Skincare A – Z … Vitamin A (Retinol)
This is a post I wrote last year but have had so many questions around retinol I thought I would repost it to help you out.
Retinol is a skincare ingredient you may have heard of and its one of those you may be a little scared of with numerous horror stories. Well lets de-mystify Retinol, because research clearly shows that retinol can be a skincare good guy if you treat it with respect.
What is Retinol?
Put simply retinol is the whole form of vitamin A. molecule, which is up there as one of my favorite vitamins for your skin. It’s a great cell-communicating ingredient, which means it can literally connect to almost any skin cell and tell it to behave like a healthy, younger cell. Its a mega antioxidant, so protecting your skin from free radicals, regenerating cell growth, repairing damaged cells helping prevent wrinkling, increasing collagen production & generally speaking skin cell turnover. (This is sounding good isn’t it!)
Retinol (The whole Vitamin A) can be broken down into more potent compounds, which are called “retinoids” Some can be used in your over the counter beauty product whereas others are prescription only. Its one of a handful of skincare ingredients with small enough molecules to penetrate the outer layers of the skin, work its way down to the lower layers to the collagen and elastin and actually have a physical impact.
Retinol is basically a type of skin exfoliator from the inside out, not from the surface down like AHA’s, it works at a deeper level by increasing skin cell turnover. It can actually stimulate collagen production, smooth the surface of your skin, even out pigmentation, unblock pores and make the skin look fresh and younger. (Yes this is all actually scientifically proved!!)
I do need to clarify Vitamin A itself is derived only from food, (green leafy veg, fish, red and yellow veg etc. etc.) and cannot be made in the body on its own, it is created and stored in the liver.
Lets get a bit techy…..
How does Retinol work?
Retinol is a little bit like a bag of scrabble letters, (bear with me) on their own they don’t make any sense. Retinol can’t communicate directly to the skin cells until its been turned into retinoic acid, which happens when its been absorbed. what is Retinoic acid I hear you say?
Retinoic acid (also known as tretinoin) is a bit like you, when you turn those scrabble letters into a word that makes sense. (Unless you are dyslexic like me!) Retinoic acid is the active part that actually has an impact on cells and regenerates them.
Another ingredient you might see in your skincare is Retinol palmitate (also a retinoid) Its a gentler ingredient and its not the same as retinol. It is less irritating and gentler on the skin, this is because its takes longer for it to turn into retinoic acid, the bit that’s actually able to “chat” effectively with the cells. It has to be absorbed, turned into retinol, then turned into retinoic acid. Some say its not as effective, but basically it does the same job but slower and less irritating to the skin.
Just a couple of notes…..
Tretinoin – is prescription strength synthetic retinoid and not to be confused with your beauty product retinols.
I do need to mention Roaccutane – this is an oral, prescription strength vitamin A derivative for severe acne, which is very strong with numerous unpleasant side effects and not to be confused with our topical cosmetics with a touch of retinol in.
Q. Is Retinol good for Anti-Ageing?
YES, it does have a visible impact on the skin, so if you want fabulous results, then absolutely you might want to add it into your routine. However keeping skin healthy and young looking requires a combined approach, a mix of ingredients and products that work together to give your skin exactly what it needs. So it might only be one aspect of your whole skincare recipe.
Q. Is Retinol good for spots & large pores?
Pore size is all down to genetics, its what we are born with and very little can be done to actually reduce the size of pores. However….. Retinol may be able to help pores that have become damaged and larger over the years…. How?
Retinol communicates with cells, basically telling lazy cells to wakeup and do what they should be doing. In the case of enlarged pores it will improve their natural function and also reduce the “stickiness” of cells within the pores making it more difficult for pores to get clogged.
It also reduces sebum activity which results in less spots, blocked pores and breakouts. Win Win!
