Does Retinol Actually Work?

Topical vitamin A–based drugs called retinoids are some of the most used and most studied anti-aging compounds in the beauty industry. They are associated with the ability to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. But what is it and how does it work?

What is it?

Well as mentioned above it is a form of Vitamin A. Other forms of vitamin A in skincare that you may be familiar with include; isotretinoin (better known as Accutane) and retinyl palmitate (another topical ingredient found in many creams).

Tretinoin, under the brand name Retin-A, was the first retinoid. It was used as an acne treatment in the 1970s, but researchers later discovered that it also fades actinic keratosis spots, evens pigmentation, and speeds the turnover of superficial skin cells.

How does retinol make the skin look younger?

By now I’m sure you know what collagen is and if you don’t here is a short summary. Collagen is the major structural protein in our bodies. Without collagen, there would be nothing to hold the cells together.

We start off with the ability to produce collagen in our own bodies very quickly. This changes the older we get. Even after we hit 20 years old this production slows down. However, age isn’t the only factor that can slow down collagen synthesis. UV exposure, diet, stress, drinking or smoking can all lead to a decrease in collagen production. With lost collagen, less cells are held in the skin and it starts looking rough, uneven, saggy and wrinkly.

And the important reason why vitamin A and collagen are linked? Vitamin A increases collagen production in the skin. It does this by firstly,  inactivating matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), enzymes in the skin which break down collagen. These are made more active by UV light. which is why it’s so important to use sunscreen. Retinol also works by increasing cellular turnover – that is, increasing the rate at which old skin cells are replaced by new ones. Finally, retinol is also an antioxidant – it stops reactive free radicals, generated by UV exposure or toxins in the environment, from wreaking havoc in your skin.

Do retinol products cause side effects?

Unfortunately, yes. They are known to be irritating and cause dehydration. This is why it’s natural counterpart Bakuchiol was formulated, it doesn’t have the same irritating qualities but it also doesn’t have the same potency of use.

However, if you have sensitive skin and want to see the benefits of retinol you still can by introducing it slowly into your routine. For example use it once every two weeks, then once every week until you think your skin can handle more regular use. You can also use a more intense hydrating moisturizer to combat any dehydration.

It also important to note that retinol, much like AHAs, can make the skin more susceptible to sunburn. Wear extra sunscreen when you use retinol so you don’t completely reverse its beneficial effects.

Lastly, before you buy retinol it is essential to know it breaks down with exposure to light and air. Pick a retinol product in an airtight, opaque container to improve its shelf life and it’s efficacy.

Some recommendations

Indeed Labs Retinol Resurface

Drunk Elephant A Passioni Retinol Cream

GOOD OPTION FOR SENSITIVE SKIN: The Ordinary Retinol in Squalane

Feel free to DM or email with any specific questions you have!

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