Retinols Provide Anti-aging Solutions in a Bottle

They're the closest thing to a magical elixir you'll find on the market when it comes to keeping your skin young

Retinols help diminish wrinkles, and improve skin tone, texture and clarity, and are currently the gold-standard in beauty treatments when it comes to anti-aging

Retinols have the ability to promote cell regeneration, and reduce collagen degradation while stimulating new elastin production. The results are diminished wrinkles, firmer skin, and improved skin tone, texture and clarity. Retinols can also help with acne by exfoliating and clearing out pores.

Sounds amazing, but this is no magical elixir of youth. It’s actually all quite scientific. Retinols are just one of many different kinds of retinoids (other common types include retinaldehyde, tretinoin, tazarotene, etc.), which are a derivative of vitamin A.

Amy Chen, scientific communication and training leader for SkinCeuticals, confirms that retinols “are one of the most-studied topical agents for anti-aging products. The role of vitamin A in keratinocyte proliferation and differentiation [skin regeneration] has been well recognized since the early 20th century.”

Some retinols are only available with a prescription but there are many products now available over the counter. This is powerful stuff and as beneficial as it can be for your skin, it can also be problematic, so it’s best to learn how to read labels.

Understanding the Different Kinds of Retinols

What you’re looking for are differences between brands, sources (natural or synthetic), types (reinhaldehyde, retinol, etc.), concentrations (0.05%, 0.1%, etc.), and formulations (creams, serums, gels, etc.)

There are dozens of retinol products on the market, each with a different combination of the above-listed factors. While it can be confusing, it also means there’s a good chance you’ll find a product that works very well for your skin type; it just may take some trial and error.

How to Use Your Retinol

Regardless of which product you choose, there are a few general rules you should follow:

  1. Don’t use this if you’re pregnant, trying to conceive or breastfeeding.
  2. Start slowly. Use it once a week, then work up to every two or three days and very gradually transition to daily use.
  3. Use only at night. Retinols will make you photosensitive.
  4. Use a broad-spectrum, photostable sunscreen during the day, or you’ll undo all the work the retinol has done and possibly make things even worse.
  5. If you need more hydration, wait at least 30 minutes before layering a moisturizer on top of the retinol.
  6. Do not use a serum or other product with actives in it layered directly with the retinol. The active ingredients and varying pH levels could neutralize effectiveness or, worse, create a chemical cocktail on your skin that results in a bad reaction.
  7. If you experience drying, peeling or other signs of irritation, switch to a lower concentration or reduce the frequency of application.

Retinols for the Face

When shopping for a new retinol product, ideally you want to get the strongest concentration that causes the least irritation. But if you’re new to retinols, or if you’re switching brands, buy the weaker concentration – if one is available – and then build up. Different brands will have different bases or delivery systems for their actives, and this can affect how your skin type reacts to the product.

Use a pea-size amount and evenly apply a thin layer to your face and neck, avoiding the eyes.

  1. SkinCeuticals Retinol Refining Night Cream; 0.5 (30 ml, $68), 1.0 (30 ml, $74). This creamy emulsion is suitable for all skin types except those with extremely sensitive skin. The 0.5 formula is recommended as a pre-requisite to the SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0, even if you’re used to other retinol products. SkinCeuticals is available via dispensing doctors and medical spas such as Project SkinMD in Vancouver. For a store locator, visit the SkinCeuticals website.
  2. Avène Ysthéal + Lotion; 30ml, $49. This lotion is safeguarded in an airtight pump-dispenser, which helps prevent the deterioration of its active ingredients. It features retinaldehyde, a gentler form of retinol (although still as effective), so this is a good choice for those with particularly sensitive skin. It’s fragrance-free, hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic, and also features Avène’s thermal spring water to help soothe and soften skin. Available locally at drugstores.
  3. Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-wrinkle Night Cream; 1.4 oz, $29.99. This lightweight lotion is a good option for those with oily skin. It’s oil-free, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic. It’s also packed with pro-vitamin B5 and vitamin E. A good and affordable way to ease into retinols. Available locally at drugstores.
  4. Clinique Repairwear Laser Focus Wrinkles and UV Damage Corrector; 30ml, $57; 50 ml, $86. This serum contains retinyl palmitate as well as antioxidants, whey protein, and acetyl hexapeptide-8 (a collagen-boosting ingredient). The texture is like warm honey, so just squeeze a dropperful into your hands and smooth over your face. Absorbs very quickly. Available in local department stores and at Sephora.
  5. Vichy LiftActiv Retinol HA Night; 30g, $49.50. This creamy retinol emulsion also contains Hyaluronic Acid, to help retain moisture and plump up the skin. This means you’ll see results overnight, waking up to noticeably firmer skin and reduced fine wrinkles. It’s good for combination to dry skin, including those with sensitive skin. Available locally at drugstores.

