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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Retinol 101: General Overview and How to Get Started!

If you are over 30, you need to be incorporating a Retinol product into your daily skin care routine. No matter how amazing your skin is, it will not always be this way. Sorry to burst your bubble. 
Retinol can act as a pre-aging mechanism just as well as it acts as a current anti-aging product. You may have heard horror stories about how drying and harsh this stuff can be and some of those stories are definitely true. But using Retinol doesn't have to be a scary thing. There are so many products out there that don't tear your face apart or leave you relegated to "homebody" status for weeks on end. Like I said, if you're over 30, listen up! And if you're over 40, my God, drop what you're doing and give me your full attention for a few minutes.

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a form of  Vitamin A. It is one of the animal forms of Vitamin A, to be exact. There are three generations of retinoids, used for various things, but you need only to concern yourself with the first generation which includes: retinol, tretinoin (Retin-A), retinal, etc. Retinol started out in the use of acne treatment, as far as Dermatological uses go, and it still is used as a powerful component of moderate to severe acne conditions. But then doctors started to notice that Retinol was also doing something for anti-aging. Being that this derivative of Vitamin A goes beneath the skin to increase skin cell turnover, it aids in shedding the old stuff to reveal a fresher, brighter, appearance (i.e. new skin cells). Its kind of like an exfoliant on speed. We all exfoliate, right? Well, this stuff does it quicker, more efficiently, and minus the grainy texture. Retinoids are used in a variety of other ways as well, but we are only talking about its anti-aging abilities here.

When and How Do You Use Retinol?

Typically, they are used as part of your night time skin routine. Why? Because they make your skin more vulnerable to sunlight. Prescription Retin-A and things of this nature should never be used during the day. On the other hand, there are plenty of daytime Retinol products that can be used during the day along with an SPF. Essentially, these are products that have low concentrations of Retinol and therefor are safe for day use. Depending on what product you are using will determine how you use it as far as its incorporation into your skin care regimen. Most of the type, the prescription Retinols are used on their own after you've cleansed, toned, and applied your serum(s). Again, it depends which product you have.

What Kinds of Products are Available?

There are two kinds of Retinol categories. Prescription and non-prescription. I have used both. Prescription Retinol products such as Retin-A, Tretinoin cream, Retin-A Micro, Refissa, Atralin, etc. are stronger and much more potent. Typically they are used nightly (or however often your skin can handle it, some cannot do a nightly application) as the last step in a skin routine. To make them work better, you are supposed to forget the moisturizer and let the Retinol do its thing. I have tried a few in this category and they were just too powerful for my sensitive skin. To put it mildly, it tore my face up with incessant peeling, redness, stinging, burning, you name it. This is why you should start slowly and work your way up when your tolerance is built up. There are varying strengths of the prescription Retinol products, starting from .025% up to the strongest which is 1%. If you've never tried a product like this, I would suggest using an over the counter version first to measure your tolerance before heading into the big leagues.

The strongest non-prescription Retinol that can be purchased over the counter is a .15%. I personally think this is a good place to start. It seems like everything skin care related has some sort of Retinol in the ingredients. And that's because it works. Its not a fad, a passing phase, or some type of trend. Retinol is a proven, tried and true, Dermatologist recommended, anti-ager. I have some recommendations of things I've used that I should have started with before using the harder stuff. If you have really sensitive skin, you should be able to tolerate these but like I said, start slow, and work your way up. Try using a Retinol product a couple of times per week at night and see how your skin reacts.

Over the Counter Recommendations:

Neutrogena Anti-Wrinkle Cream SPF 15:
This is an Allure Magazine beauty award winner! I have been using it for a while and find it very gentle and effective in presenting a youthful appearance. I use it during the daytime. This may be a good place to start!

Philosophy Help Me Nighttime Retinol Cream:
If you're looking for something stronger that isn't prescription strength, this product contains the strongest (.15%) Retinol that you can get over the counter. Its only to be used at night because of this! It does wonders for pore minimization (over time) and is very highly rated. Another beauty award winning product, I find this to be a happy medium between the prescription products and the weaker OTC alternatives.

More drugstore rec's?  Try the brand Roc, they make some retinol infused products specialized for sensitive skin as well.

Philosophy On a Clear Day Retinol Clarifying Lotion:
This can be used during the day or night. For those that don't have a problem tolerating it, you may use the Help Me at night and the On a Clear Day for daytime. This product is supposed to reduce the discoloration of post-acne skin problems. Being that many Retinol products can be drying, this lotion has moisturizing qualities to prevent this and be able to soothe and calm the skin instead. I have this product but haven't used it yet. I know that it is a favorite among those that have acne scars and those that have current problems with acne as well as those that want the anti-aging qualities that it possesses.


  1. I would reccomend this product. It is easy to use and it is a good cleanser.

  2. An overview on different use of retinoid for different range of treatment.

  3. The Neutrogena product mentioned above is a day care product. With my knowledge retinol based products should be avoided during the day. Also that they become inactivated under the sunlight.