Let’s talk retinols!

In Ottawa

By Dr. Howard Silverman

We see the word ‘retinol’ so frequently these days on skincare products, from eye creams to moisturizers and everything in between—but what is retinol really? And more importantly, why is it crucial to the health of our skin?

Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A—one of the key ingredients for boosting cell turnover in our skin. When this ingredient is applied to the skin it stimulates the removal of old cells, which live on the very surface of the face and have been exposed to UV rays, free radicals and other elements that can accelerate the aging process, to reveal the fresh cells that live underneath this layer. This ingredient is beneficial to patients when they are feeling like their skin is texturized, blemished or just plain dull. Consistent use of retinol prevents the breakdown of collagen (the protein that keeps our skin wrinkle resistant!) all while strengthening the subcutaneous layer of our skin, where collagen and elastin are produced. 

What’s the best age to start using retinol products?

Now that we know a little bit about what retinol is and what it does, the next question on our minds is—who should be using it?

The truth of the matter is that you’re never too young or too old to start using retinol! It’s a powerhouse for resolving numerous skin concerns, and anyone in their 20s and up can benefit from this ingredient. Using retinol once per day for 12 weeks will significantly improve the quality of skin: softening fine lines, increasing firmness, reducing pigmentation, and shrinking pore size. For those suffering from acne, it will help keep active acne at bay due to the cell turnover boost it initiates, leading to fewer clogged pores and blemishes overall. 

I let my patients know that using retinols in their skincare routine is a great preventative approach to aging. If your skin is already showing signs of aging, think of retinol as a way to reverse the clock and prevent the process from accelerating. The best part about retinols is that you use them indefinitely without concern, as long as you’re using them correctly. Tried and true retinols will have a concentration listed on the product packaging, ranging from 0.25% up to 1.5%. It is best to speak to your skin specialist to find out what strength will suit your individual needs. Which brings me to the most important question of all:

How do you safely and effectively use retinols in your daily skin routine?

The most important thing to note about getting started on a retinol is that you will experience a transitioning period during which your skin will adjust to the ingredient. Since retinol increases cell turnover rate, initial use may lead to tightness, dryness, flaking and some irritation to the skin, no matter your skin type. I’ve had patients tell me that they are “allergic to retinol” based on their previous experiences, as many people don’t realize that this is a completely normal phase. Starting with a higher concentration of retinol does provide a quicker change in the skin, but can also carry a higher risk of irritation—so be mindful when choosing to deep-dive into high percentage retinol use.

The one piece of advice I give to all clients starting on this ingredient in their skin care routine is: don’t panic! Depending on the strength of the retinol, the side effects can be mild to aggressive but will not persist as long as guidelines are followed. In about 4-6 weeks, your skin should be well adjusted. 

If you’ve never tried retinol, I suggest starting with a lower dose to ease your skin into the cell turnover process. Use your retinol product twice per week initially and increase each week by adding an extra evening of use to your routine. A pea-sized amount is all you need to cover the whole face, so avoid overuse as this will increase the irritation during the transitioning process. 

Retinol should only be used as part of your nighttime routine so that there are no complications with sun exposure. Take extra care to apply sunscreen each morning to make sure that your skin cells remain protected from UV rays, especially when your skin can be sensitive and irritated in the first weeks of use. I also recommend keeping your skin hydrated with a bland moisturizer.

What retinol products should I use?

Feeling ready for retinol? We love and trust the range of retinol products from ZO Skin Health. You can explore and purchase products on our online store. If you need a little more guidance, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to book a complimentary skincare consultation.

To sum up: start off slow, be patient and wear sunscreen during the day—you’ll be thrilled by the long term results of retinol!

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