One of the ingredients I love in my personal routine is retinol. It is always present. I recommend it for many different skin concerns. Let’s take a deeper look and see what it does.
Retinol and Retin-A, or the class of ingredients called retinoids or retinoic acid, are Vitamin A derivatives. These ingredients work primarily as exfoliants. They are special because they exfoliate the surface of the skin as well as the interior of the pore, unlike salicylic acid, which works just in the pore or glycolic, which works mostly on the surface. Because of the way they exfoliate, they are especially good at getting rid of deep clogs and textural acne.
Retinol is the over-the-counter version of retinoic acid. Retin-A is the prescription form of retinoic acid. However, don’t take this to mean that Retin-A is better than retinol. Some skin types may find that they can tolerate the lower doses in an OTC retinol product.
Retinoids have many benefits aside from just their amazing pore-cleaning abilities. Retinoids are the only FDA-approved anti-aging ingredient. It was being studied for acne prevention when people started noticing that their wrinkles were going away. When you have damage to the skin, the skin responds by creating scar tissue. Scar tissue is essentially collagen that has grown back irregularly, like you see in wrinkles or in acne scars. Healthy collagen is spiraled like a slinky, and it lines up in straight lines. Damaged collagen has grown back over- or under-spiraled, and it starts to bundle together and collapse on itself. Retinoids work on these irregularities by breaking down the damaged collagen and encouraging the growth of healthy, properly spiraled, perfectly aligned collagen. So retinoids are great for decreasing the depth of wrinkle and repairing acne scars.
Retinoids also help to control melanin production, which makes them great to repair the uneven pigmentation that many people see after years in the sun. For acne sufferers, especially those with deeper complexions (think: olive skin tones and deeper), it can fade the marks that remain long after blemishes have healed.
But here come the cautions. Retin-A is aggressive. Many people experience flaking, redness, and sensitivities while they are using it. Retinol (the OTC version) may be easier to tolerate for these skin types. It takes longer to see results than the prescription strength products, but avoiding the adverse side effects may be worth it. Retinoids are also contraindicated for waxing, since it sensitizes and may cause lifting of the skin (read: a big patch of no skin… not the brow look you were going for!) Retinoids are absolutely contraindicated for pregnancy.
Retinol should always be used as part of your nighttime routine. It can cause photosensitivity, so you need to be diligent about applying a sunscreen every day (even if you get minimal sun exposure). Dermatologists usually recommend using the product every day, but more sensitive types might not tolerate that much. Stop using your retinoids if you’re going on a big beach vacation or if you’re planning on getting or have just gotten a deep chemical peel.
I really believe that everyone can find a retinoid that works for them, but you may need to try some variations to your routine or the way you use the product to minimize the adverse side effects. Here are some tips for dealing with the irritation that retinoids may sometimes cause.
- Try using it less frequently. Try it twice a week, and slowly work your way up to more frequent usage. Once you start to see the results you want, you may want to dial your usage back again.
- Apply a light moisturizer before the prescription. The moisturizer will act as a buffer between your skin and the prescription, slowing down the absorption. That can actually make a huge difference in the level of irritation.
- Use a gentle enzyme mask to dissolve away the flakiness. This will help you control your urge to pick and keep your skin hydrated and smooth.
- Try a soothing hydrating mask. Dry skin types can definitely use this help. Even acne prone skin types need this boost. Masking more frequently can help to give your skin that extra hydration and soothing that it needs.
Retinol and Retin-A are my hero ingredients. You can’t beat the multiple benefits that you get from one product. But it is an ingredient where less is definitely more, so find the balance your skin needs.
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After a long discussion about the best products, my client asked me to name the one thing you absolutely have to do to have great skin for life. I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. Instead, I have the five things that you must do to maintain your skin for life.
- Wear SPF every day. Start young. UV damage causes 80% of aging, including collagen damage, pigmentation, and potential skin cancer. Obviously the best way to avoid the problem of aging is to protect yourself from the biggest cause of it. I am not anti-sun. I am pro-SPF. [Tweet this!]
- Wash your face nightly. All day long, your skin protects your insides from pollution, dirt, and grime. We wear makeup, we sweat, and we get oily. Do yourself a favor and wash all that junk off your face before your skin goes into its most reparative state. Bonus points for giving it peptides and antioxidants to use at night.
- Quit smoking. I know, smokers hate to hear about all the bad things that smoking does. But if lung cancer doesn’t give you a good enough reason to quit, maybe the increased frequency of blackheads and sallow complexion will.
- Get enough moisture. Maintaining proper moisture levels keeps the skin soft and supple. Hydrated skin always looks younger than dry, weathered skin. Stave off wrinkles longer by selecting a moisturizer with plenty of antioxidants.
