What You Need To Know About Retinol for Anti-Aging

Everyone over the age of 30 is talking about about retinol. You can’t escape it. Retinol is everywhere. It’s in drugstores, on TV, and your BFF who hardly has wrinkles is telling you how it changed her life. Heck, even my dermatologist has been pushing it on me. What is retinol? It’s a topical Vitamin A derivative and it increases cell or skin turnover was well as helps produce collagen.
Is the hype real? Well it depends on who you ask if the hype is real. Yet, do you really know what retinol does, why you’re supposed to use it, how to apply it or why dermatologists think it’s the answer to aging (smoothing, brightening, hyperpigmentation, firming, and zit-zapping)? Probably not. And don’t worry, you are far from alone.
  1. Prevents wrinkles – it not only smooths your the fine lines and wrinkles you already have, but also minimizes the new ones that form.
  2. Brightens dull skin – it exfoliates on a cellular level, revealing brighter, smoother (literally the newer) skin underneath.
  3. Treats acne – retinol regulates oily skin and keeps pores from clogging, resulting in fewer blackheads, cysts and pimples.
  4. Fades dark spots – over time, retinols even out your complexion, fading sun spots, acne scars, hyperpigmentation and dark spots.

What’s the Difference Between a Retinol, Retin-A, & Retinoids

All three of these “names” are used interchangeably and you’re confused right? I feel you. Here is an easy-to-understand breakdown.

Retinoid: A retinoid is the name of the group that all of these “retin-y” skincare products are formed from. It’s a chemical class. Retin-A and retinol are just forms of the retinoid. Let’s use cola as an example. Pepsi Co. bottling is the parent company to all Pepsi soft drinks. Retin-A is regular Pepsi. Retinol is Diet Pepsi. They all have the same DNA, just different formulations.


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Retinol: Retinol is the over-the-counter version of a retinoid. It contains a lower concentration of the retinoid, which often means it probably doesn’t have the effect you’re hoping for.

Why are they watered down? Many find retinoids irritating so if they buy a watered-down version they will think they are getting the same benefits. However, for a retinoid product to have enough concentration to make a difference, it is going to irritate your skin — which means it won’t sell. And for a retinol product to sell, it won’t have enough concentration to be effective. Plus, because they don’t usually show the exact concentration on over-the-counter products, if you find a stronger product, you don’t know how much of the retinoid you’re applying. Confused? That’s what the skincare industry is banking on!

Retin-A: This is the prescription version of a retinoid. It’s also known as tretinoin. This is what your dermatologist is prescribing. These prescriptions come in various specific concentrations so your doctor can make sure you’re using enough of the retinoid to see a difference. It’s going to irritate your skin because that is what they are supposed to do. There are a few exceptions to finding very good Retin-A products over the counter (no prescription needed) so be sure to see my picks at the bottom of this post.

1. Choose the right strength. Retinyl palmitates are ideal for truly sensitive skin. Retinols are best for “normal” aging skin (and what I am focusing on in this post) and adapalene (a.k.a. Differin) is for oily, acne-prone skin.
2. Don’t use too much at once. Use a pea-size drop of serum, or thin layer of moisturizer, 1x/week for one week, 2x/week for two weeks, 3x/week for three weeks, then every other night indefinitely. You have to ease into it or you are going to be miserable.

3. Don’t use acne products, acids, or peels on your face on the nights you use a retinoid, or you’ll risk irritating or burning your skin. Alternate harsh products. Let the teens make this mistake.

4. Do apply it to your face, neck and neglected decollete which also shows signs of aging quickly too.

5. Don’t skip sunscreen. You never should anyway but is imperative you wear one of at least SPF 30 while using retinoids. They make skin extra sensitive to the sun, causing sunburns or, more annoyingly, discoloration, so don’t leave the house without it already on your face and neck and reapply throughout the day!
Extra Tips:

  • Use a good HA (Hyaluronic acid as a moisture boost)
  • Use a mild exfoliator. Yes, I know retinoids are exfoliators but you are going to want those dead skin cells off your face.
  • You can apply a little moisturizer to your face before applying your Retin-A. Of course my dermotologist told me this after I complained I couldn’t take the irritation anymore. Just wait about 15 minutes for it to absorb before applying the Retin-A.

I know! Retin-A can make your skin uncomfortable, but it’s supposedly manageable. I am saying this for myself too. The first time it burns, don’t stop  using it! Your skin will get used to the product with regular and consistent application.

Just be sure to start slow. Use a small amount of the medication and work your way up. If it irritates your skin too much, back off and add moisturizer. Or start with moisturizer and put the retinol on on top after it has dried for 15 minutes. The moisturizer will cut the burning, stinging and itching significantly and replenish your skin as it exfoliates.

Also, remember that it takes a few weeks to see results. Soon, you’ll start to feel the difference in your skin texture and see the difference in your complexion.

5 thoughts on “What You Need To Know About Retinol for Anti-Aging”

  1. Great article. Informative and concise. Product selection for OTC is also very helpful if you do not have access to the prescription formula. Thanks!


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