Five Things You Need to Know Before Using Retinol and Retinoids

If your skincare regimen doesn’t include a retinol-based product, you may be missing out on the various benefits of Vitamin-A—something that is clinically proven to reduce wrinkles, stimulate collagen growth, speed cell turnover and limit acne.

By Adarsh Soni
30 Jul 2021

When it comes to defence against common signs of aging such as fine lines and wrinkles, there’s nothing that’s more lauded than retinol. Even though the youth-enhancing elixir is heavily recommended by dermatologists across the globe, it’s still heavily misunderstood. Which is why we spoke to an expert to address the most common concerns that surround this revolutionary Vitamin-A derivative.


What is retinol and how is it different from retinoids?
Collagen is the most abundant protein found in our skin. But as we age, both collagen production and cell regeneration starts to slow down, leading to fine lines and wrinkles. Although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with aging—it is a natural process and should be embraced; with certain preventive measures, you can look significantly younger. And when it comes to anti-aging products, there’s nothing better than retinoids. “Since their introduction in 1971, retinoids have been extensively used for treatment of acne, psoriasis, skin ageing, and more. Retinoids are a class of medications that are derived from Vitamin A and work by forcing surface skin cells to shed off and making newer cells rise to the surface. It also prevents the breakdown of collagen while increasing collagen synthesis,” explains Dr Kiran Sethi, MD, Integrative Aesthetic and Skin Specialist, Founder, Isya Aesthetics, New Delhi. Retinol and retinoids serve the same purpose but they’re more like cousins rather than clones. The former contains a lower concentration of the active retinoic acid while the latter is more potent and usually refers to prescription-level drugs like tretinoin, tazarotene, and adapalene. At the end of the day, retinol is a type of retinoid.



Who can use retinol and retinoids?
Just like any other anti-aging product, thirty has long been the ideal year for introducing retinol into one’s routine. But according to experts, your mid-twenties are the perfect time to get an early head start. Dr Sethi recommends the product if you want to:

  • Reduce the signs of aging like fine lines, excessively enlarged pores, textural irregularity, and mild pigmentation.
  • Prevent acne and comedones like blackheads or whiteheads.
  • Treat other skin-related conditions as directed by your dermatologist

However, if you’re planning to get pregnant—or are already expecting—do not use retinol or retinoids, since they are not safe to use during pregnancy.


How to apply?
“Until your skin gets used to it, retinol should be slowly introduced to your regimen by applying it every alternate day. Or if you’re using a potent retinoid then use it only twice a week. Then build up slowly in strength: start with retinol 0.75 percent or retinol 1 percent. Once your skin can tolerate it, use it six days a week for three to four weeks, under your doctor’s supervision, and then switch to adapalene two to three times a week. Once you can do that for six days a week regularly, your doctor can help you switch to tretinoin 0.025 percent and then increase the percentage of tretinoin as required,” says Dr Sethi. Basically, a simple, over-the-counter retinol product is more than enough when you’re in your twenties, but as you grow older and your skin adapts to retinoic acid, your dermatologist will accordingly keep increasing the product’s strength. Another thing to keep in mind is that retinoids can take upto twelve weeks to produce noticeable changes in your skin.


What are the side effects?
While the promise of fresh, unblemished and youthful-looking skin sounds appealing, this revitalisation doesn’t come without risks. Certain side effects, such as dryness, mild irritation and photo-sensitivity are normal as your skin adjusts to retinol but excessive flaking, redness, and burning can prove to be red flags. If you experience any side effects that seem severe, then immediately stop using the product and consult your dermatologist. And those with pre-existing skin problems like rosacea or eczema should steer clear of retinol as it can further harm their skin. “If your skin feels too dry, peels or causes redness, try to apply a moisturiser first and once absorbed, apply retinoid. And, to lock in the hydration, apply a moisturiser first, followed by retinoid and then follow it by a moisturiser again,” Dr Sethi adds.



Can you use them with other skincare products?

Skincare products that you should layer with retinol

  • Hyaluronic acid: Hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid can draw and hold water molecules to the surface layers of your skin, while oil-based emollient ingredients help seal in moisture. They help moisturise the skin after retinol application has dried it out.
  • Peptides: Peptides and retinoids are like best friends. You get the collagen-building effects of the retinoid, but it also works to improve the penetration of the peptide cream, which can help improve skin’s firmness. Plus, many peptide creams contain plenty of emollients that can help counteract the irritating side effects that often come with using a retinoid. Use the retinoid first, and then top it with the peptide cream.
  • Sunscreen: SPF should be worn religiously every day of the year, not only to prevent skin cancers, wrinkles and sunspots, but also because retinol and retinoids can make the skin more sensitive to the sun.
  • Related Story: SPF Tips to Ensure Maximum Protection This Summer


Ingredients that you should avoid while using retinol

  • Acid-based exfoliants: When you add another powerful exfoliant on top of your retinoid—like alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA)—it can leave your skin damaged. Along with that, Beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), also known as salicylic acid, is also a poor mix with retinoids.
  • Toners: Retinoids tend to dry out your skin—so the last thing you want to do is deprive it of moisture further. It is best to avoid other drying agents when using retinoids such as toners and astringents as these products cause further irritation.
  • Benzoyl peroxide: This powerful acne treatment can cause your retinoid to oxidise, leaving both the products useless.


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