skin then this is the product to do it.

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