Facts You Need to Know Before Using Retinol

Could This Ingredient Be the Answer to Your Skin Problems?

But wrinkles aren’t the only issue retinol can be used for — it can help with everything from acne to dark spots to warts. Top dermatologists explain how to add retinol to your beauty routine to treat your most pressing skin concerns.

Retinoids vs. Retinols

Retinoid is the prescription-strength form of vitamin A. Topical prescription retinoids such as tretinoin (Retin-A and Renova) work as an irritant, resulting in a more rapid turnover of skin cells. “Retinoids can work on fine lines and wrinkles because they stimulate collagen,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, a dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

A gentler form of vitamin A, known as retinol, is available in over-the-counter creams and gels, like RoC Retinol Sensitive Night Cream, which is formulated for sensitive skin and those who haven’t used a retinol before. However, retinol is not as effective as prescription retinoids because it’s a less powerful form of vitamin A.

Avoid Irritation

Retinoids can be irritating, especially when you first add them to your skin care routine. So, you may want to start with an over-the-counter_products/article.htm' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >over-the-counter retinol to build up your tolerance. Francesca Fusco, MD, a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, likes Vichy LiftActiv Retinol HA Concentrate, a lightweight serum that also contains skin-plumping hyaluronic acid.

Whether you’re using a prescription-strength retinoid or a milder retinol product, follow these steps: Apply once daily — in the evening, 10 minutes after gently cleansing your face, advises Fusco. “Retinoids should be applied at night because skin will be sensitive to sunlight afterwards,” she explains. “If you’re going to be on a sunny vacation or at a beach, it’s best to not use it during that time.”

If your skin becomes dry or flaky, decrease use to every other night, apply less, and use a hyaluronic acid-based moisturizer about a half-hour after application. But, “If skin becomes red, swollen, or painful, discontinue use,” Fusco says.

Beat Stubborn Acne Breakouts

“Retinoids are great for blackheads, whiteheads, and red bumps — but not always helpful for deep underground cysts,” says Fusco. Topical retinoids like Retin-A work by blocking the buildup of oils that clog pores, explains Zeichner. If your acne is very mild, a gentler retinol, like SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0, might be all you need to help control your skin’s oil production.

When it comes to more severe acne, an oral prescription-strength retinoid may help clear up skin. “The oral drug isotretinoin [marketed as Accutane] can be used for severe, nodular acne that has not responded to other treatment,” says Zeichner. However, he notes that it can cause birth defects, so it needs to be used with care in women of childbearing age.

Fade Age Spots

In addition to smoothing fine lines and controlling acne, a retinol or retinoid may also help treat age spots. Also known as liver spots, these flat, brown spots that pop up on the face and hands are caused by years of sun exposure. The most common treatment option for minimizing age spots is hydroquinone, which slows down the formation of brown pigment in the skin. And the best way to prevent new age spots from forming is to wear sunscreen every day.

Get Rid of Hard-to-Treat Warts

Warts, growths on the skin caused by the human papilloma virus, are notoriously hard to treat. “Retinoids can be used to stimulate the body’s immune system into fighting off the virus that causes them,” Zeichner says. Acitretin, an oral retinoid, can be prescribed for difficult-to-treat warts, while several studies, including a 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, have also found topical retinoids to be effective.

Control Psoriasis Flare-ups

Retinoids normalize skin growth and decrease inflammation, making them a possible treatment option for some people with psoriasis, which is defined by inflammation and an over-production of skin cells that form thick plaques. “In certain instances, retinoids help thick, scaly patches of psoriasis, but this must be discussed with a physician,” says Fusco. Acetretin is especially useful for psoriasis of the hands and feet, Zeichner says.

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