Retinoids and Retinol: Your Definitive Guide

If you’re not using a retinoid as your multi-purpose anti-aging product, you probably should be (unless you’re pregnant or breastfeeding). The chemical compound that’s related to Vitamin A has been a staple in the skincare world since doctors noticed that patients treated with the stuff were looking younger longer. Dermatologists recommend retinoids as a go-to for everything from acne to aging. If you don’t understand how it works, or want to know more about what’s in it, read on for our quick tips to get you started. . . .
Retinoids and Retinol . . . What’s the Difference?
If you want a prescription-strength product, ask for a retinoid – these include brand names like Retin-A, Differin or Tazorac (tretinoin, adapalene and tazarotene). Retinol is used to refer to anything you might get over-the-counter. As with most product decisions, choosing between a prescription retinoid or a product with retinol is a determination your doctor can help you make. Generally, it’s a case by case decision. For example, a formulation with high concentrations of retinol might be right for someone with average skin, while a diagnosis of acne might call for a retinoid prescription. When it comes to retinol and retinoids, stronger isn’t necessarily always better.
What’s Vitamin A and How Does it Help?
Vitamin A plays an important role in the process of cell turnover, helping cells regulate how they reproduce. Applied directly to the skin, this vitamin compound actually accelerates turnover. It turns on the body’s own DNA repair enzymes to help reverse damage to DNA. That means it can play a role in collagen stimulation and cell aging. In fact, this compound is so widely studied, with so much science behind it, it has become one of few undisputed anti-aging tools in the dermatology toolbox. Translation: it just works. Regular use leads to smoother skin, improved texture, fewer wrinkles and less visible sun damage. People who use retinoids and retinol have better-looking skin.
How Should I Use it?
As with anything, talk to your doctor first and layout a good plan for retinoid treatment. If you have more sensitive skin or an underlying condition, your dermatologist might have a specific formulation in mind for you. Or if you’re going for a retinol, don’t overdo it and pay special attention to how your skin responds. A little irritation during the first few weeks is normal, dry, scaling and irritated skin is not, and may signal that you need to change your strategy. Turn to your dermatologist to help guide you through the “retinoid ramp up” period.
And whether you’ve chosen prescription strength or not, there are two rules you MUST follow. First, Retinoid is a chemical exfoliant and will make your skin sun-sensitive. You should be wearing sunscreen every day, regardless, but if you’re using retinoids, it’s doubly important to stay out of the sun. Be extra careful to only apply it at night and wash it off thoroughly in the morning. As long as you’re following this routine, it’s fine to use it continually, even during the summer months,
Second, like any exfoliant, it could cause your skin to be extra sensitive and even irritated when you start using it. Make sure to carefully watch how your skin reacts and adjust accordingly. Remember, your skin does not have to peel to get the benefit.

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