I want you to meet one of my very best friends, a literal fountain of youth that turns back the hands of time at the cellular level: RETINOL! A derivative of vitamin A, retinol is part of the retinoid family and it has the ability to trick your skin into thinking it's younger than it is.
With age, skin cells begin to behave irregularly and slow down the natural process of skin renewal. This means that there is less collagen available to repair damaged skin than there was when we were younger, and we begin to see wrinkles and saggy skin appear.
If you’re wondering how you can safely incorporate this powerful rejuvenating tool into your skincare routine, I’m going to explain the benefits of various types of retinoids as well as what to watch out for if this is a new ingredient for you. Retinol products aren't safe for everyone, but there are varying forms and strengths of retinoids that expand our menu of vitamin A options so that nearly everyone can enjoy the benefits.
What is Retinol and What Does It Do?
Vitamin A contains both retinoids and carotenoids. The beneficial antioxidants found in orange-colored plants and foods (such as pumpkins) are called carotenoids. Retinoids stimulate the production of collagen, skin-plumping hyaluronic acid, and elastin. When applied topically, retinol is converted into retinoic acid by enzymes found in our skin.
While the natural rate of skin cell turnover is about 30 days at our prime, retinoids accelerate that cycle to about a 10- to 14-day process. For more mature or damaged skin, the rate of renewal might be much longer, which makes retinol an important part of encouraging our skin to behave in a more balanced, youthful manner.
Types of Retinoids
Vitamin A (aka retinoids) has been a gold standard skincare ingredient found in anti-aging products for decades. It actively solves texture issues, clears blemishes, firms and lifts, and fades dark spots. Retinol, retinaldehyde, and Retin-A (pure retinoic acid) are all popular retinoids used in the skincare industry. A newcomer to the market, bakuchiol, has proven to be a wonderful option for those with sensitive skin who want the benefits of a retinoid without the irritation.
Only retinoic acid can be immediately utilized. All other forms must first be processed and converted into retinoic acid by enzymes in the skin. Retinyl palmitate converts to retinol, which then breaks down into retinaldehyde, which becomes retinoic acid in its final stage. Most retinoids can be purchased over-the-counter, except for prescription-strength retinol creams, which much be prescribed and supervised by your dermatologist.
Should You Choose Retin-A?
Retin-A, also known as tretinoin, is the only product made up of pure retinoic acid. Since it doesn’t need to be converted any further, it is the strongest and often most harsh form. Of all forms of vitamin A, this has the worst side effects, including skin peeling, burning, redness, itching, and scaling. It originally was produced as a treatment for acne because of its very drying and antibacterial nature.
In recent years, it has also been prescribed to older clients with aging concerns. Unfortunately, it can often cause more damage than good because of its very potent nature. Studies have shown that this form of retinol stimulates the wrong kind of collagen for healthy aging. It produces rope-like fibers that resemble a callous. Over time, this is very unattractive and actually causes the skin to look older.
Why I Prefer Retinol
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that is naturally produced in the body. When inside a skincare product, enzymes first break it down into retinaldehyde, then retinoic acid. Since it is a form of vitamin A that our skin is already familiar with, it is far more stable than retinaldehyde, meaning it can be used in larger concentrations. The stability of retinol makes it a great option for both acne and healthy aging. Retinol tends to be more exfoliating than retinaldehyde because of its higher concentration, as well as its ability to be paired with helpful acids such as lactic acid. More exfoliating is important for those who wish to smooth the texture of the skin.
Those with normal and combination skin types will like this form of vitamin A as it will help diminish sebum and oil production, smooth out pores, and exfoliate away dead skin cell build-up. Unlike Retin-A, which typically causes excessive peeling and redness, retinol produces very mild flaking with little to no redness when used properly. The key to the successful use of retinol is to keep the skin nourished with a healing serum and well-hydrated. Rhonda Allison Sea Gems is my go-to for this with its deeply hydrating and rebuilding ingredients. I also like to finish my nightly retinol treatments with Sorella The Balm for it's soothing and protective qualities.
When To Choose Retinaldehyde
Retinaldehyde is a newer form of vitamin A to hit the market and is a wonderful solution for sensitive and dry skin types. For years, scientists were unable to utilize this form because it can be highly unstable. Eventually, they found that it worked wonderfully in a lower concentration as a gentle form of vitamin A. Since it doesn’t need to convert through as many stages, retinaldehyde can produce results without as many side effects like dryness and peeling. Those with dry and sensitive skin can use it daily.
Anyone unable to tolerate retinol in the past should consider giving retinaldehyde a try. Due to its gentle nature, it’s not often mixed with any other actives or acids, which can make it less than ideal for acne-prone skin, but perfect for irritated, dry skin. As with all vitamin A products, a replenishing serum must be used to prevent the skin from becoming overly dry.
Bakuchiol: The Natural Retinol Alternative
If you have sensitive skin that has not tolerated retinol well in the past, bakuchiol might be your new best friend. With roots with ancient Ayurvedic medicine, bakuchiol only recently piqued the interest of modern medicine thanks to it's powerful anti-inflammatory properties and skin-defending antioxidants. A comparison of retinol and bakuchiol published in the British Journal of Dermatology reveals that bakuchiol provides the same skin-rejuvenating promises as retinol.
