Many fads and buzzwords exist in the skincare industry, and it seems like every celebrity is selling a different skincare line. The truth is that there are relatively few scientifically proven ways to make normal skin healthier and appear younger. Among the few compounds with good supporting evidence for anti-aging effects, retinoids stand out. If you are serious about achieving healthy-looking skin, then you should really understand (and use) retinoids – the bread and butter of most of today’s effective skincare lines.
1. Cousins of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is also called retinol and is a vitamin found in vegetables such as sweet potatoes, leafy greens and bell peppers. Vitamin A is important for growth and development in the womb and is important for eye, skin, bone and reproductive health in adults. Any compound that is similar to retinol is called a “retinoid.” When it comes to youthfulness, retinoic acid is one of the most important retinoids to know about. Retinoic acid affects how your skin cells grow. It helps them mature smoothly without pores becoming clogged. Retinoic acid strongly decreases how oily the skin is and even shrinks oil glands, making pores appear smaller. Retinoic acid also appears to have synergy with antioxidants and allows them to more effectively reduce free radical damage, which helps fight the effects of sun damage and photo-aging. Collagen, hyperpigmentation, sun damage, elastin… all of these are affected by retinoic acid, allowing significant improvement in the health and beauty of the skin.
2. No Filter Needed
Because of their ability to help cells repair themselves and mature naturally, retinoids are great for fighting the formation of new wrinkles and softening existing lines. As retinoids repair the skin, fine lines fade; large oil glands diminish in size, and the skin takes on a more even, smooth tone and texture. Retinoids may also stimulate more blood flow in the skin, giving a healthy, rosy glow.
Retinoids are one of the key ingredients that dermatologists use for treating acne. Retinoids can help prevent and treat clogged pores (blackheads) and help prevent whiteheads and deeper inflamed acne bumps from forming. As a result, they also help prevent acne scarring. Typically, retinoids are one of the two to four medicines that a dermatologist will prescribe to help a teenager or adult become acne-free.
3. All Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Because retinol helps unclog pores and prevents dead skin from forming future clogs, continued use of retinol cream can prevent acne, but clear skin does not come overnight. Retinoids affect the way that your skin develops. This is a “bottom-up” process, as it can take a skin cell a month to travel from the base of the skin to the surface as it grows and develops. Before deciding whether your retinoid is working, give it at least a month. Patience is rewarded, as devoted use of a retinoid is repaid after a month or so with clearer, smoother skin.
4. Tricks of the Trade
Many people react negatively to retinoids when beginning treatment. Think about what retinoids are doing – they make your skin less oily, and oil is there for a reason. Oil holds in moisture, and some of our skin’s oil may help serve as natural sunscreen. So the key with retinoid use is to find the right amount that smooths lines and makes the skin less oily without causing it to be so oil-free as to be easily dried out or irritated.
With most retinoids, the trick is to start low and slow and gradually increase. Typically, a pea-sized amount of a retinoid is applied to the forehead, cheeks and chin every other night and gently rubbed over the skin while taking care to avoid the eyes and lips. After a few weeks, if the skin is not too dry, then the retinoid may be applied every night. More is not necessarily better! If your skin is tolerating the retinoid well after those 4 weeks, you can try applying more retinoid. If the retinoid proves to be too powerful and causes redness and extreme dryness or irritation, back down the dosing and revert back to every other night or every few nights. Luckily, your skin should begin to tolerate it more. Increasing your retinoid regimen should become easier with time.
5. Your Friendly Neighborhood Dermatologist
How do you select a retinoid? Adapalene, a weak but good retinoid, is now available over the counter. Stronger retinoids such as tretinoin and tazarotene are available by prescription. Which retinoid is right for you depends on your skin type, how oily your skin is, whether you suffer from acne and whether you are prone to eczema or dry skin. Your dermatologist can help you select the retinoid that is right for you.
6. It’s Not an Option if You are or May Become Pregnant (Or are Breastfeeding)
Women of childbearing age who are pregnant, breastfeeding or may become pregnant beware! Retinoids should be avoided during pregnancy. In fact, the weaker retinol is often found in over the counter beauty products with titles claiming “Anti-Aging” or “Wrinkle Prevent” or “Dark Spot Corrector.” Definitive proof exists for the correlation of serious birth defects with the consumption of oral retinoids during pregnancy. Although it is unknown whether or to what extent topical retinoids pose to an unborn fetus, it is my recommendation to avoid all retinoids during pregnancy and breastfeeding and stick to non-medicated cosmetics and a prenatal vitamin.