Retinoids, Retinol, Retin-A – which is which? What are they? And what do they do?! If you’re confused about Retinoids and Retinol – don’t worry, we’re here to explain it.
What is a Retinoid?
First things first – let’s try to keep this really simple and quickly explain which is which.
Retinoid is the name for a family of substances related to Vitamin A.
Whenever you see an ingredient with a name like Retinol, Retinoic Acid, Retinyl Palmitate or Retinyl Acetate, you’re dealing with a form of Vitamin A… and each of them is a Retinoid.
Retinol is the Vitamin A molecule that’s found in animals, including humans, and it gets converted to Retinoic Acid in the body. Retinoic Acid is what’s used in prescription-strength preparations. Retin-A is a brand name, and they are all part of the Retinoid family.
Retinoic Acid is the strong stuff, which is why it’s prescription only. Retinol is milder but still effective, and you’ll find it in a variety of over the counter products. You’ll see similar results, but after a slightly longer period of time. Other forms like Retinyl Palmitate are gentler again.
How it works:
Like Peptides, Retinoids communicate with skin cells, sending messages telling them to behave like healthy, younger skin cells. They increase cell turnover meaning you’ll see younger, fresher skin. They also help to boost collagen production which normally declines as we get older. A good supply of collagen is essential for keeping skin firm and plumped.
As well as all that, they have powerful antioxidant properties meaning they counteract free radicals and help to combat the damage they can do. Free radicals can be caused by UV exposure, pollution, and cigarette smoke. They also arise normally in the body – they’re unavoidable. You definitely don’t want free radicals floating around if you can help it, as they contribute significantly to ageing. So anything that mops them up is good for your skin.
Use it for:
Retinoids really are a skin care wonder, tackling a wide range of skin issues from acne to ageing.
Ageing skin: Retinoids work. They really, really work when it comes to anti-ageing, and scientific studies have proven this time and time again. You might not look 25 again (this is skin care, not magic!) but if you use retinoids for at least 12 weeks you will definitely see an improvement in your appearance. And your skin will keep on improving over time. They tackle a wide range of concerns – keep reading – so you’ll see an overall improvement.
Fine lines and wrinkles: Remember earlier we told you that Retinoids encourage cell turnover and production of collagen? Well this action – plus the fact that they actually thicken deeper levels of the skin – is what makes them so effective in reducing wrinkles.
Pigmentation: If you have uneven pigmentation due to sun exposure (nobody call them “age spots”!), Retinoids help to even out skin tone.
Stretch marks: Stretch marks show up when skin’s collagen and elastin fibres are pushed past their limit, usually during pregnancy, weight gain or growth spurts. So the collagen-boosting action of Retinoids will help – particularly if you catch those marks when they’re still dark.
Acne: Retinoids encourage normally, healthy behaviour in skin cells. This means they can help to normalise skin’s production of sebum, and they encourage cell turnover too. So there’ll be less potentially pore-clogging oil and dead skin cells on the skin’s surface and you could see a dramatic improvement in acne.
Keratosis Pilaris: Those annoying little bumps which can show up on legs and backs of arms are caused by sebum and dead skin build up. As with acne, a Retinoid cream will normalise sebum production and get those skin cells behaving as they should.
Good to know:
Don’t use your Retinoids during the day, as sunlight will limit its effectiveness. If you’re using skin care containing Benzoyl Peroxide, Salicyclic Acid, or AHAs like Glycolic Acid, don’t mix them with your Retinoids, as they won’t work correctly. Keep your Retinoid for night-time use, and use the other products in the morning.
You might experience some irritation in the form of dryness or redness, even a little flaking or peeling. Don’t panic! This is normal. We recommend that you start slowly with Retinoids, using a couple of times a week, or starting with lower concentrations or milder forms of Vitamin A so you can build up tolerance gradually. If you don’t see any improvement, stop using the product.
Be prepared to be a little more gentle with your skin at first, too. Don’t use harsh physical exfoliants – so nothing with scrubbing particles. Also you should probably tweeze rather than wax those brows, because ouch!
Oh, and, use a sunscreen. While Retinoids don’t necessarily make skin more sensitive to the sun, UV exposure causes wrinkles and pigmentation – precisely what you’re trying to undo.
If you have sensitive skin, look for milder forms of Vitamin A, and keep an eye on the concentrations. You can use gentler preparations at first, and if skin tolerates them well, move up to something slightly stronger.
Products containing Retinol are not recommended for use during pregnancy or when breast-feeding. If you’re pregnant, taking large doses of Vitamin A or Retinoid medication by mouth is an absolute no-no. Using it as skin care hasn’t been shown to have the same effects though, so don’t panic if you suddenly find out you’re pregnant and have been using a Retinol cream. We’d recommend you err on the side of caution and maybe switch up your skin care routine to something gentler for those nine months. Check with your doctor if in any doubt about anything, but like we said, there’s no need to panic. (You’ll have plenty of other things to worry about, after all!)
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