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Retinol: What It Is, What It Does (And Why You Should Care!)

By Suzanne Blons May 04, 2022 Beauty

Retinol, or vitamin A, is one of the Most Valuable Players in skin care, and a must have to massively improve your skin, including softening wrinkles. Having said that, I am a pro-aging aesthetician and every day (or as often as I feel compelled) I look in the mirror and tell my wrinkles how much I love them!

It’s usually after looking through a fashion magazine full of 18-year-old models with no cellulite, or eating too much dark chocolate with salt sprinkles on top. With that in mind, let’s dive into retinol.

What Is Retinol?

Retinol is in the family of retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid. It increases collagen production and cellular turnover, along with reducing dark spots, unclogging pores, reducing acne breakouts, improving skins texture, fine lines, and the brightness of skin.

The prescription name for retinol is Retin-A and Renova (brand name Tretinoin) and is considered a hundred times more potent than non-prescription retinol. It’s also much more irritating to the skin. Buying non-prescription retinol causes less reactivity, but is also less powerful.

Derivatives of Retin-A, such as Retinyl Palmitate (the synthetic form of retinol) and Retinyl Acetate need to be processed by the skin’s enzymes before they can be active and efficacious, but they are the gentlest.

How Much Retinol Should I Use?

To achieve the greatest results with the least amount of time you need to use products with high concentration levels. For example, most retinol products contain between .1% to .5%, which means it will take one to two months to see results. On the plus side, you will get less irritation. Using products with .5% to 2% will create the most noticeable improvements – and irritations.

What About Skin Reaction and Irritation?

The higher the percentage of retinol the greater the irritation. However, be on the lookout for additives likes dyes, fragrances, emulsifiers, surfactants, and preservatives that can also cause problems. The purer your retinol, the less likely you are to have the redness that goes along with it.

Along the same lines, when you first start using retinol, the best rule of thumb is to use it until you see redness or flakiness (about twice a week) and then stop until your skin calms down before starting again. If you have a skin condition like rosacea or spend a lot of time in the sun it’s best to avoid retinol.

Does Spot Treating Work?

I have an age spot that has decided to stay planted on my face, so I give it love when I notice it. I also apply my retinol to it nearly every day. By using my ring finger, I dab the product on that one spot, and it has helped to minimize it significantly. You can use this technique for other troublesome spots like deep creases, acne, or hyperpigmentation.

What Products Should I Buy?

Not all brands state the percentage of retinol, so when shopping be sure to read the label and in particular the ingredient deck. The further down the deck retinol falls, the less of it is in the product. The more ingredients in the deck, the weaker the retinol. This is not always a bad thing, especially if you have sensitive skin as this will limit the irritation.

As far as products, the least expensive to try is CeraVe. At $15, it’s good for first timers and budget shoppers. The quantity of retinol is low, and the investment smaller, so if you have a reaction or decide it’s not for you, you haven’t lost much.

For a mid-range retinol that you can use daily with little to no irritation, try Image MD Restoring Youth Repair Creme. At $84, it’s formulated by a dermatologist and effectively works over time to improve the skin’s texture and cell turnover.

Looking for big changes in your skin? Try Truth Treatments Retinol 1% or (for those more experienced with retinol) 5%. Both are very pure and effective, and could cause some irritation. Having said that, irritation means the product is causing the cell turnover you need to see improvement, so it’s just whether or not you mind some redness.

Retinol is one of the superpowers in skin care, and a little education on the ingredient goes a long way. Remember to love your body as it ages, and stay away from fashion magazines – but stay with the chocolate, in my opinion. Every woman needs a chocolate stash! \

Do you use retinol in your skin care regime? Which product is most effective for you? What can you say about skin irritation with this product?

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The Author

Suzanne Blons, The Beauty Shaman, has been in the beauty industry for nearly 40 years. A former Revlon Charlie Girl, she is now a professional makeup artist and has worked with such luminaries as Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and Arianna Huffington. Today, Suzanne shares her beauty secrets on her YouTube channel, The Beauty Shaman. Check out her store, blog, coaching, and beauty courses.

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