In the ABC’s of skincare, i.e, vitamin A, Vitamin B and Vitamin C, Vitamin A is one ingredient, which is most important, especially if you are looking to alleviate your acne and ageing problems and it is getting all the right kind of attention it deserves. But Vitamin A comes with a lot of caution along with super potency.

In this guide let’s understand what is Retinol and if Retinol, Retinoid, Vitamin A, Retinoic acid are all the same and what are the benefits of using Retinol and how should you use it, what are precautions you need to take, what are the ingredients that gel well with Retinol and what ingredients you shouldn’t use and more.

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Retinoids, Retinol, Retin-A and Retinoic Acid

Retinoids, Retinol, Retin-A are interchangeably used a lot to refer to Vitamin-A, but these are not the same thing. Retinoids is the umbrella term that is used to refer to the family of vitamin A derivates, which includes Retinol, Retin-A, Tretinoin (Retinoic Acid) and the Esters.

Retinoids

Retinoids

Retinoic acid, also commonly referred to as tretinoin or Retin-A is the prescription-grade derivative of Vitamin-A and this is what is absorbed by the skin, it doesn’t have to be broken down by the enzymes in the skin for the product to work. Retinoic acid is about 100 times stronger than retinol, hence retinol, the gentler form of Retinoids is available as over the counter products, while you should consult a dermatologist before using Retin-A or Tretinoin.

Science of Retinol

Retinol is active acne and anti-ageing ingredient and in the bottom layers of the skin, i.e., in the dermis layer, Retinol helps regenerate new skills, creating new skin which will push out the old skin to the surface. The cycle of regenerating new cells in the dermis layer and pushing out the dead skin cells to the top and then flaking is called a skin cycle. This skin cycle is on average is about 5 to 6 weeks, while when we are young which is about 18 to 21, the skin cycle is usually about14 to 21 days and this skin cycle becomes slower as we age and it slows to about 28 days for a middle-aged adult and further slows down to about 45 to 60 days when we are in 40’s and 50’s. which further slows down to 60 to 90 days, as we age further. For an average mid-aged adult, regular application of Retinol decreases the skin cycle to about 14-21 days.

The only form of retinol that your skin can absorb is retinoic acid, skin has retinoic acid receptors that readily absorb retinoic acid, when we apply retinol to our skin, it binds to protein in the skin and is converted into retinaldehyde and then retialdehyde oxidizes and converts into retinoic acid, which is then absorbed into the dermis layer and starts working its magic. This 3 step process of applying retinol and it starting to work on your skin takes about 14 to 20 days, so that is why it is advised that you apply retinol regularly for at least a couple of months to be able to see any of its positive effects on your skin.

If you have sensitive skin and are advised to use esters instead of retinol, to alleviate the harshness, it will be a 4 step process, where the ester will convert to retinol and then eventually into retinoic acid. So if you are using esters, though the products will be less harsh on your skin, it will also take longer to be able to see any positive effects on your skin.

Benefits of Retinol

The amazing benefits that retinol can provide to your skin, with the regular application include

  • Reduces the appearance of wrinkles & fine lines
  • Reduces hyperpigmentation
  • Treats acne
  • Reduces dark circles
  • Tightens the skin
  • Makes your skin plump and younger-looking
  • Even’s out your skin tone
  • Offer’s better texture and tone to your skin
  • Due to powerful anti-oxidant properties, it helps prevent oxidative stress due to sun exposure and pollution

How to use Retinol for Indian Skin?

As we have learnt retinol is an amazing active, especially for treating acne and also alleviating the ageing signs on your skin, but you should understand that it can also be very harsh on your skin if you don’t use it properly and this is the very reason that lot of people are scared of using retinol on their skin and many even avoid. Let’s look at how one can use Retinol based on your age and skin type, so that you can take all the advantage of this magic ingredient, without damaging your skin.

Mid 20’s to Early Thirtys: If you are just introducing retinol to your skincare, make sure you go slow, even 1% Retinol concentrations can be quite harsh in the beginning, so start with much lower concentrations, like 0.5% or even less. Before starting to apply your retinol product on a daily basis, you should introduce retinol to your skin, with timed gaps, you can do it in two ways

  1. You can apply retinol for two days straight and then give 2 days gap and then repeat this frequency
  2. If you feel this can be harsh for your skin, you can apply retinol for 1 day and then give a day gap before applying it again.

