Skincare can be confusing enough, but when ingredients sound the same? That takes it to a whole new level. Case in point: retinol, retinoids, and Retin-A. Lost? Yeah, so were we. But here’s the thing — with its major skin strengthening and anti-aging powers, retinol is definitely worth understanding. So we asked FACILE dermatology + boutique’s Gabriella Gerbi, FNP-BC, to help us understand the differences as well as guide us while we get started on a retinol journey. Read on for your full retinol rundown!
So, what is the difference between retinols, retinoids, and retin-A?
Basically, it all comes down to strength. “Retinoids are prescription-strength, so something you need to get prescribed from a provider,” says Gerbi, “Retinols are derivatives of retinoids and can be found on online platforms or at your local skincare retailers” And as it turns out, Retin-A isn’t it’s own category after all: it’s actually brand of the prescription retinoid tretinoin.
Why should you be using a retinol or retinoid?
Both retinols and retinoids are great additions to your routine, especially as you get a little more serious about skincare (think your mid to late 20s). “Retinoids work by promoting cellular skin turnover, therefore making way for new cellular growth and promoting the emergence of new healthy skin and the production of new collagen, which makes it a great topical for anti-aging” says Gerbi. And not only can it help with wrinkles and fine lines, it’s also a great way to treat conditions like acne, psoriasis, warts, sun damage, and hyperpigmentation. “Anyone seeking a product to help with discoloration due to aging or sun damage, anyone who is struggling with acne, or anyone seeking to maintain healthy and youthful skin should look into retinol,” says Gerbi.
Where’s the best place to start as a new retinol user?
Like many skincare endeavors, it’s a good idea to get an opinion from a professional. Today there are so many different forms of retinol that depending on the strength and type there is almost a perfect retinol product out there for everyone, says Gerbi. “It is best to consult with a provider first who can assist you in finding one which is appropriate based on your concerns and skin type.” This is especially true if you have very sensitive skin, since many products on the market might be too harsh for you. And with all the opticians out there, be prepared for a little trial and error — it might require a few tries to find your perfect fit.
How should you incorporate retinol into your routine?
Some products are fine to use day and night; not so with retinols or retinoids, which are for nighttime use only. “The reason for this is that retinols make your skin more sensitive to UV light and sunlight will also decrease the efficacy of the product,” explains Gerbi.” She also has a game plan she likes to recommend for perfect integration into your routine. “I typically advise my patients to begin incorporating their retinol/retinoid in the evening after using a gentle face wash, followed by a hydrating serum such as a hyaluronic acid, and to then apply the retinol followed by a moisturizer,” she says. “Doing this two or three times a week is a nice way to build up a tolerance so that they don’t need to worry about side effects.”
What sort of initial effects can someone expect?
Once you start incorporating a retinol or retinoid into your routine, you should be prepared for a few bumps (no pun intended) on your road to smooth and glowing skin. Many people just starting out with these products experience what’s called “purging”: aka a few more breakouts than normal. Peeling and dryness are also a normal side effects, as is redness and mild irritation. “This is most common when the dose is too high if it’s a prescription retinoid, or if you are using an over-the-counter product that also includes AHA or BHAs, which can make them more irritating,” explains Gerbi. Her advice? “Check the ingredients to make sure that there aren’t any additional exfoliants, otherwise these can be too much for your skin to handle.”
Okay, I’m ready to get started. Which products should I add to cart?
If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of products out there: we’ve got some recommendations. “I think one of the nicest introductions to retinol is Senté Bio Complete Serum, says Gerbi. “Their technology includes a delayed-release mechanism which decreases the chances for irritation.” She also loves Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinol Serum for those who want something gentle, and prescription Aczone for more acne-prone patients. Lastly she loves tried and true tretinoin, aka Retin-A. “I find that starting patients on a low dose can be a perfect way of using it for both anti-aging reasons, as well as to treat acne,” she says.