Dermatologists agree, you should be using retinoids. Dr. Ranella Hirsch, M.D., president-elect of the American Society of Dermatologic Surgeons swears by them. “We have beautiful, profound data that shows if you use [retinoids] for 20 years, you’re going to look a lot better than someone who doesn’t.” But before you run out to the store and stock up, there are some things you should keep in mind.
Different Forms of Retinoids
First things first, there are multiple forms of retinoids. The first one we will explore is Retinol. Retinol is the most popular form of retinoid and is present in many anti aging skincare products. This potent anti-aging ingredient deactivates the matrix metalloproteinases that break down collagen. It increases cell turnover and improves the skin’s moisture retention. Retinol should be applied only at night and always be followed with sunscreen every morning. This is because retinol can make your skin more photosensitive.
Retinyl palmitate is a combination of pure retinol and palmitic acid. It is the weakest form of retinoid, but when present in high concentrations it displays results similar to that of retinol. Tretinoin is one of the strongest retinoids and can be found in many prescription strength treatments like Retin-A and Renova. It can address acne and photodamage, and is tied with hydroxy acids as the most recommended ingredient because of this unique duality. Tretinoin is the only chemical to date to receive FDA approval for anti-aging and anti-sun damage properties.
Benefits of Retinoids
Retinoids have the capability of minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improving uneven skin tone, restoring skin firmness, and shrinking the appearance of enlarged pores. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology retinoids are very effective at slowing and preventing photo-aging due to UV exposure. This mechanism is explained through its interaction with the retinoic acid (RAR) and retinoid X receptors (RXR) located in the nucleus of the cell. These nuclear receptors increase the production of procollagen and function to block the release of inflammatory mediators. Retinoids are able to partially improve any collagen deficiency that exists in the skin when applied topically. A publication in Toxicology and Skin Health found that retinoids were able to penetrate to the deeper layer of skin (the dermis), where collagen is formed. Finally, since retinol is vitamin A, an antioxidant, applying a retinoid to your skin works to combat the damaging effects of free radicals.
Side Effects of Retinoids
Retinoids are notorious for causing skin dryness and irritation. These side effects are largely due to how retinoids work: increasing cellular turnover reveals a fresh, smooth layer of new skin, but this can also cause dryness and irritation because of transepidermal water loss. (Acta Dermatologica, 1995). To reduce the incidence of dryness and irritation, it’s recommended to wait at least 10 minutes after washing your face to allow the skin to dry, before applying the retinoid product. When the skin is wet the ingredients are able to penetrate the skin more easily, increasing the efficacy of the products as well as the chance of side effects. Additionally, you must use moisturizers that draw in moisture from the air and add that moisture back into your skin while using a retinoid. Moisture-attracting humectants like hyaluronic acid, or skin-softening ingredients like ceramides, are great for sealing moisture back into your skin from the environment.