Choosing a Retinol Serum

A retinol serum is a great product for aging skin.  It’s a proven ingredient that reduces fine lines and wrinkles, fades age spots, and improves skin texture.  It can also benefit acne prone skin.  Some users have reported fewer breakouts and smaller pores.  It can also reduce skin oil production, making it a good treatment for oily skin.  It’s also a good ingredient to prevent aging.

Retinol is a well-researched active ingredient.  Unlike many skin care active ingredients, there is ample support that it improves the appearance of aging skin.  A small molecule that penetrates the skin easily, retinol is derived from Vitamin A and belongs to a family of nutrients called retinoids.  It is related to the prescription wrinkle fighter, Retin-A.  When applied to the skin, it is converted into the chemical retinoic acid, which is the active ingredient in Retin A.  This chemical increases collagen and elastin production.  This improves the skin matrix, which is the mesh below the skin.  This mesh can warp and wrinkle as we age.  It also improve cellular turnover, which is a major cause of aging.  When you get older, skin cells replace themselves at a slower rate.

Retinol serums are typically the strongest retinol skin care products available.  You will usually find concentrations of .15%, .5%, and 1%.  Use caution if a product claims to go beyond 1%, because it may be counting other retinoids toward that percentage.  It’s important to check the ingredient list in such products to ensure they actually contain retinol.

You should introduce a retinol serum into your skin care routine gradually.  Many serums also contain alpha hydroxy acids, so be sure that you check the ingredients if you are using other products that contain AHA’s.  Like most effective skin care active ingredients, retinol can cause irritation if you start off using too strong of a product at first.  Don’t use a product that contains 1% in the beginning; go with the mildest product you can find, typically .15%.  Apply this every other day, or every third day, for a few weeks before moving to daily use.  You can then introduce mid strength concentrations by using that formulation every other day until you can tolerate that.  Work your way up gradually to using the strongest products daily.  You can also use this method to prepare your skin for prescription retinoid products like Retin A and Renova.

Many retinol serums will contain glycolic acid to help exfoliate.  If your product doesn’t contain glycolic acid, you’ll need to use another form of exfoliation in your routine to allow the retinol serum to work effectively on live skin.  Exfoliation removes dead skin cells and other debris, which forms a layer on top of live skin.  This layer can trap your facial treatments like and keep them from properly absorbing.

A Retinol serum will usually create a peeling effect, which is desirable.  It’s a sign of good exfoliation and increased cellular turnover.  You can use some light exfoliation like a mild facial scrub or microdermabrasion cloth to remove this flakiness, but you must be very gentle.  In the beginning, you may have to deal with unsightly skin flaking that needs to slough off naturally over the course of a few days.  As you continue to use retinol skin care products, you will experience far less flaking.

A Retinol serum should be applied at night.  They are often combined with glycolic acid, which makes your skin prone to sunburn after use.  Additionally, UV exposure deactivates retinol, making it ineffective.  You should use a sunblock daily.

It is generally advised that pregnant women do not use products containing retinol.  There has been inconclusive evidence that it is associated with birth defects when taken internally.  Although there has been no documented harmful effects to unborn babies by using topical retinol, to be safe do not use a retinol serum if you are pregnant.