A lot has changed in the last 20 years, but retinol is still the go-to ingredient for anti-aging skin care. Here's everything you need to know
New ingredients that promise anti-aging benefits crop up daily, but retinol (or, more accurately, retinoid -- more on that later) is still the best ammunition we've got to fight the war on wrinkles.
There is new technology, of course, and products that contain retinol are more sophisticated than ever. You can smooth fine lines faster and with less irritation. But in case you're confused about the best retinol for you (and who wouldn't be? -- the names and variations are mind boggling), we're breaking down the need-to-know info on the best anti-aging ingredient on the market. Plus, we're recommending retinol products -- from serums to the best wrinkle creams out there.
Retinol, Retinoid ... What's The Diff? The language is tricky: retinols, retinoids, retinoic acid. What's the difference? While the endgame is the same (better skin) and they're all derived from vitamin A, not all retin-something ingredients are created equal. The delivery mechanism and how they react with your skin varies. Here are the basics:
Retinoid: The blanket term for all vitamin A derivatives in skin care.
Retinoic acid: The ingredient you'll find in prescription retinoids.
Retinol: The over-the-counter version. Your skin converts retinol to retinoic acid.
Retinyl palmitate: A combination of retinol and palmitic acid. It's the gentlest ingredient in the retinoid family.
Retinol is Not For Everyone It would be misleading for us to go on and on about the benefits of retinol without a few words of caution. Pregnant and nursing women shouldn't use them. (Some studies have shown a possible correlation between topical vitamin A and birth defects.)
And if your skin is sensitive to the sun, a retinoid will make you flare up even faster. Be sure to pile on the SPF, wear a hat and stay in the shade. Unless you choose a retinol that's specifically formulated for daytime use, its best to use them at night. "Nighttime use is better because the products are photosensitive," explains Prytowsky. "The chemical will degrade when it's exposed to natural sunlight, and it could degrade before it has a chance to absorb into your skin."
If you're doing everything right, don't use dry, irritated skin as an excuse to toss your retinol -- that just means it's working. It may take several weeks, but you'll eventually build up a tolerance. It's an annoying process, but smoother, younger-looking skin awaits you on the other side.