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What Is Retinol? A Beginner's Guide Part 1

Posted by Dan Narsete on

Have you seen the latest "challenge" trending on social media? The #TenYearChallenge has prompted people to share side-by-side photos of themselves from 2009 and 2019. If you've considered participating but don't exactly like what the camera has revealed, you're not alone.

Time marches on, and nowhere is that more evident than our skin. Aging happens whether we like it or not, but that doesn't mean we have to go down without a fight. While skin care procedures continue to evolve, retinol delivers consistent results even after being on the market for decades. Follow along as we delve into the wonderland of this widely popular creation.

An Accidental Anti-Aging Wonder

Every now and then scientists stumble onto a really good thing while searching for something entirely different. In 1971, the FDA approved prescription tretinoin, a retinoid, for treating acne. Interestingly enough, many of those patients with aging skin not only showed improvement in their blemishes, but they also experienced an improvement in skin texture, fine lines, and discoloration. Unfortunately, those added benefits didn't translate well to the mass population because tretinoin also caused skin irritation, which made people stop using it.

A Skin Care Star Is Born

While you may be unfamiliar with tretinoin, you've certainly heard of its kinder, gentler sibling, retinol. Armed with the knowledge that retinoids improve skin even for non-acne patients, researchers redirected their focus with a goal of developing something more suited to a broader audience. In 1999, they discovered that "retinol produces considerably less transepidermal water loss, erythema and scaling than retinoic acid." In layman's terms, retinol became anti-aging's newest star because it wasn't as drying as tretinoin, nor did it cause significant redness or peeling.

How Retinol Works

When retinol is applied topically, it goes through a conversion process. The body can't immediately utilize retinol's goodness, so it converts it to trans-retinoic acid first. During that process, it becomes milder and easier to tolerate, which means you'll be more likely to keep using it because it won't sting, burn, or make you want to claw your face off. Trans-retinoic acid stimulates the body's own cellular turnover and collagen production, which equates to plumper, more evenly textured skin. 

Best Age to Start Using Retinol

Because it has had such long-lived success, you may be wondering if you're too young to start using retinol. The short answer is: it depends. Skin's natural collagen production begins to slow down in your 20s, so many dermatologists start recommending an anti-aging regimen to their patients when they're in their mid-20s and early 30s. Since your skin is unique, the decision is ultimately up to you. Early signs of skin aging include a lack of elasticity and a loss in volume. If you're seeing fine lines, or if your skin doesn't feel as bouncy as it once did, then adding retinol to your routine is a good move.

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There is a lot to consider when looking for a retinol product, so we'll be sharing information on how to choose the right one for your skin type and goals in our next installment. In the meantime, feel free to take our skin care quiz to learn which products best suit your needs. And, as always, if you have questions, just reach out to us. We're happy to help anytime!

To aging gracefully,


Team Reflect

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