- Retinol, a form of vitamin A, has powerful anti-aging properties.
- It increases cell turnover, and stimulates elastin and collagen production.
- Retinol has some side effects and should be introduced slowly into your skin care routine.
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative, that when applied topically, improves the health and appearance of the skin and reverses signs of aging. It promotes collagen and elastin production, and increases skin cell turnover rate to encourage the shedding of damaged skin. Adding a retinol anti-aging product to your skin care routine is an effective solution to address many of the concerns associated with maturing skin.
Retinol in Skin Care
Retinol belongs to a class of vitamin A-based topical treatments called retinoids. Retinoids are the most used and studied anti-aging compounds, and have been proven to effectively treat the most common signs of aging. Retinol lightens dark spots or hyperpigmentation, erases fine lines and wrinkles, and improves skin firmness and elasticity.
Over the counter vs. prescription retinol
Retinol is a medium-strength retinoid and is available over the counter. It generally requires three to six months of daily use to see results.
Prescription-strength retinoids include retinoic acid and tretinoin, commonly referred to as Retin-A. These products are significantly stronger, with results seen in six to eight weeks.
However, prescription products are not necessarily the better option. One study comparing a 0.2% retinol product with 0.025% tretinoin found no statistically significant results between the two products after 84 days, with the retinol product being better tolerated.
Anti-Aging Benefits of Retinol
Retinol has been demonstrated to reverse and prevent the signs of aging including fine lines, wrinkles and uneven skin tone.
It does so by increasing skin cell turnover rate and promoting the production of collagen and elastin, two key proteins for skin firmness and thickness.
Preventing and reducing wrinkles
By slowing the breakdown of collagen and encouraging production, retinol prevents skin from becoming lax and increases the firmness of aged skin.
Evening out skin tone
Because retinol increases cell turnover rate, it is effective in exfoliating hyperpigmented cells from skin and replacing them with healthy new cells.
Best Anti-Aging Retinol Products
The best retinol product for you ultimately depends on your skin’s tolerance of retinoids and overall sensitivity.
For normal to oily skin that doesn’t need extra hydration and doesn’t react easily, a retinol serum works best. A serum generally has moderate percentages of the active ingredient (0.04%–0.1%) and provides rapid results. It can be applied at night before your regular moisturizer.
If you have dry or sensitive skin, choose a retinol cream, moisturizer or facial oil with a lower percentage (0.01%–0.03%) and ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and ceramides to deliver extra hydration and protection to your skin.
In the first few weeks of a retinol regime, it is important to use retinol products less frequently to avoid redness and peeling. The first product you choose should contain a low concentration of retinol (between 0.01% and 0.05%). Use a pea-sized amount and only use it once or twice a week while your skin adjusts; you can then switch to a stronger product once your skin is accustomed, if you so choose.
During the adjustment period, your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight is increased. It is therefore important to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher every day until the side effects subside.
Can retinol cause wrinkles?
Retinol does not cause wrinkles in the long term. However, if you use too much of the product at first, your skin may become dehydrated and appear crepey. You can avoid this effect by taking care to only use the product once or twice a week while your skin adjusts.
Can you use retinol long term?
The longest study assessing retinoid safety for topical use lasted four years and did determine retinoids to be safe for that length of time. However, there are no studies documenting the effects of topical retinol or other retinoids over longer periods.
Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, can counteract the signs of aging by accelerating skin cell turnover, and increasing collagen and elastin production. It is available in over-the-counter skin care products as well as in prescription-strength formulas.
Retinol can cause unwanted side effects during the first weeks of use including peeling and redness. To reduce these effects, start with a product formulated with a very low concentration to develop a tolerance. You can then move on to stronger products if you so choose.
As retinol for anti-aging benefits is a relatively new development in the skin care industry, long-term effects of use have not yet been established.
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- Bellemere, G., Stamatas, G., Bruere, V., Bertin, C., Issachar, N., & Oddos, T. (2009). Antiaging Action of Retinol: From Molecular to Clinical. Skin Pharmacology And Physiology, 22(4), 200-209. doi:10.1159/000231525
- Bouloc, A., Vergnanini, A., & Issa, M. (2015). A double-blind randomized study comparing the association of Retinol and LR2412 with tretinoin 0.025% in photoaged skin. Journal Of Cosmetic Dermatology, 14(1), 40-46. doi:10.1111/jocd.12131
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- Kafi, R., Kwak, H., Schumacher, W., Cho, S., Hanft, V., & Hamilton, T. et al. (2007). Improvement of Naturally Aged Skin With Vitamin A (Retinol). Archives Of Dermatology, 143(5). doi:10.1001/archderm.143.5.606
- Kong, R., Cui, Y., Fisher, G. J., Wang, X., Chen, Y., Schneider, L. M., & Majmudar, G. (2015). A comparative study of the effects of retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skin. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 15(1), 49–57. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.12193