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Spotlight on Retinol: The Five Things You Need to Know

What a retinol serum or cream can do for your skin.

From CBD to turmeric, buzzy skincare ingredients come and go, but one that never falls from grace is retinol. Dermatologists will never question it, and it’s featured in products found in drugstores, department stores and your dermatologist’s office. Yet despite its ubiquitousness, it still manages to mystify, which can sometimes lead to its misuse. So, here are five things you should know:

1. What retinol is and what it can do

Retinol, as well as retinoids like retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid, is a derivative of vitamin A, a key nutrient in the body. In skincare, it’s capable of brightening skin and reducing acne by decreasing the stickiness of cells that clog pores. But the benefits of retinol don’t end there. The ingredient can also improve skin’s overall texture and tone. What’s not to love?

2. Why retinol is an anti-aging powerhouse

Skin cells turn over once every 28 days, producing a fresh new layer—yay! But that slows once you hit your mid-30s—it’s more like every 50, 60 or 70 days. Oof. That’s where retinol steps in. It helps to strengthen and firm the skin. While retinol can keep the skin bouncy, hyaluronic acid helps to keep the skin hydrated. It can also function like an antioxidant.

3. How to use retinol

Heed the old adage “Less is more” when you start incorporating retinol into your routine. Given that is prompts skin cells to shed faster, some side effects of using retinol such as redness, flakiness, dryness and irritation, are common. Start with a pea-size amount of a low-percentage retinol cream like SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3 Refining Night Cream for the whole face and apply it to clean, dry skin once a week. Think of it like running a marathon: The following week, use it two times for two weeks and three times for three weeks until your skin gradually gets used to it. At that point, you can graduate to a higher percentage like SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream and use it every other night. The side effects should last about three to four weeks in total as your skin adjusts. To mitigate this period, you can also use a moisturizer, which will help your skin barrier. (And if you’ve got ultra-sensitive skin, avoid using products like acne treatments, acids and peels on the same night you apply the retinol.) Remain consistent so that the adjustments your skin makes aren’t undone.

4. When to use retinol

One of the side effects of retinol serum or cream is that it makes the skin more sensitive to UV rays, which is why it’s always recommended that you apply it at night. Another reason to apply it before bed: The sun breaks retinol products down, rendering them ineffective. In the morning, it’s critical that you apply a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher—you should be anyway, FWIW. A great daily option? SkinCeuticals Sheer Physical Defense UV Sunscreen SPF 50. Another tip: Avoid excessive heat, whether from the sun or a sauna, to minimize any potential redness.

5. Make the most of the ingredient

Retinol and sun exposure are not a good combination, and neither is fresh air. So, keep it hidden in a dark cabinet and the packaging tightly sealed. Also, don’t neglect your neck and décolleté; these areas can absolutely benefit from the anti-aging ingredient. SkinCeuticals Tripeptide-R Neck Repair addresses “tech neck”—the lines created by the repeated movements of looking at your phone. Though retinol is touted mostly for addressing aging, it’s worth reiterating that it’s also effective in keeping pores free of sticky dead skin cells. Above all, find the retinol that works for you, be consistent and be patient. Great skin doesn’t happen overnight.

Become a Skintellectual in 5 Steps

1. Start off with our beginner's guide (link to article 1)
2. Learn how to layer retinol in your skincare routine
3. Learn which ingredients to pair with your retinol (link to article 3)
4. How to introduce retinol in your nighttime routine.
5. Don't be swayed by common myths about retinol

Stay up to date on all your retinol news!



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