What Is Retinol?

What Is Retinol?

What is retinol?

Retinol is a form of vitamin A with many uses in skin care. It’s used to treat acne and has anti-aging effects. You can buy retinol over the counter (without a prescription) or visit your healthcare provider to discuss how retinol might best fit into your skincare routine. Your provider may prescribe medications that contain higher concentrations of retinoids than you can get over the counter.

Retinol is a topical treatment meaning you apply it on top of your skin. Retinol comes in many forms, including:

  • Creams
  • Gels.
  • Lotions.
  • Ointments.
  • Serums.

Retinol is also sometimes used as an ingredient in cosmetic products.

What effects does retinol have on the skin?

Retinol promotes the growth of skin cells. It aids in pore cleaning. In addition to exfoliating your face, retinol boosts the synthesis of collagen, which helps minimize the look of fine lines and wrinkles and leave your skin looking more youthful and plump.

What are the different types of retinol products?

Medications that you put on your skin are called “topical.” There are many topical retinoid products available, including:

  • Adapalene (Differin®, Epiduo®).
  • Alitretinoin (Panretin®).
  • Bexarotene (Targretin®).
  • Tazarotene (Tazorac®, Avage®).
  • Tretinoin (Atralin®, Avita®, Refissa®, Renova®, Retin-A®, Tretin-X®).

How long does retinol take to start working?

Although retinol begins to operate in your cells right away, it will take a few weeks before you notice a difference in the texture and appearance of your skin. In fact, while you become used to the new regimen, your skin condition can first appear worse.

What does retinol treat?

Several over-the-counter retinol products are marketed to improve the appearance of your skin. If these don’t work, you can consult a dermatologist (a medical doctor who specializes in skin conditions) about prescription-strength products that are more effective. Studies show that topical retinoids can help treat acne and acne scars and stretch marks. Retinol also has anti-aging effects. Specifically, retinol is good for the following conditions:

Acne retinoids

A common skin problem is acne. You may get blackheads, whiteheads, or other types of pimples when your pores are clogged with dead skin cells and/or oils. By keeping pores from becoming clogged, retinol treats acne. For the first few months of treatment, you can still experience breakouts, and your skin might even appear worse (this is known as the "retinol purge"). But if you persevere, your skin will become clearer.

Retinoids to treat acne scarring

Scars from acne are created by inflammation and damage. As your acne cures, pink, red, or dark spots may develop on your skin. These spots could stay for a few weeks. Additionally, picking or popping your pimples worsens the skin's condition and may leave scars that last a lifetime. Topical retinol treatments can help lessen the inflammation and edema associated with breakouts and can also help prevent new ones. But severe acne scars that are elevated or sunken may not usually respond well to topical retinol treatment.

Retinol for dark spots

Your skin might get sun-damaged and acquire dark spots (hyperpigmentation). Your face, hands, neck, or arms may have light to dark brown spots that are caused by an accumulation of melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. These spots, which are also known as liver spots, age spots, and sun spots, are not painful, but there are surgeries and topical treatments that you can try if you don't like how they look. Although it can irritate your skin and takes months, some people find that topical retinol lightens their skin spots. If you're worried about dark spots, it's a good idea to visit a dermatologist (a medical professional who focuses on disorders of the skin).

Retinol for big pores

A pore is an opening in your skin's top layer that lets oils and body hair pass through. Your pores enlarge and become more apparent when they are clogged with dead skin cells or oil. Topical retinol reduces the appearance of large pores by promoting skin cell turnover, which thickens your skin, and by halting the growth of clogged pores.

Retinol for Kaposi sarcoma lesions

Rare disease known as kaposi sarcoma can strike those with compromised immune systems. Kaposi sarcoma patients frequently experience the development of dark, flat or wavy patches or blotches. They could be in shades of blue, black, pink, red, or purple. A retinoid called allitretinoin can inhibit the development of Kaposi sarcoma cells. Your doctor might advise using alitretinoin gel to your Kaposi sarcoma lesions to decrease their growth even if it doesn't treat cancer.

Retinol for melasma

Another frequent skin condition called melasma causes dark patches or spots to appear on sun-exposed skin. You develop more melanin when you are exposed to light, heat, and certain hormone levels, which results in these flat, freckle-like spots of light brown, dark brown, or blue-gray skin. Pregnancy is when melasma most frequently occurs. Before utilizing oral, topical, or dietary supplements while pregnant, see your healthcare professional. A topical retinoid (tretinoin) may aid in the fading of melasma spots if you are not pregnant.

Retinoids to treat psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin condition that develops when new skin cells grow too quickly due to irritation. The rash becomes thick, scaly, and pink or scarlet as the new cells accumulate. Topical retinol decreases inflammation and slows the proliferation of skin cells, which might assist with the rash. Your doctor will typically advise taking retinol in conjunction with topical steroids because it can also aggravate your skin.

Retinol for stretch marks

Stretch marks are scars that form when our skin stretches due to pregnancy, weight increase, quick muscle growth, or significant weight loss. Initially pink, red, or purple in color, these marks progressively wane until they are silver or white. Topical retinol can help make stretch marks less obvious, but before taking it during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, consult your healthcare provider.

Retinol for wrinkles

Your skin might get wrinkled for a variety of reasons. Your skin cells divide more slowly as you get older. Your skin's dermis, or middle layer, starts to thinning, making it more difficult for moisture to be retained, and having fewer elastin and collagen. By reducing the rate of collagen deterioration and increasing the elasticity of your skin, topical tretinoin and tazarotene can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. To see an improvement after using topical retinol, it typically takes many months.

Is retinol beneficial for skin?

Although retinol is an effective treatment for acne and aged skin, not everyone should use it. Try skincare products with alternative anti-aging or skin-clearing substances if you're allergic to things or have sensitive skin. Remember that retinol increases your skin's sensitivity to sunlight, so apply sunscreen and stay out of the sun as much as possible while using retinol products.

How do you use retinol?

Before you use a retinol product for the first time, try a little bit on a small area of skin (a patch test) to see if you have any negative reactions. If, after a couple of days, your skin patch isn’t very red or itchy, you can add retinol to your skincare routine at bedtime.

To use retinol, follow the instructions on the package or your provider’s recommendations for application. In general, here are the steps you take:

  • Clean your skin with a gentle cleanser and pat it dry. Don’t scrub your skin while using retinol products.
  • Apply retinol in a thin layer to your entire face (be careful not to get it in your mouth, nose and eyes). You should use a dose that’s about the size of a pea. For the first couple weeks of treatment, apply retinol only every other day.
  • Finish with a facial moisturizer that won’t clog your pores (non-comedogenic).

How often can you use retinol?

Since retinol can irritate your skin, it’s best to start slow. After a patch test, you might use a product once every few days, and then gradually ramp up to once or twice per day. At first, you might experience redness, itching or burning, but these symptoms go away as your skin gets used to the treatment.

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