Retinoids are widely used to treat acne and prevent aging. In fact, they are the golden standard for acne and wrinkles. Read on to know the why, how and what about retinoids.
What are retinoids?
Retinoids are topical or oral compounds that are chemically related to vitamin A.
How do they work?
Retinoids work by binding to specific receptors in your skin and activating them and signaling them to behave in a normal manner (all skin issues are abnormalities, right?). They can improve how new skin cells are formed and how they behave as they grow. This results in collagen production and skin exfoliation.
Benefits of retinoids:
When used consistently, retinoids can keep your skin clear and acne free, even out skin tone, reverse sun damage and pigmentation, improve wrinkles and mild scars and prevent premature aging. These factors along with the exfoliating properties, make retinoids the gold standard for acne and anti-aging treatments.
When to expect results?
Flaking, breakouts, or slight irritation are common within the first few weeks of usage. It can take up to six months to see visible improvement.
Types/forms of retinoids:
Retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin, isotretinoin, and tazarotene are all types/forms of retinoids.
Your skin can only use a retinoid when it’s in the retinoic acid form. Therefore, all types of retinoids are converted to this state by your skin before it can be used.
For e.g.: Retinyl palmitate must first be converted to retinol, which is then converted to retinaldehyde, which is finally converted to retinoic acid. For each conversion, a little of the product is lost. Therefore, the fewer the conversions to retinoic acid, the stronger the retinoid.
So, in the decreasing order of strength the list becomes:
Isotretinoin> Tazarotene> Tretinoin (retinoic acid)> Adapalene> Retinaldehyde> Retinol>Retinyl palmitate.
Retinaldehyde, Retinol and Retinyl palmitate can be found in anti-wrinkle creams of brands like Neutrogena, Olay etc. and are the least potent.
How to use retinoids?
1) Do not rush: Start with a lower concentration. Initially apply it once every two nights for the first few weeks. Then, use it every other night for another week and gradually use it every night. After some months, you can use a stronger concentration. This helps your skin slowly adjust to the product. This reduces irritation and the initial breakout associated with most retinoids.
2) Use as little as possible: Ditch the “if a little is good, more must be better” mentality. Using more product will only irritate your skin even more. Use just a pearl sized amount for your entire face. If your eye is too sensitive to the retinoid, you can try mixing the product with a moisturizer and if that doesn’t help, just stop using it near your eyes. Retinoids can also be applied on your neck, hands and feet.
3) Use only at night: Retinoids make your skin more sensitive to the sun, therefore it is best to apply them at night. You should also use a good sunscreen in the morning to protect your skin more than usual.
4) Minimize use of other products: Treatments, such as BHAs and AHAs (salicylic acid, glycolic acid), make retinoids more potent and increases the chance of irritation. If you feel comfortable with your retinoid and want to add an extra product, you can continue using the retinoid at night and use the BHA or AHA in the morning.
5) Wait 15-20 minutes after washing your face: When you wash your skin, you disturb your skin’s natural barrier, so waiting a bit will minimize irritation.
P.S – Pregnant women shouldn’t go anywhere near retinoids.
Personal note – I started using Tretinoin 2 months back and I can already see a mild improvement. My skin texture has improved a lot, the sun damage has considerably reduced, my acne dries up within a day or 2 and I don’t get as many pimples as before. I am in my mid-twenties and I read at a lot of places that starting retinoids at this age can also prevent wrinkles in the future.