Retinol is one of the best go-to ingredients for reversing the size of aging. But before you layer on the first retinol cream you find, review this essential guide. With a few simple tips, you’ll find out how to tailor a routine to your particular age and skin type, so you can get the most out of retinol’s wrinkle-fighting benefits.
The beauty aisles are packed with anti-aging creams, serums and cleansers that claim to turn back the hands of time on aging skin. Choosing a product can feel overwhelming – and after a period of lackluster results, picking a product that actually works can seem impossible. The secret to success? An over-the-top ingredient IQ. By selecting products with ingredients that are supported by the latest scientific research and clinical results, you can improve the odds of achieving visible anti-aging results.
One ingredient – retinol – stands above the rest when it comes to treating mature skin. Retinol is backed by decades of research and has earned the stamp of approval from top dermatologists worldwide. And the best part? Retinol is an accessible ingredient found in a wide range of products that fit any budget and a variety of skincare needs.
The basics behind retinol
The retinol found in over-the-counter beauty creams is actually a synthesized version of the same retinol that’s naturally created in the body to support healthy vision and cell function. Since the body derives retinol from vitamin A, its ability to maintain a healthy supply depends on a diet that includes plenty of vitamin A-rich foods, including dark greens, fish, eggs and carrots.
Retinol isn’t exactly the newest ingredient on the skincare market. In the 1960s, scientists discovered how to harness the cell-boosting benefits of retinol in a topical, synthetic form to improve the strength and function of the skin. Since then, ongoing research has resulted in the safe, stable and effective forms of retinol that are added to anti-aging formulas. In addition to over-the-counter products, stronger vitamin A-based compounds known as retinoids (also known as tretinoin or Retin-A) were also developed. Only available by prescription, retinoids can bring faster, more dramatic results, but may have stronger side effects. For this reason, many doctors recommend beginning with over-the-counter retinol products prior to prescription retinoids.
How retinol works
What are the anti-aging results can you expect from using retinol? And how does retinol actually achieve these results? Here are the highlights:
- Improve skin tone and reduce dullness: As we age, the body naturally slows down its production of new skin cells. The result? This build-up of dead skin contributes toward a dull, uneven complexion. When applied topically, retinol encourages the shedding of dead skin while stimulating the production of new cells – both essential for maintaining a fresh, youthful complexion.
Brighten dark circles and age spots: The occurrence of dark under-eye circles also increases with age. What’s to blame? First, the skin beneath the eyes is very thin, revealing broken capillaries and dark, oxygen-poor blood that pools beneath the eyes due to poor circulation. When applied under the eyes, retinol improves circulation to strengthen these vessels and improve the flow of fresh, oxygen-rich blood to this area, making the skin brighter and circles less noticeable.
Furthermore, since the skin relies on blood to supply cells with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function properly, eliminate waste and generate new skin, retinol encourages the delicate skin around the eyes to thicken, which also helps conceal dark circles. Elsewhere on the face, increased cell turnover helps to both prevent and brighten dark spots, or hyperpigmentation, caused by the sun.
- Prevent deep wrinkles and cellulite: By encouraging new cell growth, some studies have shown that retinol can actually cause the deepest layers of the skin to thicken. Since the breakdown of these layers is to blame for problems like cellulite and deep lines and wrinkles, applying a retinol cream can help prevent and treat these aging issues.
- Smoother, tighter skin. Retinol’s ability to reduce the appearance of lines, winkles and saggy skin is one of its most popular benefits. How does this happen? As we age, the body produces less collagen – which are skin-strengthening fibers that keep our complexion tight and supple. Retinol counteracts this decline. By boosting blood flow and cell turnover, retinol also encourages the skin to produce more collagen.
Retinol advice by age
- Top aging concern: Prevention
- Retinol recommendations: When it comes to anti-aging, your 20s should focus on the products and habits that prevent aging, such as daily sunscreen use and a healthy lifestyle. Still, it’s important to incorporate a retinol-based night cream into your regimen to help skin maintain top function and prevent discoloration from UV damage. Choose an affordable formula like Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream Night Formula and use a few times each week.
- Top aging concern: Crow’s feet
- Retinol recommendations: As you embark on your 30s, you may begin to notice fine lines or crow’s feet starting to form around the eyes as your body slightly slows its production of collagen. Along with the nighttime retinol cream you started using in your 20s, add a retinol-based eye cream like Vichy LiftActiv Retinol HA Eyes to your anti-aging regimen.
- Top aging concerns: Hyperpigmentation; dark circles; lines and wrinkles
Retinol recommendations: Unfortunately, both a considerable slowdown in collagen production and the cumulative effects of sun and environmental damage can accelerate the signs of aging during your 40s. Hyperpigmentation, or darkening of skin, can be a concern, along with dark under-eye circles, fine lines and wrinkles. To combat these issues, you may consider using a stronger concentration of retinol than you used during your 30s. Start with SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 and work up to SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0; with 1 % pure retinol, this formula contains the highest amount of retinol available over-the-counter. For more dramatic results, talk to your doctor about trying a prescription retinoid.
Since dryness can be an issue as middle age arrives, it’s important to stay attuned to the way your complexion responds to retinol, which can exacerbate dry skin. Consider using a retinol cream that’s combined with hydrating ingredients, or add a night cream to your daily routine.
- Top aging concerns: Continued worsening of wrinkles, lines and loose skin; neck aging
Retinol recommendations: The body’s ability to produce new cells and collagen continues to slow, and you’re likely to notice an increase in whatever signs of aging already plague your complexion, including discoloration and wrinkles. In addition, skin may be drier than before, so reach for retinol-based serum like Topix Replenix All Trans Retinol Smoothing Serum 5X instead of creams and lotions for better absorption.
If you haven’t already, add a specialized treatment such as Dr. Brandt Time Arrest V Zone Neck Cream to treat sagging skin in the neck. And, if you desire faster, more powerful treatments, talk to your doctor about prescription retinoid treatments.
Retinol advice by skin type
- Oily skin: Look for retinol creams specially formulated for oily skin. PCA SKIN A and C Synergy Serum reduces oil production to minimize shine while infusing pores with an advanced retinol complex for anti-aging.
- Dry skin: Although retinol can have a drying effect, those with dry skin don’t have to skip retinol altogether. Dermatologist Ranella Hirsch tells Prevention that most dry complexions can tolerate retinol products formulated with hydrating ingredients. Vichy LiftActiv Retinol HA Night combines retinol with moisturizing humectants, making it a go-to night cream for parched skin. If your dryness is seasonal, consider beginning new retinol formulas or increasing retinol doses during warmer weather months.
- Sensitive skin: The best way to avoid the potential side effects of retinol? Dermatologist Anne Chapas tells InStyle that it’s essential for all skin types – including sensitive skin – to gradually build up your skin’s tolerance to this ingredient by starting with small concentrations, and to apply only small amounts every other night. Products formulated for sensitive skin will contain soothing ingredients like green tea or vitamin E to calm irritation. Slow-release formulas like RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream are recommended for even the most sensitive complexions.
When it’s time to get serious about your anti-aging skin care regimen, don’t automatically opt for the most expensive or trendy formula on the market. Instead, reach for products with clinically tested and multi-tasking retinol. This ingredient is proven to visibly reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles while strengthening the health of skin.
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