The Benefits of Retinol, Retinaldehyde, and Bakuchiol
Retinol is frequently referred to as a woman’s best friend for good reason. Check out this list of amazing benefits:
- Smooths and refines uneven skin tone and texture
- Exfoliates skin at the cellular level, lifting away dead skin cells
- Repairs cellular structure, strengthening the skin matrix
- Minimizes and slows the appearance of fine lines
- Accelerates the process of skin renewal
- Enhances collagen production
- Brightens skin by breaking up excess melanin, fading dark spots and discoloration
- Regulates oily skin, minimizing breakouts
- Stops pores from clogging, preventing blackheads, cysts, and pimples
- Prevents the rise of a collagen-digesting enzyme which is triggered by UV exposure
- Diminishes and refines pores
- Increases circulation and blood flow to the skin
- Improves the skin’s hydration levels
With an impressive list of anti-aging benefits like this, you might be wondering how you can get started. There are many types of retinoids to choose from. If you’d like personalized assistance, consider signing up for one of our online skincare consultations. Read on to select the right retinoid for you.
How to Use Retinol and What to Expect
The key to introducing retinol into your collection of skincare products is to take a slow and steady path. While you might be excited to see the many exciting benefits of retinol in your skin, it’s essential to take a gentle approach. More retinol is not better as too much too fast can cause irritating side effects. Retinoids require special care and, in some cases, the guidance of an esthetician.
The best time of day to use retinol is in the evenings when you won’t be in direct sunlight. Begin adding a gentle form of retinoids slowly into your nighttime routine, applying it about 1-2 times per week to see how your skin responds. Use a pea-sized amount for your entire face and allow the product to absorb for about 20 minutes prior to applying other products. To soothe your skin and reduce the likelihood of uncomfortable side effects, I recommend topping off your evening routine with a pump of Rhonda Allison Sea Gems and a hydrating moisturizer or night cream such as Sorella The Balm.
For those with non-sensitive skin and those wanting to stimulate faster change in the skin, here is the 3-step method that I recommend:
Step One: Apply a retinol serum every night until you stimulate light flaking or dryness. This indicates that your skin is beginning to heal and you are shedding damaged skin cells. With the onset of flaking, stop using retinol for one week or until the skin has rebounded and stopped peeling. The more damaged the skin, the more peeling you will see as the skin heals. If you don't experience any dryness or flaking, continue to use your retinol serum 4 to 5 nights per week.
Step Two: After initial peeling has subsided, apply retinol 3 nights per week. If you experience dryness or the release of damaged cells again, take a break from your retinol until the skin rebounds and stops peeling.
Step Three: Apply your retinol serum twice per week. Most people find that they can stay with twice per week. However, if you experience flaking, stop using your retinol until the skin rebounds and then use retinol once per week. Note: Most people who experience excessive shedding have a compromised barrier and need to add more moisture to the skin. This skin type does well using Sea Gems and Sorella The Balm over their retinol serum.
Every person is unique and it's important to watch your skin and make adjustments as needed. I've had clients with very damaged skin who had to keep working through the shedding cycle for 6 months before their skin stopped flaking. Personally, I find that I have natural cycles with my skin. I can go for months without any shedding and then suddenly have a shedding phase.
Retinol stimulates healing deep within the dermis, and it takes time for complete regeneration. However, your patience and persistence will pay off with healthier and more glowing skin.
Make gentle exfoliation a regular part of your weekly routine to help remove dry, dull skin cells. Choose a non-acid exfoliant. I like to use Nelly De Vuyst BioTense Gommage.
While using retinoids, you must apply sunscreen every morning and re-apply throughout the day. An SPF of 30 or higher will shield your skin from damaging UV rays, which can create more permanent sun damage and hyperpigmentation while using retinol. Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun while using topical retinoids.
Jeana's Top Retinol Recommendations
For my retinol newbies, I recommend that you begin by using the AnteAGE System. This is also perfect for dry, sensitive skin. Once your skin has adjusted, and you have finished the AnteAGE bottles, my recommendations are as follows:
Sensitive or Dry
- Rhonda Allison SynErgy A (contains retinaldehyde) with Rhonda Allison Mandelic Arginine Serum
- Skin Script Iconic A (retinaldehyde)
- Hale & Hush Rare Retinal Serum (retinaldehyde)
- AnteAGE System (bakuchiol) - Serum + Accelerator
Aging or Sun-Damaged
- Rhonda Allison Retinol Supreme (retinol) with Sea Gems
- Sorella Facial in a Bottle (bakuchiol)
- AnteAGE System (bakuchiol) - Serum + Accelerator
Oily and/or Enlarged Pores
- Rhonda Allison Salicylic Serum (retinol) with Sea Gems
- Skin Script Glycolic and Retinol Pads (retinol)
Congested/Blackhead-Prone Skin Types
Congested and pebbly skin does great with retinol. The increased exfoliation will help decongest the pores and pull pebble to the surface.
- Skin Script Glycolic & Retinol Pads (retinol)
Who Should NOT Use Retinoids?
Pregnant and Nursing Mothers
While the risks associated with using a topical retinoid product while pregnant are relatively low, the current general recommendation, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), is to avoid retinoids while expecting. If you’re experiencing skin problems while pregnant, I advise you to sign up for a skincare consultation. Two serums that are pregnancy-safe are Sorella Apothecary Facial in a Bottle, which contains bakuchiol, and Skin Script Beta-Carotene Papain Renewal Serum, which contains beta-carotene.
Rosacea Skin Types
For those with rosacea, the use of retinoids should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Some types of retinoids can be used safely; however, I do recommend that you consult with a skincare professional before incorporating retinol into your skincare regimen.
Those with inflamed acne should not start a retinol serum until all inflammation is gone. I recommend a personalized acne consultation for anyone with acne-prone skin looking to incorporate a retinoid product into their skincare routine.
Folliculitis barbae is a type of folliculitis affecting the jawline or beard area due to infection with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. Retinol will exacerbate folliculitis. A better choice for this condition is Face Reality Mandelic Scrub and Rhonda Allison Mandelic Defense Lotion.