Here’s what you need to know before you start a skin-care

EVERYONE is talking about retinols these days and I thought it would be  good to compile a list of facts about it as a sort of guide because I’ve been asked so many times about it.

I’m not an expert at retinol use although I was a longtime user of Retin-A, a retinoid (more about this later).

What is retinol? It is the over-the-counter version of retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A. Retin-A was said to be the first retinoid in the market. Its active ingredient was tretinoin and it was used to treat acne, fine lines and wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. It was fast acting but had side effects like dryness, redness, burning, peeling and flaking.

What I loved about Retin-A was that your skin looked like new after all the peeling. Of course, that meant no sunbathing or hiking but it was all worth it. With regular Retin-A use, you could see results in a month or two.

You could call retinols the weaker sibling of retinoids, which are prescription medication. Even at their strongest, retinols are still less potent than retinoids. But like with any skin-care product, you need to trust the process and be patient to be rewarded with good skin.

Unlike retinoids, which promote cell turnover, retinols are made up of small molecules that go deep beneath the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) to your dermis to neutralize free radicals to help boost the production of elastin and collagen.

So in this context, we will talk about retinols and how to use them.

Typically, a retinol product should be applied on the skin 30 minutes after washing to avoid skin irritation. Retinols are also recommended for application at night because of risk of sun sensitivity. Some retinol products, such as the one from Kiehl’s, are said to be okay for use during the day.

If you’re pregnant, you should not use any product with retinol. Those with eczema and rosacea should also avoid using anything with retinol.

Your skin does not “thin” because of retinol, said board-certified dermatologist Dr. Bea Chan.

“There’s this misconception that [retinol] rinses the skin or it makes your skin more sensitive. On the contrary, your skin grows thicker and plumper because it stimulates collagen production,” said Chan.

There is such a thing called the sandwich method where you apply retinol between two layers of moisturizer. Personally, I wouldn’t apply a retinol or retinoid over a moisturizer but that’s just me. I would use a rich moisturizer over it though, but nothing under.

There’s also such a thing as purging with retinols or retinoids. Personally, I did not experience this while using Retin-A but different strokes for different folks.

“Skin purging, according to dermatologists, occurs when quick cell turnover [a benefit of using retinoids] results in a wave of new pimples. This may alarm some new retinol users but experts have explained this is normal. This is particularly the case as oil and debris that is trapped deeper underneath the skin comes to the surface,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michael J. Farber of Schweiger Dermatology Group, in an article that appeared on ( Purging usually occurs for two to six weeks. Aside from pimples, new retinol users may also see an increase in blackheads and whiteheads.

To lessen the effects of retinol use on your face, you may want, for the meantime, to use a sulfate-free cleanser, a soothing moisturizer (maybe something with cica), and sunscreen for sensitive skin.

You can find retinol in many products, including serums, eye creams, face creams and even body lotions.

Good Molecules Gentle Retinol Cream is one of the best sellers in the market. It’s said to be so effective that it’s always out of stock.

Pure Culture Bulgarian Rose Everything Elixir is the perfect retinol product for those with sensitive skin or first-time users. The retinol this elixir contains is BHT-Free Retinol, also known as Clean Retinol or Retinol 2.0. This retinol is derived from sweet potatoes and uses encapsulation technology that allows it to penetrate deep into the skin before being activated.

Kiehl’s recently launched the Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Retinol Serum, which is made with micro-dose technology that makes the serum suitable for all skin types.

Kiehl’s formula ensures that the retinol ingredient is applied to the skin in precisely calibrated doses. This promotes a more gradual acceleration of cell turnover compared to traditional, higher-dose retinol formulas.

Pure retinol, together with niacinamide, delivers a higher level of surface renewal efficacy while minimizing the dryness, redness, and peeling commonly experienced during the adjustment period of retinol.

“The good thing about combining [niacinamide and retinol], for the most obvious reasons, is that niacinamide can calm and soothe possibly any irritation or redness that might be caused by retinol,” said Chan.

Image credits: PHOTO BY KIEHL’S