Retinoids have the ability to do everything! Yes, everything. From reducing dark spots and hyperpigmentation, stimulating collagen, decreasing the effects of sun damage to fighting breakouts and helping with fine line prevention. This multitasker ticks all your major skin problems’ boxes and can be a precious addition to your skin treatment routine.
Below, answers to common questions about this important ingredient, straight from expert Candice Przybylski, regulatory and quality assurance specialist and director of The Green Element Consulting.
Q: What exactly are retinoids?
A: Let’s start here. It’s important to understand that there’s a distinct difference between retinol and retinoids. Retinols and retinoids are both vitamin A derivatives. The difference? “Retinoids are sold via prescription, and retinoids are stronger than retinols. The most powerful retinoids are available by prescription only,” explains Przybylski.
Q: And what about retinols?
A: Retinols difference is their potency: “Retinol is a type of retinoid used mainly in OTC products instead of prescription medications. Although retinol is super effective, it’s different from prescription retinoids on a molecular level,” explains Przybylski. “Retinols contain a lower concentration of the active retinoic acid ingredient. Prescription retinoids have a much higher concentration of the active ingredient.”
Q: How do retinoids and retinols work on my skin?
A: This ingredient creates new and fresh-looking skin by pushing out the old skin cells and regenerating new cells to replace old cells. This cycle will keep repeating itself.
“Normally the skin sheds and regenerates every 30 days. However, when you use vitamin A or retinoids it increases this skin turnover to about 14 – 21 days. A retinoid is an ingredient that builds new collagen in the skin, it thickens the skin, peels away dead skin cells, fights acne, unclogs pores and fades dark spots,” says Przybylski.
Q: How do you apply retinoids on your face?
A: “For prescription retinoid such as Tretinoin or Retin-A, what you want to do is take the size of a peanut and put it on the tip of your finger, and gently dab it on different areas on your face; almost like if you’re applying moisturiser. You want to avoid the corners of your mouth and eyes. After it is rubbed in, if you are prone to sensitivity, you may want to apply a moisturiser on top,” says Przybylski.
Q: Is there a correct order in applying retinol with the rest of your skincare products?
A: “The areas being treated with the retinol topical application should be thoroughly cleansed with water and a mild, non-medicated soap. The treated area should be washed not more than twice a day. After washing, the skin should be dried gently and completely without rubbing it. Areas of the skin being treated should be allowed to dry for at least 20 to 30 minutes before application,” says Przybylski.
Astringent toiletries should be avoided. Then finish with your moisturiser. Prescription retinoids, such as Retin-A, should be applied once daily to the area of the skin where you wish to treat. Only a sufficient quantity of medication should be applied to cover the affected areas lightly, using a gauze swab, cotton wool or the tips of clean fingers. Remember to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen the morning after, as retinol makes skin more sensitive to the sun.
Q: Does retinol belong in a morning or night-time routine?
“Skin treated with retinol or retinoids will be increasingly sensitive to sunlight and sun exposure (this includes ultraviolet sunlamps). When using these products it is recommended they preferably be applied at night and that you are diligent with your sun protection each and every day. If you are sun burnt, it is advised that you avoid using retinol products until fully recovered to avoid potential severe irritation to sensitive skin,” says Przybylski.
Q: Is it true that retinol is not safe for use during pregnancy?
A: “Topical retinoids are less likely to cause harm to the unborn child. However, as a precaution, they must not be used during pregnancy and by women that are pregnant or planning to have a baby. If you fall pregnant while using retinol-based products please inform your doctor,” says Przybylski.