What is Retinol, and How Can it Help?

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carrotsWant to minimize the look of fine lines, reduce wrinkles and resurface the skin to a smoother appearance? Then add retinol to your routine. At least that’s what dozens of major marketers and hundreds of products say. Can you trust their claims, and the claims of the dermatologists that endorse it? When it comes to retinol, how much is truth and how much is fiction?

What is Retinol?

Simply put, retinol is the generic name for retinoid, an animal-derived form of vitamin A. In the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, it can also be made synthetically.

Retinol is produced in the body from a reduction of retinal, one of the many forms of vitamin A. This conversion is essential to eyesight and also to healthy skin, teeth and bones.

Retinol: A Brief History

This fat-soluble nutrient was discovered in 1913 by biochemist Elmer McCollum and Marguerite Davis and was first synthesized in 1947.

However, clinical descriptions have been noted since the 18th century. Researchers knew what it did, but not necessarily what it was chemically, nor what amazing applications would eventually find their way into retinol usage – including in the cosmetics industry.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that retinol began to be used as a component of skin care products, with the aim to reduce the looks of aging.

What Can Retinol Really Do?

Now for the nitty-gritty: how much of what we know about retinol is myth and how much is truth? Here are some interesting facts about retinol in cosmetics usage:

  • “Retinol is essential to the skin.”
    TRUE. Retinol is responsible for the maintenance of several bodily systems, including the eyes, the bones, and the skin.
  • “Cosmetic retinol will burn your skin.”
    FALSE. Retinol can be irritating, particularly in its chemically synthesized pure form. However, cosmetic grade retinol in a typically oil base is generally deemed to be gentle to the skin for a majority of users.
  • “You should use sunscreen if you use retinol.”
    TRUE. Retinol can make the skin more photosensitive – in other words, more vulnerable to harmful UV rays. Always use a sunscreen in conjunction with retinol.
  • “If I use a retinol product at night and wash it off in the morning, I don’t need sunscreen.”
    FALSE. The photosensitive effects of retinol will last through the day and possibly longer. Always use a sunscreen during the day if you’re on a retinol cosmetics regimen.
  • “Retinol renews the skin.”
    PARTLY TRUE. Retinol encourages cell turnover in the skin, hence producing new, fresher skin more frequently than without the use of retinol.
  • “Retinol shouldn’t be used with alpha hydroxy acids.”
    FALSE. For a while, a controversy surrounding retinol made the claim that retinol’s benefits were diminished when used with alpha and beta hydroxy acids due to their pH. Researchers now know that retinol maintains its basic elements in the presence of these ingredients.

A Retinoid By Any Other Name

Retinol may be listed under any one of several names in cosmetic products. These include retinoid, Retin-A, pro-retinol and retinoic acid (usually used for acne).

Please note that these do denote different uses depending upon the effect one wishes to attain, and some (such as retinoic acid) are generally not available except via prescription. See below for more information on prescription retinol.

Retinol is marketed under these trade names (get ready for it!): Acon, Afaxin, Agiolan, Alphalin, Anatola, Aoral, Apexol, Apostavit, Atav, Avibon, Avita, Avitol, Axerol, Dohyfral A, Epiteliol, Nio-A-Let, Prepalin, Testavol, Vaflol, Vi-Alpha, Vitpex, Vogan, and Vogan-Neu. Whew!

Prescription Retinol

Generally, the retinol in over-the-counter eye products is found in relatively small concentrations. If you want a stronger product, you’ll need to see your dermatologist. ALWAYS follow his or her directions exactly. Prescription-grade retinol can have the side effect of irritation to the cornea if used improperly.

Prescription retinol is carried under such names as Renova, Retin-A, Triluma, Tretinoin and Tretin-X. Some of these are found in generics, which may reduce the cost of the product.

Retinol Eye Care Brands

Retinol tends to be a bit more pricey than some other eye care ingredients (though not, by far, all). A few great eye care brands rated high for usage and low for irritation by users are:

Using Retinol Safely Around the Eyes

Because of the potential for irritation for some users, particularly depending upon its concentration and/or the base it’s in, there are a few general rules for using retinol products around the eyes.

  1. Start off slowly. Only use a retinol-containing product once or twice a week. This will minimize your skin’s sensitivity reaction.
  2. Choose products that contain a relatively low retinol concentration to gague your sensitivity to them. Then build your way up by using more if your skin and eyes feel comfortable.
  3. Do not get retinol directly in the eyes. If you do, flush it out with water.
  4. Wear an SPF-containing product made specifically for the eyes. Some SPF makeup and many sunscreens will irritate the eyes if used too near them.

If you’re confused by any of these names or the safe usage of retinol, consult your dermatologist. Retinol is one of the most commonly used products to reduce the looks of aging around the eyes. With a little experimentation, you can find the perfect retinol-containing product for you.

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