Retinols for the Eyes

The skin around the eyes is particularly delicate and you don’t want anything running into your eyes that isn’t safe. Retinols can sting and irritate skin in general, so make sure the retinol product you use around your eyes is made for this purpose.

  1. Shiseido Benefiance Pure Retinol Instant Treatment Eye Mask, 12 foil packs each containing 2 pads; $68. The great thing about pre-moistened masks is that the perfect amount of product has already been distributed; all you need to do is open the packet and apply. These eye masks are contoured to fit snugly under your eyes and will deliver retinol and other beneficial ingredients to reduce puffiness, wrinkles, uneven texture, and dark circles. Keep them in the refrigerator for a refreshing evening treat. The directions say to keep them on for 15 minutes, but some have reported fantastic results after sleeping with these hydrating masks on overnight. Available at local department stores and drugstores where Shiseido is sold.
  2. Avène Eluage Eye Contour Care; 15ml, $41. Made with Avène’s famed thermal spring water and retinaldehyde (a gentler form of retinol), this is a choice product for the delicate eye area. It also features Hyaluronic Acid Fragments (HAF), which help to reduce the appearance of deep lines and wrinkles, puffiness and dark circles. Available locally at drugstores.
  3. Vichy Liftactiv Retinol HA Eyes; 15ml, $42. Designed specifically for the fragile skin around the eyes, this product delivers smoothing, filling and soft-focus results. It includes Hyaluronic Acid to help draw in moisture and plump up the skin, lessening the signs of wrinkles. Available locally at drugstores.

Natural Retinal Alternatives

There are increasingly more natural retinol alternatives on the beauty market. They tend to be gentler and rely on plant-based extracts to deliver similar effects as those achieved by using a synthetic retinol. They’re a good alternative for those who find traditional retinol products too irritating or harsh.

Because they’re less aggressive, they’re ideal for those who have extremely sensitive or intolerant skin. With traditional retinol products, the skin is often left in a delicate state, which is why it’s necessary to stop treatment a few days before procedures such as waxing, peels, or lasering. They’re also an excellent choice for women who are pregnant, trying to conceive or breastfeeding, since it’s suggested these women should avoid excessive exposure to vitamin A.

  1. Éminence Bamboo Firming Liquid; 35ml, $58. This light and sweet-smelling serum is packed full of natural ingredients such as strengthening bamboo, hydrating coconut water, nourishing chicory root, and exotic tara tree, all to form a complex that mimics conventional retinol to increase collagen synthesis. It also includes plant stem cells from the Swiss Green Apple, which promotes increased cell regeneration and longevity. Available at select spas.
  2. Éminence Neroli Age Corrective Eye Serum; 30ml, $58. This collagen-boosting serum will nourish and pamper the delicate eye while helping to reduce crow’s feet and fine lines. This also features the same coconut water and Swiss Green Apple complex as the above serum to mimic retinol’s effects.Available atselect spas.
  3. REN Bio Retinoid Anti-aging Concentrate; 30ml, $72. This oil-based serum is particularly good for those who need a little extra moisture. Using 100% plant-based, naturally derived vitamin A, this concentrate will make your complexion brighter and more even-toned without the side-effects of synthetic retinol. REN also donates 2.5% of its profits to campaigns that promote a better environment. Available online and at Sephora.

Retinols Provide Anti-aging Solutions