4 Things You Need to Know before Using Retinol

Retinol is one of the most popular skincare ingredients, but perhaps one of the least understood. Its many benefits almost sound too good to be true: soooo...retinol treats blemishes, but it also fights fine lines?

There’s even common confusion about what to call this superstar — is it retinol, retinoid...vitamin A? To clear things up, we’ve consulted board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) for a primer on everything you need to know before you start using retinol in your routine.

Woman on a laptop who could be researching when to start using retinol

Retinol vs. retinoid

Retinol belongs to a class of dermatological ingredients called retinoids. It's the over-the-counter version of a retinoid, while tretinoin is its prescription cousin. Derived from vitamin A, retinoids are some of the most well-researched, clinically proven anti-agers. Their many benefits include:

  • Speeding up cell turnover
  • Increasing collagen production
  • Stimulating blood flow
  • Evening out skin tone
  • Controlling inflammation
  • Reducing fine lines and wrinkles

When should you start using retinol?

While there’s no hard and fast rule, dermatologists typically suggest incorporating retinol into your skincare routine in your mid-twenties, particularly if you have blemish-prone skin or hyperpigmentation. It’s interesting to note that retinoids were originally developed to treat blemishes, with their anti-ageing benefits discovered later.

If you’re already in your 30s (or beyond!), don’t fret: it’s never too late to begin using retinoids. In fact, retinol and other vitamin A derivatives are extremely beneficial as we age, since our skin cycle slows — and retinoids give it a jump start.

How to incorporate retinol into your routine

Dr. Lee suggests introducing retinol slowly, as its effects can be strong. While some redness, flaking and irritation is common, this should subside after a few weeks. Some patients benefit from applying the product every other night — Dr. Lee emphasizes that you should only use retinoids at night, because of their photosensitising properties. And make sure you’re applying (and reapplying) sunscreen daily, even if you’re mostly indoors.

If you’re experiencing a lot of irritation from your retinoid product, try “sandwiching” it between layers of moisturiser. This will help soothe skin and protect it from the drying effects of retinol and other vitamin A acids.

SLMD Skincare Retinol Serum for blemish prone or ageing skin

What’s the best retinol to use?

Look for a retinol that’s labeled “safe for all skin types.” These products typically contain gentler formulas that incorporate skin-nourishing ingredients to guard against potential irritation. SLMD Skincare Retinol Serum includes both retinol and vitamin A derivatives, plus hyaluronic acid, allantoin and provitamin B5 to hydrate, moisturise and soothe skin.

And if you plan to use the “sandwich” application technique, try SLMD Skincare Skin Drink — a skin-quenching blend of hyaluronic acid (which holds 1000x its weight in water) and squalane, a moisturiser remarkably similar to skin’s own natural oils.

Dr. Lee’s last word

Retinol slows down the breakdown of collagen, while simultaneously encouraging rapid cell turnover in our skin. Retinol works in incredible ways to help skin cells regenerate overnight, so you wake up with fresh, new skin. This regeneration works a lot like exfoliating in the sense that it helps to turnover old cells to lighten imperfections, hyperpigmentation, and even dark spots and wrinkles.

—Dr. Sandra Lee


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