What is retinol?
Retinol and prescription retinoids like Retin A or Renova are a form of vitamin A – you’ve probably retinol listed as the active ingredient in many skincare products. Although retinoids were originally developed and marketed to treat acne, dermatologists soon recognized the benefits of retinoids for prevention of damage and treatment of discoloration and wrinkles.
Retinol is frequently recommended by dermatologists as part of a skin care regimen for aging skin. In reality, it’s never too early to begin using retinol or another retinoid product. You may be wondering why retinol is so popular – let’s look at what retinol can do for your skin.
Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant – it helps prevent damage from formation of free radicals that contribute to aging and cell damage in your skin. Vitamin A is found in vegetables, although many Americans don’t consume an adequate amount. Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that can be applied topically to nourish your skin and neutralize free oxygen radicals that form as a result of exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays. After it’s applied to the skin, it is transformed to retinoic acid, the active form.
Retinol Increases Cell Turnover and Prevents Collagen Breakdown
Retinol prompts skin cells on the surface to turn over quickly, which in turn results in growth of new and healthy cells. Retinol and other retinoid preparations also prevent collagen breakdown, resulting in increased thickness and elasticity. Wrinkles are the result of collagen breakdown and loss of elasticity, so most people who use retinol usually notice smoothing and evening of the skin tone in 3 to 6 months. With a prescription strength retinoid like tretinoin or retinoic acid, improvement is noticeable in a month or two.
Retinol Evens Skin Tone
As the skin begins to turn over rapidly with new cells, the old brown spots, caused by melanin-containing cells, are sloughed. Retinoids also inhibit melanin production. Many dermatologists recommend retinol and prescription strength retinoids for skin discoloration.
Retinoids May Improve Pore Size
Retinoids help keep pores clean and clear. Although people with genetically large pore size may not see an improvement, some people who use retinoids may appreciate a shrinkage of their pores. This adds to the smoothness of your skin.
Retinol or a Prescription Strength Retinoid?
Many people start out with retinol in an over the counter cream. Unfortunately, the strength of these creams is generally a proprietary secret. Tretinoin and retinoic acid are prescription forms of retinoids that contain a high concentration of the active ingredient and results are apparent in a much shorter period of time. Tretinoin has a particularly strong effect on prevention of collagen breakdown. Because prescription retinoids are so much stronger, additional care is necessary when using a prescription product. The stronger the retinoid, the higher chance of drying and irritation.
Retinoids Can Cause Skin Irritation
Some patients can’t tolerate the irritation that occurs with retinoids. Initially, there is redness and peeling, but most people see an improvement over time. However, some skin types are too sensitive for prescription strength retinoid preparations.
A Dermatologist’s Advice
When using a prescription strength retinoid, your cosmetic dermatologist will provide advice about how to minimize the initial irritation as your skin becomes accustomed to the new product. It’s critical to avoid sun exposure and to wear sunscreen when using retinoids. You should also use only as much as your doctor suggests, usually a pea size portion. This is one case where more is not better, so be careful with your application of any retinoid product. It sometimes helps to begin with retinoids every other day, until your skin becomes accustomed to the treatment. Your skin should always be clean and dry and you should not use a retinoid in combination with skincare products that contain harsh ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Some medications may increase your sensitivity to ultraviolet light, including certain antibiotics like Cipro or tetracycline. Discuss your medications with your doctor before you begin treatment. If you are pregnant, nursing, or planning to get pregnant, discuss the use of retinoids with your obstetrician before starting therapy.
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