Retinol or Retinoid?

1. What are retinols and retinoids?

Retinols and retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that are commonly used in topical skin care products to treat signs of aging.  They are proven in their benefits to promote cell turnover, stimulate collagen synthesis, strengthen our skin against sun damage and reducing signs of aging, such as fine lines, uneven skin texture, pigmentation, and laxity.   Both retinols and retinoids have been regarded as the gold standard ingredients in antiaging skincare. Examples of retinols are retinyl esters (retinyl palmitate or prorpionate), retinaldehyde and retinol. Retinoids are also known as retinoic acids, and the topical retinoids are adapalene, tretinoin and tazarotene. 


2. How are retinols different from retinoids?

While both retinols and retinoids are similar to vitamin A, there are several important differences between these two active ingredients.  Retinol is precursor of retinoids, in the sense that retinol needs to be converted by our skin cells to retinoid, which then trigger a series of cellular events that lead to improved collagen synthesis, better cell turnover and decreased signs of aging.  Therefore, retinol is weaker than retinoid, because of this extra step of conversion. At the same time, retinol is gentler on the skin than retinoid. Many people, esp those with sensitive skin, likely will go through a phase of irritation, peeling, redness when they first start using a retinoid, but not so much when they use a retinol.  Another important difference is that retinol is available over-the counter but retinoid requires a medical prescription in the U.S.


3. When should we start using retinol?

It all depends on your skin needs, your skin type, and your lifestyle when you decide whether you should start incorporating retinol in your skin care regimen.  Retinol is a great topical skin care ingredient for anyone looking to improve their pores, balance out skin tone, reduce fine lines, strengthen skin elasticity and treat signs of sun damage.  Because retinol helps to promote cell turnover, it can be very beneficial for people with mild acne or blemish prone skin. To find out whether you need a retinol, please join us at BIALife so we can evaluate your skin needs and curate a personalized plan using medical grade products for you.


4. Who should not use retinol or retinoid? Are there any dangers of using retinol or retinoid?

There are plenty of medical research studies that support the safety of long term use of retinol/ retinoid.  In fact, most studies support 22 months or longer as the standard duration of using retinol/ retinoid before appreciating visible improvements in skin quality. With the proper initiation phase of using a retinol or retinoid, most people can benefit from long term application.   The only caveat is that because they are vitamin A derivatives, pregnant or nursing mothers should not use retinol or retinoid, to avoid any potential risks to the fetus or baby. Lastly if you do get an allergy to a serum or antiaging creams containing retinol, don’t jump to conclusion, you may be allergic to other components of the product such as fragrances, preservatives or stabilizers rather than to retinol.  Before you dismiss retinol or retinoid, best to get a skin allergy test to find out exactly which ingredient triggers your skin reaction.


5. How do you start using a retinol or retinoid?

Because of their potential to irritate the skin (both retinol and retinoid, while more so with retinoid), it is important to take it slow when you first start adding them into your daily skin routine.  First of all, it is very important to use a pea size amount or so to the entire face when you start out. Some people may find it better to mix a pea size of retinol / retinoid with their moisturizer for easier blending.  The rule of thumb that we tell people all the time is that iif you don’t think you have applied enough, then that is probably the correct amount, but if you feel like you’re getting a good coverage, then you definitely have used too much.  If you use the correct amount, and still getting irritant, then you can decrease the frequency to every other night, or every third night, slowly build up to every night over the course of 4-6 weeks. Using a moisturizer that suits your skin type is another effective way to minimize irritation from retinol/retinoid.  Lastly be patient when you start using anti-aging serum/ creams containing retinol, it will take consistent application of at least 12 -22 weeks to appreciate noticeable improvements. 


6. When do you use retinols, are there any do’s or dont’s

Retinol and retinoids should be applied at night, because sun actually deactivates them, and making the results less efficacious.  Retinol containing products often go before moisturizer, and hydration is important when you use retinols to minimize peel and protect your skin barrier if it does get inflamed.  When you get a facial, a laser treatment or waxing treatment, it is very important to tell your provider that you’re on a retinol or retinoids, so that they can adjust their treatment plan to minimize unnecessary skin irritation. Lastly, if you are already using antioxidants with exfoliative effects, such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids, then you may need to be careful when you start a retinol, to avoid too much skin exfoliation. 


With love, Janelle & Shasa

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