Why you should use retinol

We all want to put our best face forward. A well thought out skincare routine helps to keep our skin healthy and clear.

Many factors influence the health of our skin; environmental exposures, diet, the use of certain medications, changes in hormone levels, and even underlying health conditions. Skin issues, like any other medical problem should be treated comprehensively. This means that the primary cause (such as imbalanced hormones) and the result (oily skin) should both be addressed in order to achieve the best result.

Thanks to science, there are many skin care products available today. Retinol (Vitamin A) based products remain at the top of the list when it comes to reducing wrinkles and blemishes.

What is Retinol?

Vitamin A1, more commonly known as retinol is a safe and effective substance that is used in many beauty products. Like the other vitamins from the Vitamin A family, retinol is essential for proper human development and especially beneficial for eye and skin health. Naturally, retinol is found in meat and dairy products and sometimes it is used as a dietary supplement. 

When it comes to the skin, the most important property of retinol is its ability to enhance collagen production and promote skin renewal. It also increases the production of the Human Growth Hormone and aids the proper functioning of epithelial cells. Therefore, retinol helps the skin to repair the damage caused by aging, sun, acne, and other factors.

Certain skin conditions cannot be improved with the use of this substance or even made worse. This is the case with psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.

How does retinol benefit skin health?

As time passes, we age. Our skin, which is the largest organ of the body and the membrane that protects us from many hazardous environmental factors such as UV radiation, ages also. Blemishes, spots, wrinkles, creases, loss of elasticity, and scars are all a result of the aging process. Some of them occur naturally and others are caused by the outside influence.

Although inevitable, the quality of skin-aging is determined by the ability of the skin to repair itself and how we treat it. If we expose the skin to negative influences such as too much exposure to sunlight, cigarette smoke, alcohol, etc., the aging process will be more effective and evident.

On the other hand, if we take care of our skin, protect it, and provide it with essential nutrients, such as retinol (vitamin A), we will slow down the process of aging and make its effects less visible.

Retinol is crucial in helping to slow the aging process because it stimulates skin repair on a cellular level. For one, retinol has antioxidative properties. This means it has the ability to neutralize the damage caused by free radicals, whose hazardous effect on collagen is the main cause of intrinsic (chronological) aging of the skin.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the skin and also the component responsible for giving the skin its elasticity. The production of collagen decreases with age. Retinol can boost new production of this protein. The preservation of existing collagen and stimulation of its production results in healthier and better-looking skin.

For these reasons, retinol significantly improves skin issues such as:

  • Pigmentation
  • Texture
  • Spots
  • Tone
  • Hydration

Retinol and Acne

One of the first medical uses of retinol was for the treatment of acne. This unwelcome condition is connected with a number of other skin issues including:

  • Enlarged Pores
  • Oily skin (overproduction of sebum)
  • Inflammation
  • Scarring

Retinol addresses all of these in a very positive way. It unclogs the pores and successfully removes dead skin cells, thus preventing new clogging. Clean pores then allow other skin care products to work more effectively. All of this together helps to clear the acne and, therefore, reduces the risk of scar formation in the future.

Retinol also helps to reduce the production of sebum. This makes the skin less oily and consequently creates a less friendly environment for bacteria development.

Retinol Treatment for Wrinkles

There are many over the counter retinoids that are advertised as anti-wrinkle miracle treatments. However, their effectiveness is often questionable.

Prescription strength retinol  increases blood supply to the skin by improving its vascularization and stimulating the blood vessels. This brings more oxygen and essential nutrients to the skin. And again, retinal increases the production of collagen in the skin making it more elastic, moist, and smoother in appearance.

The results of retinol treatment include:

  • Faded age spots
  • Reduced wrinkles

Types of Retinol Face Products

Retinol-based products intended for facial skin care are often referred to as retinoids. The mechanism of action and their effects on the skin are very well researched, understood, and documented. In fact, retinoids have been used in the treatment of certain skin conditions like acne for almost half a century.

Most retinoids can be purchased freely over the counter. However, there are some retinol-based skin care products that require a prescription by a medical professional. These are usually products with a higher content of retinol.

