Retinol is the superstar ingredient in anti-aging skincare. It helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, reduces large pores, repairs sun damage, and brightens a dull complexion. Retinol has been placed on a pedestal by skincare professionals and dermatologists as the gold standard in wrinkle defense.
However, the retinol ingredient does not come in one form. This can create confusion in the market as we try to figure out what really works, which one is best suited for use on skin, and which product actually contains the real deal. To ensure your skin looks younger and wrinkle free, you have to pick the right type of retinol.
Your skin actually uses retinoic acid—whether we talk of Retin-A, Retinoids or Retinol. Retinoic acid is a powerful and extremely effective cell renewal ingredient that enhances communication between skin cells and has the ability to connect to nearly any skin cell receptor site, and send messages to it on how to behave. For instance, it can tell tired worn out cells to behave like younger healthy cells hence the ability to enhance cell renewal for a healthier complexion.
Retinoic acid also acts as an antioxidant and can halt free-radical damage that causes premature aging and wrinkling, along with other signs of aging. It also boosts collagen production, fades pigmentation from sun damage, repairs discoloration, and is also believed to build elastin.
Over-the-counter products, or simply products which you can purchase from beauty stores without a prescription, contain Vitamin A derivatives, or Retinol in ester forms, which you’ll see in ingredients list in the product labels such as retinyl linoleate, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, etc. These esters must first be converted into retinoic acid by the skin at the cellular level so that the skin can use them. The weaker esters must go through more conversions while the stronger esters go though fewer conversions. The less the conversions the better it works.
If you go to a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist or an esthetician, they can get you prescription based Retinoids which come in names like Tretinoin, Tazarotene or Retin-A. These contain a higher concentration of retinoic acid (up to 5% and higher) compared to other options that range between 0.5 to 2.5% concentrations.
Now, biochemically, whichever you use, retinols and retinoids function exactly the same way. The main difference is that retinols are weaker compared to retinoids and may take longer to work. However, with continued use of both ingredients, you will definitely see similar results in terms of reduced wrinkles and fine lines, refined skin texture and a more even skin tone. Since retinoic acid helps strengthen your skin barrier, your skin will have a higher capacity to protect itself from external aggressors and will be more resilient and healthier.
Now, here’s the thing…
Your skin may not tolerate prescription retinoids for long. These are meant to be used as treatment perhaps for a given duration to a given condition depending on the guidelines given to you by your dermatologist. This is why skincare products and cosmetics use retinol esters or Vitamin A derivatives because your skin will tolerate these longer and you’ll reap more from the benefits of retinol if your skin eases into it, and adjusts accordingly. Retinols and retinoids have almost similar effects when you first start to use them such as irritation, dryness, itch or redness, but your skin definitely becomes tolerant and adjusts over time. Even the most sensitive skin types can be ‘trained’ to do well with retinol and get its benefits.
However, severe skin conditions like extreme and severe sun damage that has lasted for many years, and some severe forms of acne or other severe skin conditions might benefit better with more potent prescription retinoid treatments. If you’re simply interested in creating a skincare regimen that helps keep you youthful and wrinkle-free, retinol derivatives are your best bet. Start slowly and use retinol at night only as your skin gets used to it.
Retinol creams can be extremely useful not only for your face but also hands, neck and chest area. Remember a little goes a long way, and a pea size is enough per use.