If there’s one skincare ingredient that is perpetually trending, it’s retinol. Also known as vitamin A, topical retinol has earned its do-it-all reputation for good reason; it works to help increase the rate at which skin cells turnover and renew themselves, which results in a myriad of skin-brightening benefits. These include evening out skin tone and texture, fading fine lines and wrinkles, staving off and preventing the development of acne, and refining the look of pores. It also boosts collagen production in the skin, promoting a smoother, plumper and more youthful looking complexion.

Retinol has been widely researched and approved for over the counter use since the eighties, yet much misconception about the ingredient still remains. Here, we’re breaking down the basics of retinol, including why it’s such a potent and versatile topical, plus the best ways to reap its many benefits.

RETINOL VS. RETINOIDS

The word ‘retinoid’ is a blanket term for all of the different forms and derivations of vitamin A (therefore, retinol is one type of retinoid). Scientifically speaking, retinoid refers to the class of molecules that bind to retinoid acid receptors in the skin.

You will find retinoids in both over the counter and prescription forms. Although lesser in strength, non-prescription retinoids can deliver many of the same skin-brightening benefits while also minimizing negative side effects. Retinol is one over the counter retinoid, and perhaps the most well-known. Plant-based retinol alternatives, like bakuchiol, also boast many of the same benefits as their retinoid counterparts.

 

POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS

All retinoids, retinol included, often get a bad rep because of their potentially irritating side effects (think red, flaking, itchy skin). However, as with just about any skincare ingredient, when used correctly the potential for irritation can be minimized and even prevented altogether.

When it comes to retinol, slow and steady wins the race; Use a pea-sized amount once or twice a week to start, and gradually work your way up to every other day, or every day, as your skin builds tolerance. Better yet, use a retinol cream or serum that is formulated with hydrating ingredients, such as squalane or hyaluronic acid, which can help soothe and hydrate skin while the retinol works its magic. Also, apply it at nighttime, as overnight is when your skin naturally renews itself, and retinol can also make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

THE MANY BENEFITS OF RETINOL

The benefits of topical retinol read like a laundry list of all the enviable complexion qualities you can think of: promoting clarity and brightness, reducing hyperpigmentation and fine lines, and smoothing out skin texture. As mentioned, retinol achieves these impressive feats by speeding up skin cell turnover rate and also promoting collagen production in the skin.

As the most abundant protein in the body, the collagen in our skin works alongside elastin (another structural protein) to keep its barrier strong and healthy and its appearance firm and supple. As we age, our natural collagen reserves deplete, which is precisely what makes retinol such a potent anti-aging ingredient.

 

WHO SHOULD USE (AND AVOID) RETINOL?

While nearly all skin types and issues can potentially benefit from retinol, it is perhaps most ideal for those with acne-prone, oily and aging or mature skin. Those with very dry or extra sensitive skin are at the highest risk for developing irritation after using retinol, although the right product formulation (gentle and moisturizing) and skincare routine (slow and steady) will mitigate this.

Using a retinol product that is formulated with hydrating ingredients, such as Naturium’s Retinol Cream 2.5%, will help deliver all of the aforementioned benefits while also mitigating side effects.

 

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