Why You Need Retinol and How to Use It

Retinol. Sweet, sweet Retinol. Where do we even start? Retinol creams, or ‘Retinoids’ (being the blanket term used for all types of related Vitamin A compounds), are a class of chemical skincare compounds derived from Vitamin A. First used in the field of medical aesthetics to treat acne, these powerful little creams have become not only the only proven anti-aging ingredient, but a go-to for almost all skin concerns from acne to age spots, and almost everything in between.

So how do they work? The molecules in Retinoids improve cellular regeneration, stimulate collagen and elastin, as well as exfoliate and fight free radicals. Sounds pretty great, hey? But what does that all mean? Let’s break it down. Collagen production in our skin starts to slow around age 25. Collagen is what makes your skin firm and plump, and a lack of it as we get older, combined with the natural loss of skin elasticity as we age, is what creates a loss of firmness and tightness in our skin, as well as wrinkles. Because it is lacking in elastin, mature skin has a tendency to wrinkle, crease, and mark more easily and for longer. By stimulating collagen production and cellular turnover Retinoids fight all those pesky signs of aging and help keep our skin looking and feeling firm, young, and supple. 

While fighting signs of aging retinoids stimulate cellular turnover, clearing and reducing the appearance of pores, as well as battling acne and smoothing the skin. So we’ve got anti-aging, and smooth clear skin. That’s pretty great, right? But there’s one more pretty awesome benefit we can’t leave out. Retinol is also a powerful anti-oxidant, fighting the effects of stress, sun, and pollution on your skin. 

Because the effects of retinoids on your skin can be so powerful, there is an adjustment period, and it is recommended that you integrate them into your skincare routine gradually. This period is often referred to as “The Retinol Uglies” as your skin can appear dry and irritated as it adjusts. Check out our tips below for how to integrate a Retinol into your routine!

  1. Start Slow! We recommend using your Retinol once a week for the first 4-6 weeks, twice a week for the next 4-6 weeks, and then slowly up your usage, as your skin adjusts until you can apply it every day. This process could take months, but be patient! You will start to see results after 4-12 weeks and they will continue to improve for years!
  2. Not all Retinoids are the same. Retinoids come in strengths as low as 0.04% and go up to .5% and 1% as the most common levels. Start small and work your way up as your skin adjusts- again, it could be a year or more before you feel comfortable with a 1% Retinol. 
  3. Retinoids are available by doctors prescription, or over the counter as clinical skincare. Prescriptions can be much more harsh, as they have no buffing agents added to help reduce the "uglies". This is called Anhydrous, meaning there is no water in the product. Clinical skincare products have water added as a buffing agent. Though the percentage (and thus the results) of Retinol in both a prescription and clinical product could be the same, a prescription product will be much more harsh on your canvas. Patients are much better off using a clinical skincare product to avoid any more irritation than is necessary. 
  4. Always apply to clean, dry skin. Any water residue can enhance the irritation on your skin.
  5. Be careful of the products you use while going through the “uglies”. While your skin may feel dry, any moisturizers or skincare products with active ingredients may irritate the skin further. Take a break from any acids, exfoliants and anything else that may sting or irritate the skin in the first few weeks.
  6. Don’t give up! The process of incorporating and adjusting can be a long one, but it is worth it, and your skin will thank you!

Our favorite Retinol products at Raw Canvas are Zo Skin Health Wrinkle + Texture Repair, and Radical Night Repair. While both are .5% Retinol, Radical Night Repair is Anhydrous meaning it is going to be a bit more aggressive on the skin due to a lack of buffing agents. For this reason, we usually start patients on Wrinkle + Texture and move towards Radical Night repair as the patient's skin has become accustomed to a less harsh Retinoid. Due to the strength of Radical Night Repair, it can also be used as an at-home peel, and/or incorporated into your routine 1-3 times monthly for optimal cell turnover.


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