- Exfoliate regularly, but gently. Exfoliation helps to stimulate cell turnover and remove dulling dead skin cells. I prefer enzyme and acid peels because they provide the most complete exfoliation, as well as cellular regeneration and hydration.
I can make a million recommendations to help you get the best skin of your life. But everything boils down to whether you’re taking care of it, not how expensive your moisturizer is. What goes inside is as important as what goes on the outside, so make sure you take care of your skin from the inside out if you want to maintain your skin for life.
Speak your mind! Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook and tell me what you think!
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Someone asked me a great question today. She was concerned that treating her rosacea was getting in the way of treating her fine lines and wrinkles. When I tell people to target their concerns, I mean that you need to address what you’d like to change about your skin, but what I really mean is that you need to treat what is actually happening with your skin.
First, let’s take a broad view of how the skin ages. It’s more complicated than skin care companies make it seem. We’ll keep it simple for this purpose. Skin cells divide in the base layer and rise to the surface, flattening and essentially dying as they go. We exfoliate the top layers off, which sends a message to the bottom layers to divide more often. As we age, the DNA of these cells starts to become damaged, and the skin cells replicate the damaged DNA. The key to anti-aging comes in when we look at the reasons why the DNA becomes damaged in the first the place. And the answer to this question is inflammation.
Inflammation is one of those words that we hear all the time. Famous doctors like Dr. Perricone, Dr. Weil, and Dr. Oz talk about it all the time. But it’s a word that gets thrown around so much that most of us don’t think about it much more. Something claims to be anti-inflammatory, and it sounds great. If inflammation is bad, obviously anti-inflammatories are good. But if we think about it for a second, just in relation to the skin, inflammation prevents the cells from replicating the way they are supposed to. Take this one step further, and we see that long-term, inflammation can lead to lots of damaged DNA replicating itself over and over. Chronic, systemic inflammation is the root of almost all aging.
My theory is always that taking care of your skin the way it needs to be taken care of is always the best anti-aging. Skin issues such as rosacea, eczema, and acne are all the result of inflammation. So if inflammation causes aging, reducing inflammation is itself anti-aging. Maintaining skin health is the best way to prevent wrinkles because you allow the skin to heal and protect itself.
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I feel like I’ve heard it all when it comes to anti-aging. It’s often my clients’ number one concern, even if they’re just 25. I’ve seen every manner of claim from skincare products and marketing companies. But, in my opinion, most anti-aging products miss the mark…and not because they make claims that may or may not be true.
There are many factors that contribute to a more “seasoned” appearance. In my mind, many of these concerns are often overlooked when people shop for an anti-aging product. If you don’t address all of the factors that make you look older than your age (or, maybe just not younger than your age), you will still look older!
The texture of your skin is the number one reason that people look older to my esthetic eye. It’s the first thing I notice when I assess a client’s skin. Does the texture appear rough? Uneven? The good news is that this is the easiest problem to fix! Look for an exfoliating mask with glycolic or lactic acid that you can use 2-3 times per week, or a serum with the same ingredients, but in a lower percentage that you can use daily. Another option, depending on the extent of the texture and other concerns, may be retinoic acid. Retin-A can only be prescribed by your dermatologist, so be sure to use it according to his or her direction. Retinol is a lower percentage of the same ingredient and can be found over-the-counter. Retinoic acid can often cause irritation, so be sure to minimize your usage if you experience redness, flaking, or sensitivity.
Ah, the concern that is near and dear to my own heart! People often think my freckles are cute, but to me, they are merging together into large brown spots and muddling my complexion. Research has shown that people will guess that someone who has uneven color to their skin is older than someone who has more fine lines! With this tidbit of information, I feel that every single person of every single color should have some form of pigment control in their arsenal, starting the minute that you begin a skincare routine. This can come in the form of a vitamin C serum (look for ascorbic acid or tetrahexadecyl ascorbate- my favorite form) or in a botanical brightener (try ingredients like arbutin, mulberry extract, or bearberry extract, to name a few). If pigmentation is already a concern for you, use one of each!
Ruddiness is diffuse redness that is always present. This is often a sign of advanced sun damage, and often comes coupled with pigmentation. Here, look for anti-inflammatory ingredients like vitamin C (yes, again), aloe, green or white tea, and azulene. Make sure that your routine is gentle, using enzyme peels instead of scrubs, which can aggravate redness.
The true secret to having better, younger looking skin is targeting your routine to address specific concerns. Anti-aging products cover a broad range of concerns, so try targeting your concern with a serum and hopefully you will see better results. Fine lines may not be your biggest worry!
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