By Sarah Hamilton, R.N.C.N.
If I had one skin care product to choose from, it would definitely be a retinoid! I love telling my patients that if there’s “such thing as beauty in a bottle, it’s a retinoid.” Are you getting my point? I tell myself often I sound like a broken record. For the past 15 years, I have been a faithful retinoid user and have shared the good news with anyone who will listen. I’m forever thankful to a co-worker and aesthetician, Chris, who pulled me aside on my first day as a nurse injector at a plastic surgeon’s office. She said, “Sarah, we need to get your skin in better shape.” I can tell you my skin looks better and younger today than it did on that day 15 years ago. Both retinoids and retinols can transform your skin like it did to my pigmented, freckly, dull, and acne-prone skin. I’m a little obsessed. So why are they so amazing and what do they actually do? Are there different forms and strengths? When do I use them? Let me break it down for you.
Q: What is a Retinoid // Retinol // Tretinoin?
A: You hear all three of these being used interchangeably around our office and trust me, I know it gets confusing. There are definitely differences so let me help clarify.
Retinoids, (tretinoins, and Retin-A) are prescription-strength Vitamin A derivatives that come in 3 strengths, .025%, .05%, .1%.
When applied topically, they cause skin cells to divide and die at a quicker rate causing skin cell turnover to happen more rapidly. They slow down aging skin and as well as many other great things such as …
• Boost collagen
• Brighten complexion,
• Prevent clogged pores
• Control oil production (which helps with acne)
• Evens out pigment like brown spots and melasma,
• Reverses the early steps in pre-cancer cell formations
• Increases blood flow to the skin.
Generally, retinoids take 4-6 weeks or 3 skin cell-cycles to take full effect but there’s noticeable improvement in skin quality and texture in about 2 weeks.
Retinols are the baby version of retinoids, in a more natural and gentler form. They don’t penetrate as deep and aren’t as effective to its big sister because retinol needs to be converted into a retinoid in the skin. It still stimulates collagen but at a much slower pace. On the brighter side, you can have less irritation and peeling.
Q: Who should use a Retinoid or Retinol?
A: Anyone who wants their skin to look and feel younger and healthier! If you have normal or oily skin, rosacea, larger pores, acne, hyperpigmentation, brown spots, poor texture, or wrinkles, your skin will love the effects of a retinol or retinoid. There’s no other product that speeds up cell renewal like they do. Your skin actually acts younger. If you have dry skin (not dehydrated, but truly dry), sensitive, or you can’t tolerate the redness or peeling from a true retinoid, use a retinol instead.
* Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid all retinoid and retinol products.
Q: When and how often do I use a Retinoid and Retinol?
A: Always use at night after you wash and tone. Again, dose and strength can vary depending on a person’s skin type and comfort level with peeling (yes, you do have some peeling with retinoids until your skin acclimates to it (2-6 weeks)).
Q: Can I use retinols on my neck, chest, and body?
A: Absolutely! We encourage it! However, because the skin is much “thinner” and more sensitive in those areas, I recommend using half the amount and only 2x a week. We have an amazing Body Tretinoin that we love! Great for creepy skin on arms, legs, and chest.
Now do you get the obsession with these miracle Vitamin A molecules? My skin is healthier and more youthful than it was 15 years ago. I can spot a dedicated retinoid user from a mile away. Their skin just looks so radiant, smooth, and flawless. I have a patient who is 60 and has been using retinoids for 20 years. I’d put her skin in my top 10% of all my patients! Her skin looks better than 90% of the others. Please make sure you are under the care of a skin-care professional who will guide and help you with the proper product for your skin. Please do not buy any retinoids on Amazon! There are way too many fraudulent companies selling fake products. Lastly, don’t forget to ALWAYS, ALWAYS wear a sunscreen with at least 4% zinc or titanium oxide, 365 days a year!