Imagine if there was one skincare ingredient that did everything, and we mean everything. So, instead of stocking up on countless lotions and potions, you only need one hero product to tackle everything from aging and acne to pigmentation, oiliness, texture, and even dryness. Sound too good to be true? Say hello to retinol.
“Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that has historically been used to treat acne. It’s now used topically to treat a number of different issues. It’s one of those powerhouse ingredients that I go on and on and on about because everyone should be using it!” says Dr. Maryam Zamani, leading oculoplastic surgeon, aesthetic doctor, and creator of luxury skincare line MZ Skin. “Retinol is great to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles because it increases cell turnover, which boosts collagen production, in turn making the skin a little thicker. It also reduces pigmentation and treats acne as it decreases oil production and the appearances of pores.”
But before you go on a frenzy of slathering retinol all over your face, remember it’s an extremely powerful active ingredient, so there are a few key things you need to know about how to use it correctly. Here, Dr. Zamani shares her top tips to help you on your way to beautiful, clearer, younger-looking skin.
Can anyone use retinol?
People who have sensitive skin should be careful, as should those with eczema. I wouldn’t recommend using retinol if you’re pregnant, either. But most individuals with normal skin can tolerate retinol. I actually think that problem skin, such as those suffering from acne or rosacea, can really benefit from retinol.
What’s the best way to introduce retinol into a skincare routine?
Retinol is an active ingredient that increases cell turnover, so you do get a little dryness and flakiness when you start using it. Whenever you have an active ingredient like retinol, it’s important to use it sparingly and infrequently. I recommend starting off with a small amount in your nighttime routine – or daytime depending on what kind of formulation it is.
Use a pea-size amount twice a week at bedtime. Then, make sure you wear sun protection the next day, which I recommend regardless of whether you’re using retinol or not! If you find that you’re dry and flaky and your skin is getting irritated, then just use less of it, but still use it twice a week so that you can build up tolerance until you’re using it every other day and, eventually, nightly.
It’s one of those powerhouse ingredients that I go on and on and on about because everyone should be using it!
How do I know which retinol I should use?
Generally, anything over the counter or from stores is a lower percentage retinol, so you’re less likely to have the irritation you would from a prescription-strength tretinoin. I always look and see how it’s formulated. Retinol is always going to be less aggressive than a tretinoin, and looking at concentration levels can help. But the most important thing is to try it and see how your skin reacts.
Also, use any new active very sparingly – not just retinol. Don’t be overly aggressive or mix too many new things at the same time. That way, you’ll know what’s happening with what treatment. I really recommend my MZ Skin day moisturizer that has retinol and SPF 30, which is the minimum everyone should use daily! If you’re in a hot climate or out in the sun, I would up that to 50. I’m also coming out with retinol oil in January, which will be a two percent retinol, so a stronger formulation to be used at nighttime.
MZ Skin ‘Hydrate & Nourish’ Moisturizer
Some people say you shouldn’t use retinol during the day. Do you agree?
No, I don’t! I think that if you’re using retinol, it’s still working in your skin for the next 24 hours, and you’re therefore going to have retinol in your skin – whether you put it on at night or during the day. The other thing that I would say is that it sensitizes your skin no matter what, so SPF is absolutely imperative. Retinol can sometimes be oxidized by the sun, and that’s one of the reasons it was previously thought it shouldn’t be used in the day. But now, they’ve been formulated in such a way that they’re microencapsulated and not as easily targeted by oxidization.
When should we start using retinol?
Ideally, you should start in your 20s.
Are there any ingredients we shouldn’t use with retinol?
I always say never do everything at once! Get into a routine. If you’re using actives, introduce one active at a time and make sure you’ve been using it for three to four weeks before you introduce a second one. Listen to your skin, be kind. If you find that you’re getting irritation, cut back on using one of them, go to a lower percentage, or use less frequently. Start with a lower percentage and you can always up it over time.
How long until I see a difference in my skin?
It depends on what problem you’re dealing with. For example, if you’re using it for pigmentation issues, it takes longer because you have to wait until the cell cycle changes over. For acne and sebum production, it starts looking better four to six weeks later. Sometimes, there’s a not-so-great period followed by a good period, so be prepared for that.
Can I use it everywhere?
Yes, on the face, neck, and décolletage. There are some new eye formulations that are a little less strong, too. I recommend that if you’re using prescription-strength retinol, you stay around the orbital rim – so around the bone.