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What is Retinol and Why Should I Use It?

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

Although its use in therapy dates back to ancient Egypt, where liver was used to treat night blindness, the modern history of Retinol or Vitamin A began during World War I, when it was discovered in the fatty extracts of egg yolk. However, it took another seventy years before Retinoids were finally introduced into the treatment of skin conditions including hyperpigmentation and photoaging.

There are various types of Retinoids, but one of the first to be studied was Tretinoin, better known under the brand name Retin-A. In the 1980s, scientists investigated whether Retin-A could treat acne and discovered that it also evens pigmentation and speeds the turnover of superficial skin cells, spurring a boom in popularity for this drug.

How Does Retinol Work?

Retinol reduces fine lines and wrinkles by increasing your collagen production. In addition, Retinoids stimulate the production of new blood vessels in the skin, improving discoloration and brightening the skin. However, it takes at least three months of regular use before visible improvements in wrinkles become apparent. For the best results, Retinoids should be incorporated into your skincare routine for six to twelve months.

Choose a Retinol That Works For You

Retinyl Palmitate, Retinaldehyde, Tretinoin, Tazarotene, and Isotretinoin are all forms of Retinoids with varying strength. Retinyl Palmitate is the weakest formulation followed by Retinaldehyde (or Retinal). Next on the list are Tretinoin, Tazarotene, and finally, Isotretinoin, which is the strongest (usually reserved for severe cases of acne).

Deciding which type of Retinol to use can be pretty confusing and is often determined by what your skin can safely tolerate. Keep in mind that medical-grade Retinoids that contain an active form of Vitamin A require a prescription. Over-the-counter Retinoids like Retinyl Palmitate and Retinaldehyde are only converted to the active Retinoic Acid once they combine with the enzymes in your skin. They are considered less potent, but studies have shown that both Retinol and Retinoic Acid can have similar positive effects on anti-aging.

Generally speaking, you should consider:

  • Retinyl Palmitate if you have sensitive or excessively dry skin and only a few lines and wrinkles (Available OTC)

  • Retinaldehyde or Retinal if you have normal skin and only a few lines and wrinkles (Available (OTC)

  • Tretinoin or Retin-A if you have normal skin, discoloration or fine lines and wrinkles (Prescription-Only)

  • Tazarotene if you have mild acne and occasional breakouts (Prescription-Only)

  • Isotretinoin if you have severe cystic or scarring acne (Prescription-Only)

How to Safely Add Retinoids to Your Skincare Routine

Because Retinoids can have side effects like dryness and irritation, we recommend our patients to slowly introduce them. Start by using them 2-3 times a week at first and then gradually work up to nightly applications. And don’t forget to wear sunscreen during the day, because retinoids increase your skin’s photosensitivity.

If you have questions about Retinoids and how to use them, don’t hesitate to contact us. Schedule a virtual consultation at 480-473-1111.


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