Do this for about 2 to 3 weeks, so that your skin starts adapting to retinol and you can then apply it daily.

Mid-30’s and Later: You can definitely opt for low concentrations like mentioned above, but you could go for 1% Retinol straight and then also start applying it daily. If your skin is very damaged or aged a lot, you can consult your dermatologist, who can prescribe you tretinoin or Retin-A formulations based on your requirements.

Dry Skin: Retinol can be quite drying to your skin and cause flaking, which can aggravate your skin woes, so it is very important that you apply a good moisturiser after you apply the retinol. You could also opt for a retinol-based moisturiser or can mix both the retinol product with your moisturiser, to make it less drying.

If you have very dry skin, it is better you improve your skin, improve the hydration of your skin using ingredients such as hyluronic acid and moisturisers before moving to retinol. As using retinol on very dry skin can cause lot of irritation and damage, without hydrating your skin first.

Oily Skin: If you have oily skin, make sure you don’t use retinol creams but use serum-based products, which is non-comedogenic.

Sensitive Skin: If you have sensitive skin, make sure you first apply a good moisturizer and wait for about 30 minutes before you apply retinol-based products. This moisturizer will act as a buffer and help lessen the harsh effects on retinol on your skin.

Combination Skin: If you have combination skin you can opt for serum or cream-based products.

Layering with Retinol for Indian Skin

With Indian skin, you have to be extra careful what ingredients or products you are combining with Retinol, as Retinol in itself can be quite harsh on your skin and any small mistake while using retinol can cause hyperpigmentation.

With Humectants & Ceramides :

As working with retinol can be very drying on your skin, humectants and ceramides are probably the best ingredients you can layer with retinol. Humectants will hydrate the dehydrated skin and Ceramides will offer the very much required moisturization and protection against irritation.

Retinol increases the  TEWL (Trans Epidermal Wateloss), because of shredding of stratum corneum( the top layer of the epidermis), so it is great to combine retinol with Hyaluronic acid.

With Vitamin C :

As Retinol can be irritating to your skin, anti-inflammatory ingredients can be very helpful in calming your skin, but ingredients that are acidic, i.e, which are low in pH value can, in fact, aggravate the situation, so even though you want to combine vitamin C with Retinol, you should not use Ascorbic acid, you can instead use other forms of vitamin C like Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate & sodium ascorbic phosphate

With Niacinamide :

Niacinamide is another great ingredient that you can combine with Retinol, This formulation will not only greatly help you with your hyperpigmentation, but having Niacinamide will also help reduce the irritation caused by Retinol.

With AHA & BHA :

Be it AHA or a BHA, make sure you don’t use any acid along with retinol, you can use the AHA’s and BHA’s on the days you are not applying retinol on your skin.

 

Important guidelines & Precautions

  1. After washing your face, make sure you wait for your skin to be dry before you apply retinol-based products to your face, applying retinol on damp skin can cause it to absorb into deeper layers of the skin, thus irritating your skin
  2. If you want to just improve only a small area of your face, for example, smile lines , you can apply retinol products only on that area and not completely on your face, thus avoiding any irritation to your face
  3. When you want to use Retinol for reducing dark circles, make sure you are not using Retinol in its purest form as the under eye area is very thin when compared to the rest of your face, so you can instead use other gentler forms such as Retinyl Palmitate.
  4. You may use Niacinamide along side retinol, that way you will not only get all the advantages of the Niacinamide but also Niacinamide will help alleviate irritation caused by retinol
  5. If you have very dry skin, make sure you improve the hydration of your skin before using retinol
  6. Start with 0.5% retinol and then move to 1% retinol, you may just stick to 0.5% if you have sensitive skin, because even 0.5% retinol is shown to be as effective as 1%
  7. Make sure you use only 2 to 3 drops of your retinol product and work on your face by spreading it evenly and upward motion.
  8. Always apply retinol products in the night, before going to sleep and not in the day, as retinol will make your skin sun-sensitive.
  9. Make sure you always wear sunscreen, when you are using retinol based products

This article is medically reviewed by our expert dermatologist, Dr Nagakeerthana Sunder, M.D. DVL

References :

  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25810364/
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33322246/
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