My answer is always the same. When patients ask me what ingredient is most likely to make a major visible improvement in their skin, hands down, it is Retinol. Of course with Retinol, it is imperative to use sunblock as well, so I guess I kinda cheat on the answer with a two-for. Few skin care ingredients have been as extensively studied—and proven—as retinoids. This vitamin A derivative has skin benefits that range from improvement in visible signs of aging to reduction in acne and brown spots.
The primary effect of retinoids is increased skin cell turnover. Our skin cells are constantly multiplying and sloughing off, about every 30-35 days. When retinoids are introduced to the skin, damaged cells are eliminated and replaced with healthy cells more quickly. Secondarily, retinoids stimulate the formation of new collagen in the upper levels of the skin thus resulting in increased firmness and smoothness. Retinoids can also reduce the activity of melanocytes, the cells that produce unwanted pigment in our skin (e.g. melasma, hyperpigmentation).
Retinoids play a role in preparing the skin for more aggressive treatments and procedures, including laser resurfacing, deeper chemical peels, and even plastic surgery. Not only do they help get the skin to its healthiest state, they also increase the rate at which skin heals and reduce the risk of pigment changes after such procedures. It is often suggested to stop use of your Retinol cream one week before and after your treatment, as skin may be irritated more easily when using such an active ingredient along with a more aggressive procedure.
Side effects such as irritation, redness or skin flaking may accompany the benefits of retinol, but they can be managed. To acclimate the skin, start with a low-concentration retinol or retinoid, and gradually build up the concentration over a few months. For some of the more anti-aging retinols, such as ZO Skin Health Radical Night Repair, a pure and stable form of retinol, it is beneficial to start using it twice a week at night, then build up a tolerance to eventually be using it nightly. If side effects persist, stop using the retinoid for a few days, use hydrocortisone to calm the skin, and then resume retinoid use. The good news is, the irritation is never permanent, but the benefits of retinoids are long lasting.
As with any method of skin exfoliation, retinoid use can make skin more sun sensitive, so diligent use of sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater is essential. When applying retinoids to the face, it’s also important to take care around the eye area. I recommend applying an hour or two before bedtime, as applying right before bed may cause the product to migrate too close to the eye, especially when sleeping on one’s side and then causing eyelid irritation.
In my opinion, just about anyone is a good candidate for a retinoid. Beyond the visible skin improvement, retinoids benefit both wrinkles and acne, they play a valuable role both before and after surgery, chemical peels and laser resurfacing treatments. Rosacea sufferers, those with hyperpigmentation, or uneven skin tone and even those wishing to reduce the appearance of surgical scars will come to see the great benefits of Retinol. Begin with the Alyria Multi Correction Night Serum or one of the many ZO Skin Health day or night creams, add a Retinol eye cream, and see visible results in as little as 3 months.
And don’t forget to stock up on sunblock!
~ Sheri Roselle, Medical Esthetician at Toronto Dermatology Centre