Need to Know before you start using Retinol
Most skins can use retinol, (super sensitive and rosacea I would generally avoid) just go steady when you start using it or it will cause redness, flaking and irritation, which is where its got a bit of a bad name as a skin irritator. Start with a low strength retinol 1- 2 times a week, let your skin get used to it then slowly increase this over the month to every other night then daily if your skin tolerates it. If at any point your skin becomes too sensitive, then listen to your skin and cut down until it rebalances again. Be aware there are different strengths and percentages within each different product, always read the pack and start of low and increase slowly over time.
SPF is a very simple must, none negotiable if you have retinol in your skincare routine, and not just in your foundation, you need at least SPF 30 please.
Q. Can I use my other skincare while I’m using retinol?
Yes! It will be essential to keep the skin balanced and healthy. As your skin becomes brighter and fresher looking (believe me it will) you might feel less need for harsh cleansers or maybe add in different serums for extra hydration.
Q. What about exfoliating my skin?
Absolutely yes…. These work really well together. Aha’s bha’s and gritty exfoliants work more from the surface. Retinol works in a different way, it absorbs and works at a deeper level within the dermis, so they will actually support each others actions. The surface exfoliation will actually allow your retinols to absorb easier, work faster and have a bigger impact. Just be aware you may need to alter how often you apply your retinol, strength of retinol or how often you exfoliate so as not to over stimulate the skin. As I always recommend listen to what your skin is telling you. Some times less is more.
Q. When do I apply retinol?
At night is best… I will elaborate
Vitamin A breaks down in sunlight, hence why retinols are usually packaged in opaque bottles, but skin brand formulations are made to protect the active ingredients, so applying it in the day is not going to do any harm… HOWEVER My preference is not to apply it in the day. You are going to get the best out of your retinol if you apply it at night time. it takes a number of hours to fully absorb and you only need to apply your retinol once a day not twice. Let your retinols absorb without makeup and sunscreen over the top, let them do their amazing work on their own. Keep the morning for some Vitamin C, hyaluronic acid or other plant based serum and antioxidants.
Q. Can I use retinol if I’m pregnant?
Your best not to but don’t panic! Vitamin A as in the oral form in mega quantities has been proven to cause birth defects. We are talking roaccutane acne medication, not your at home beauty retinol skincare cream, there is a huge difference. The amount of retinol in your face cream that actually absorbs into your blood stream is vastly different to an oral prescription Vitamin A.
I have a number of clients who have planned to get pregnant and chosen to stop using their retinol products out of personal preferred precaution before. I also have a number of clients who find out they are pregnant and then stop using their retinol. If you are using retinol and find out you are pregnant, don’t panic, skincare brands have to be extra cautious to protect themselves from being sued, they will have usage guidelines on packaging which they need there from a legal point of view, just as soon as you find out there is due to be the patter of noisy feet, take it out of your routine. (Also take out salicylic acid)
Q. I’m going on holiday should I stop using retinol?
To be honest yes, I usually do recommend my clients to. Its not about the extra heat, or if you are going to suddenly react to your retinol or the sun making it less effective. Its about the fact we are increasing skin cell turnover, fresher, new skin at the surface which will be more prone to sun damage if you don’t protect your skin correctly. I usually suggest if you are going to be in the sun then stop using your retinol a few days before, there are so many other skin nourishing things that would be better to go on holiday with you, (hydrating toners, face oil, moisturizer, spf) leave your retinol at home, pick it up again a week or two after your home.
Q. How do I apply my retinol?
It will depend on the different formulation but Ideally Apply to dry skin, in the evening, after you have cleansed. Don’t go over your eyelids, that would be a bit of a rookie error, and most probably wakeup feeling you have spent the night looking into the sun. (It wont actually do an damage, but mascara may not be your best friend the next morning) Go around the eyes, include the crow’s feet, but not right up to your eyeballs, you will find serums and creams will naturally absorb in the area around so it will travel inwards slightly.
Q. How long before I can see results?
In my experience, you might see some visible results after 4 weeks, however it takes an average of 3 months of regular use for the best results to be seen