Ingredient Spotlight: Retinol

Retinol, a mainstay of skincare regimens, has been around for decades and it's still one of my top three favorites for use in an effective anti-aging skincare routine.



What does Retinol do for the Skin?

Retinol is a gentler version of the Vitamin A derived drug - Retin-A (tretinoin) and is a key nutrient for boosting cell turnover and reorganization of cell layers in the skin. When a retinol serum is added to your skincare routine it promotes skin renewal, brightens skin tone, reduces acne and boosts collagen production. Retinol also functions as an antioxidant to help fight off oxidative free radical damage to DNA and cell membranes which could lead to skin aging if not addressed. Retinol is the ingredient that does it all. It is the #1 best ingredient you can choose to support the longevity of your skin.


Retinol exfoliates away dead skin cells, clears clogged pores and brightens a dull complexion.

You may have heard this all before about newer more avant guard ingredients but the difference is that retinol has years of research behind it and proven efficacy that it improves the skin in unique ways. When it exfoliates, it exfoliates differently than you may think. Retinol is a "bottom up exfoliant" which means it stimulates the metabolism of the basement cell layer of the epidermis. As these new cell layers rise up to the skin's surface they create smoother more organized epidermis that not only looks better but is healthier and functions more efficiently. The newer cells eventually push off older, worn out, dead surface cells. This is why retinol works so well in conjunction with AHAs. Alpha Hydroxy Acids exfoliate from the surface of the skin and are known as "top down exfoliants". Here's how to incorporate these performance ingredients into your regimen for longevity and endured beauty of your skin.


When Should I Start Using Retinol?

Typically, you start your retinol program in your early thirties. The main reason I don't have clients start in their twenties is because retinol effects cell metabolism. Most younger skins have pretty efficient cell metabolisms on their own and speeding it up may result in skin reactions and for some, may even aggravate breakouts. If you have thicker skin with no sensitivities you might be okay with Retin-A but many need to stay away. If you already have breakouts, then AHAs and BHAs are a better way to go, along with some anti-inflammatory serums. Around the age of thirty your metabolism slows down a bit. This means cells start rising up just a little slower than before and you may find yourself with dull skin, some visible sun damage or an increase in clogged pores that you never experienced before. Starting using retinol at this time increases cell production at the base of the epidermis which pushes cells to the surface, leaving a fresher, more even surface layer and less clogged pores.


How Should I Use it?

Start your retinol program slowly. The issue I have with Retin-A is the inflammation, it causes the skin to become red, flaky and sensitive. Clients who jump into a Retin-A program often display this thin, shiny, cellophane like texture to their skin that is not attractive. This is typical for those just starting Retin-A without monitoring their dosage. Chronic inflammation is not a good thing for your skin. It creates a breakdown of the lipid barrier. Damaging free radicals then create havoc which eventually exacerbates skin aging. Instead, start with a low dose retinol product. This way you can get all the benefits without the damage. Dosage is critical. Even a mild retinol can be irritating if used too frequently or if the formulation is too strong. Start with a pea-sized amount of a low dose formula (0.2%) and use it twice a week. I recommend my clients to use it on Monday and Friday nights. This works well because you don't have to think about whether you just used it the night before. If you have been doing this for a while and haven't shown any signs of irritation you could add a third night, namely Wednesday. Why not every night? Using retinol is kind of like exercising. You need a day to break down the bad stuff (like dead or damaged cells), then a recovery day to repair and build up the good stuff (like new cells and a repaired barrier layer). Start slowly. If you have sensitive skin you may only use retinol one night a week initially, then increase the number of nights as your skin feels comfortable. Never use retinol on the same night as your exfoliating AHA serum. Exfoliating can be irritating in and of itself so you don't want to duplicate it's effects. I like using an exfoliating AHA on Tuesday and Thursday nights. You can add a scrub on weekends if that works for your skin. Back to retinol. Eventually you may want to graduate to a higher percentage (0.4%) of retinol to increase its benefit potential. Years ago I tried using retinol with a higher percentage right from the get go. Even though I wasn't applying retinol to my eye area, my eyelids and and the area under my eyes got red, rashy and irritated. When I stopped using the product it would go away. I just assumed I was allergic to retinoids - never mind trying Retin-A. Then, years later I tried the 0.2% retinol because after doing so much research on retinol and discovering the indisputable and amazing benefits it has for your skin, I just had to try again. This time no problem. I gradually increased the dose and now I use the 0.4% retinol three times a week with no adverse results.


Use Retinol Only at Night and Wear SPF Every Day

Even though you may not notice it, retinol makes your skin more sensitive to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Also, sunlight degrades retinol which decreases its efficacy. So, you only use it at night. Make sure you are using your 30 SPF sunscreen every day. Remember you are exfoliating and removing those old cells which do have a purpose. Even though those surface layers increase the look of fine lines and wrinkles and increase irregular pigmentation they do act as an additional layer of protection from the sun. So, you can't skip on sunscreen or you'll be undoing all that wonderful repair action you signed up for by incorporating retinol into your skincare regime.


Side Note:

Retinol works really well on the decolletage area. It improves the texture and uneven pigmentation on your chest that was caused by past sun damage. Keep in mind that here too you need to protect your skin every day with a sunscreen that has a 30 SPF or higher.

Beautiful Skin for Life

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