While we are in pursuit of the latest and greatest skincare ingredients and the newest products that promise to miraculously give us perfect skin overnight we can lose sight of the tried and true skincare ingredients and products that really work as promised. Case in point – Retin-A.
All retinoids—the umbrella name for a class of compounds that encompasses retinol, retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, retinol aldehyde, and a host of others—are derivatives of vitamin A, one of the body’s key nutrients. Vitamin A’s mighty chemical makeup was identified in 1931, and the man who isolated and described it, Swiss chemist Paul Karrer, was rewarded with a Nobel Prize for his efforts. Retinol was a slightly rickety compound, prone to quick degeneration when exposed to oxygen and light. But by the 1960s, researchers were metabolizing retinol into its more stable (and more active) cousin retinoic acid and were beginning to understand its tremendous power in skin-care applications. Retin-A—a brand name for retinoic acid (also known as tretinoin)—was FDA-approved in 1971 as a prescription-strength treatment for acne, but dermatologists noticed almost immediately that a lot more than just breakouts were vanishing. Scores of patients began reporting a reduction in fine lines and hyperpigmentation, and the stampede began.
“Vitamin A is the go-to skin-care ingredient,” says Jennifer Linder, M.D., a Scottsdale, Arizona, dermatologist and chief scientific officer for the clinical line PCA Skin. “The best anti-ager is sunscreen; the next is vitamin A. Nothing else approaches it,” she says. Virtually all skin-care experts agree on this point—and in today’s world of peptides, growth factors, glacial water, and extracts from rare Corsican flowers, that’s saying a lot. “You can imagine that the question dermatologists get asked every single day is ‘What really works?’ ” says Linder. “Retinoids trigger change in the skin to make it look clearer and more youthful; they actually help skin get back to a healthier place. And there’s strong, strong clinical data behind that.”
What does Retin-A do exactly for the skin that is so effective? Allure sums it up well:
HOW IT WORKS: Retinol speeds up cell turnover, sweeps away the dead cells that cause dullness, and boosts collagen and elastin by stimulating cellular repair at the deepest level of the skin. It also pumps up circulation by increasing blood-vessel formation, so skin looks healthier.
While Retin-A is the most effective anti-aging product on the market and can help erase both fine lines and acne for some people it can be irritating. Known side effects of Retin-A include redness, irritation, dryness, and flakiness. Keep in mind, though, that these side effects do not last forever. After a few weeks, once your skin adjusts to the product, you will no longer experience those side effects.
Also remember that there are numerous prescription strengths and non-prescription versions of Retin-A available so there really is a formulation out there for everyone. Once again I’ll turn to the Vogue article to explain:
In an attempt to tame the wildness of retinoic acid, researchers revisited its milder parent molecule, retinol. For decades it had been neglected as a skin-care ingredient because it was even trickier to stabilize than retinoic acid. The genius of retinol, researchers realized, is that it isn’t active when applied to skin. Retinol goes on in an inert form and is then switched to on-mode by your own skin. Your cells receive the retinol, hang on to it until they’re ready, and then convert only what they need into retinoic acid. This has tremendous benefits, says dermatologist Dennis Gross, M.D.: “It dramatically reduces the negative effects of retinoic acid—the peeling, sun sensitivity, redness—but has all the same fundamental results. It just takes a little longer to get there.”
The latest breakthrough has been in making retinol stable enough to live in a bottle with other active ingredients. (Until recently, says Linder, some over-the-counter products touting retinol as an active ingredient were largely ineffectual, as the retinol frequently degenerated well before application.) In the past few years, cosmeceutical companies have made big advances in the microencapsulation of retinol: The retinol molecules are each surrounded by a tiny polymer film, like a slim-fitting suit of armor that protects it from light, oxygen, and other aggressors. When you apply the cream to your face, you create chinks in the armor, which frees the retinol to do its work.
There are so many different ways to adjust Retin-A or retinol use. You do not have to use it every night to get great results. If you live in an area that is cold during the winter you can use your Retin-A twice a week during that season and then bump up your use during the summer when the weather is warmer and there is more humidity in the air. You might need to experiment a bit, but in the end you’ll figure out the right strength and how many times you need to use it a week in order to see great results with your skin.
I love Retin-A so much (I use a prescription version that is 0.05% strength and apply it three times a week at night) that I always wonder why everyone isn’t using some version of Retin-A or retinol. If you haven’t tried Retin-A yet consider it, and if you have used Retin-A or retinol in the past but stopped figure out a version that will work for you.
Sources and Further Reading:
- The Return to Retinol – Vogue
- Anti-Aging All-Stars – Allure
- Retinol: What Is It and How Does It Work? – Daily Beauty
- Rethinking Retinoids – Skin Inc.
- All About Retinol – a relative older post of mine, but a goody (if I do say so myself)
Image from prescriptionmedications.biz