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The Beginners Guide to Retinol

If you've come to see me in the clinic you will know that inevitably we get around to talking about skin. The first thing I will ask is if you use an SPF (if you say no it's at this stage I may just collapse from the stress - but that's a story for another day) and then I ask, well are you using retinol?

This is where things get a bit cloudy. Most people have heard about Retinols but aren't quite sure what they are, or at what point we start to use them. This is without even getting around to what percentage, or brand to use. It's all a bit overwhelming - so I'm going to break it down for you nice and simple.

So what even is retinol?

Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A, and it boosts cell turnover. Ok great but what does that really mean?

Our skin is constantly replacing itself. We shed our top layer of skin cells to reveal fresh, new cells - we do this every time we exfoliate. However as we age our body gets a bit slow at doing this, and it takes longer for new cells to form -which is why our skin may start to look dull and start to get fine lines. Retinol gives our skin a boost and says hey - let's start making these new cells a bit faster.

This helps deal with many skincare concerns - acne, pigmentation, preventing early- aging, and skin texture issues.

When to start using it?

Mid 20's is the perfect time to start. As with most things in life - prevention is better than cure. The regular use of retinol will prevent fine lines and the early signs of aging. However, that's not to say that it's too late if you've left it a bit later. Retinol has been shown to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles over time.

Time, good things always take time, and this is no different. Results are not instant - we advise giving it about 12 full weeks before starting to see the effects. Why so long? Retinol creates new cells - but these take time to reach the top surface of the skin and become visible. It's best to give your skin a few cycles of replacing itself to see the full effects.

And on that note retinol is not just strictly for your face, it's also great to be used on the neck and decolletage area - as these areas are also prone to showing signs of aging.

How often do I use it, are there side effects?

Yes, it can take your skin some time to get used to retinol use. The use of retinol can irritate the skin leading to redness, dryness, increased sensitivity, and peeling. These do subside over time.

Retinol is to be used at night as sunlight reduces its efficacy- and make sure that you use a high strength sunscreen during the day. When you're just getting started we recommend starting with low strength and using it once every 3 nights, slowly progressing to every other night, and eventually using it on a nightly basis.

This phased approach allows your skin to become used to it slowly and reduces the amount of skin irritation. However even still redness, dryness, and some peeling are expected!

I've attached a picture of my skin on Tretinoin - a high strength retinol during the peeling process!

What are the different types?

Navigating the retinol world when you're looking for the right one to start with can be a bit of a minefield. So which one should you go for?

Our skin is as individual as we are ourselves. The right type and dose of retinol depends on your skincare concerns. If you are overall happy with your skin and want something to prevent aging starting on a low dose will do the trick. If you have pigmentation concerns, acne, or deep texture issues with your skin we're likely to need a stronger more potent form of retinol to help achieve your aims.

First, we have the Retinol esters - these are available over the counter, and are the weakest form of retinol. They may not penetrate to the deep levels of the skin where it's the most effective, but they also have the least side effects /amount of skin irritation.

We then have Retinol - this is stronger, penetrates to the deep layers of the skin. It is available normally in 0.25%, 0.5% and 1%. It's often good to start with the lower percentage and let your skin get used to it for 6-8 weeks before progressing to the next stage. As this is a more potent form you are likely to get increased skin irritation.

We then have Tretinoin which is twenty times more potent than Retinol. This is available in 0.025%, 0.05% and 0.1%. This is great for pigmentation, and acne sufferers but due to how potent it is you will have to be prepared to suffer some skin irritation as you get used to it. However, it is highly effective in addressing skin concerns.

What's the difference between a high-street brand of retinol and professional-grade retinol?

As I mentioned there is a lot on the market, the main difference is in the purity of the Retinol, and the delivery system.

The purity refers to the amount of active retinol in the product. A lot of the over counter products contain retinol derivatives - these are weaker, less efficient versions of retinol. Whereas medical-grade products contain pure retinol which is more efficient even in lower strengths. Also higher strengths of retinol - for example, Tretinoin are only available on prescription.

Then let's talk about the delivery system - medical-grade products are backed by years of clinical studies and research to make sure the products are reaching the deep layer of the skin where they needed to work. Secondly, they are often paired with other products to help address specific issues. For example, Obagi's Clenzi-derm range is there to address acne, and the Nu-derm range to address pigmentation and aging. Using the range of products together gives you the best result.

If you've used over the counter retinol, and then progressed to medical-grade versions you will have noticed the difference as initially you will have a lot more skin irritation - again due to the increased potency of the retinol, but you will have also seen quicker more dramatic results after its use.

Want to get started?

The best thing to do is book yourself in for a skin assessment and get a tailored skin regime made for you. Consultations can now be done virtually or in the clinic and products can be delivered straight to your door! Contact us for more information.


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