How to use retinol face products 

There are some important tips that can help you to make the best possible use of your retinol face products. Here we bring a few of the most important ones.

Do not apply retinol face products during daytime

Retinol makes our skin more sensitive to UV light, a component of sunlight. Even when it is used properly and applied only at night, the skin is more sensitive and so it is best to use it in combination with a potent sunscreen.

UV light also causes retinol to break down and makes it significantly less active. This is why the packaging of retinol-containing products is usually dark and well protected against all sources of light.

Retinol should not be used too often

This is especially true at the beginning of retinol use. Retinol increases the production of collagen and actually makes the skin more elastic and thicker. However, the skin needs to develop the tolerance to retinol gradually. If retinol is suddenly introduced and used frequently or in higher doses, it can backfire and cause symptoms such as:

  • Redness
  • Dryness
  • Flaking
  • Inflammation

This is why retinol application also requires the use of moisturizers, usually the morning after. The best advice is to apply retinol in the quantity recommended and to use it no more than once or twice a week. Later, if no side effects appear, the frequency of use can be increased.

Avoid using retinol in combination with acids

Some facial skin care products can contain acids, such as BHA, AHA, and Benzoyl peroxide. This is usually the case with peeling masks and face-cleaning products, like face washes, tonics, and cleansers. If you are starting to use retinol and you have sensitive skin, make sure to check the ingredients list of other face products you are using to avoid mixing acids and retinol. Both retinol and acids, exfoliate the skin just in a different way. The combination of the two can sometimes prove to be too much and can result in skin irritation and reduced effectiveness of retinol.

Start using retinol at the right age

At a young age, when the skin is still naturally elastic and healthy, the use of retinol face products will not result in visible benefits. The situation is similar if retinol is introduced very late in life, it will not make a significant change. Mid-twenties to mid-thirties is the best time to begin using retinol. 

Natural Sources of Retinol (Vitamin A)

Retinol can be found naturally also. It is a part of vitamin A family, so it is usually found in vitamin A-rich foods. However, the skin benefits of natural retinol are limited. Its concentration is usually not adequate and the inability to apply it directly on the skin makes it far less beneficial than the retinol found in cosmetic products and supplements.

Foods Rich in Retinol

A well-balanced diet with an adequate intake of vitamin A will reduce the risk of retinol deficiency which can be a cause of eyes and skin health issues. Vitamin A, and therefore retinol as well, can be found in foods of animal origin, especially in the animal liver. It is abundant in meat, oily fish, and dairy products. The following is a list of foods rich in retinol:

  • Beef liver
  • Lamb liver
  • Cod liver
  • Liver pate
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Trout
  • Caviar

It is important to mention that some of these foods (e.g. liver pate) are so rich in vitamin A that a regular daily consummation can severely increase its levels in the body and result in unwanted side effects. Therefore, caution is advised.

Natural Retinol-based Face Products

For those who prefer natural alternatives to cosmetic products, there is an array of supposedly good retinol-based face products. These are mostly DIY creams and masks. The main ingredient of such products is beta-carotene.

Advocates of its use claim that the human skin is able to transform beta-carotene into retinol molecules. Good natural sources of beta-carotene include:

  • Carrots
  • Carrot seed oil
  • Rosehip oil
  • Chicory root
  • Sunflower seed oil
  • Mango butter
  • Seaweed extract

These ingredients can be used for the preparation of natural face products. They cannot do any harm but their benefits and strength are limited. The good news is that due to their mildness, it is almost impossible for the side effects such as redness, inflammation, and flaking to appear.

Potential Side Effects

Side effects that may appear as a result of retinol use may include:

  • Dryness
  • Irritation
  • Discoloration
  • Photosensitivity
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Inflammation
  • Crusting
  • Blistering
  • Flaking

When you start using retinol, it is normal to experience some side effects such as redness, dryness, or inflammation. The skin needs time to adapt to retinol, so the first days or weeks may result in what appears to be the worsening of the overall condition of the skin. Flaking may appear too, but these effects should go away within a couple of weeks. Because of this many people believe that retinol works by removing dead skin cells. This is actually not true. If the side effects are too severe or are becoming progressively worse, you should definitely seek help from a medical professional.

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