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What is Retinol? Why is everyone talking about it and what brand should I get?

If you have been reading about Retinol and are curious but don't really know what it does or which one to get, read this blog post to learn more.

What does Retinol do?

Retinol basically exfoliates the skin, helps produce more collagen and elastin (which makes your skin strong and flexible) and fights against free radicals which can accelerate collagen breakdown.

Are all Retinols the same?

Retin A (Tretinoin) is prescription strength Vitamin A and is retinoic acid so available to the skin immediately on application. Retinol is a weaker form of pure Vitamin A and needs to be converted to retinoic acid for the body to be able to use it.

Why is Retinol so expensive?

The real question we need to be asking is why are the over the counter retinols so cheap? The reason is because they usually contain too little active ingredient, have inferior formulations and are not in airtight containers that protect the product. Ensure you invest wisely in your chosen product. Ask Dr Kim if you have any questions.

What is the best percentage Retinol?

The most common forms of retinol are 0.1% and 0.5%. The way the product is made is also really important as you can have a high percentage of retinol but have the wrong pH or have no carrier mechanism to penetrate the skin without damaging it, making the benefits using it less. Therefore, good formulations are as important as percentage. My advice is to start with weaker formulations then move up as your skin tolerates the product.

When should I not use retinol?

When you are pregnant or breastfeeding, if you have rosacea, eczema or psoriasis or if you have a proven allergy to Vitamin A.

Can I apply it in the morning?

Retinol products are broken down by sunlight, that is why it is best applied at night. The container should also be airtight as UV light renders the product less beneficial. If you are wearing an SPF daily then morning application of Retinol is okay.

Must I wear SPF with Retinol?

Retinol aims to increase collagen production and prevent breakdown by free radicals. UV rays can break down Retinol.  UV rays from the sun also increase the breakdown of collagen and elastin and cause premature skin ageing. So SPF and Retinol are both trying to maintain collagen so they should be used together for best results. 

Must I stop my retinol when going into the sun?

This is a controversial topic. Some research has shown that retinol does not increase the skin’s sensitivity to light. If you are going into the sun you do want to be protecting the skin from UV rays, because they breakdown collagen, cause uneven pigment and damage skin cells. So if you want your Retinol to work as well as it can, its better to use an SPF with the Retinol. Using retinol in sunny climates is not a contraindication.

Do Retinols thin the skin?

No, Retinol actually actively thickens the skin, increasing the cell turnover and producing more collagen.

When should I start using Retinol?

Ideally in your late 20s, especially if you have pigment problems or suffer from breakouts. Starting it later is fine and you will still get the benefit but the earlier you start the more prevention benefit achieved.

How soon before I see results from Retinol?

Retinol can take up to 12 weeks to show any results, therefore the sooner you use the product the more benefit you will gain. Different strengths can also give results at different times.

Can I still use my acid exfoliators?

AHA, BHAs and benzoyl peroxide can reduce the potency of retinol so you should not mix them. Wait at least 30 mins after using an acid cleanser before applying retinol.

My skin gets red and irritated, should I stop the Retinol?

This reaction actually shows the product is working. This is known as retinol dermatitis and usually settles after 3-4 weeks of regular use. To minimise the effects try putting less product on, use a lower percentage and start slowly, once a week initially, then gradually increase the frequency until you are using it every night without severe irritation.

Can I put retinol around my eyes and neck?

Yes, you can, but be aware this area is more sensitive than other skin and more irritation and redness can occur. You may want to try using less product here and use it less frequently until your skin is used to the treatment. Dont rub your eyes after application and do leave a small margin around the eyes.

How often should I apply Retinol?

First one to two weeks: apply twice a week at night

Next 2 weeks: Apply every second night

After 4-6 weeks of use: Apply most nights of the week if you are able to 

After 8-12 weeks: aim to use nightly

Should I use a moisturiser with Retinol?

Most moisturiser can make the skin “lazy” causing it not to produce its own moisture. Thick creams can also clog pores and cause breakouts. If you have dryness and irritation then a light moisturiser can help alleviate the side effects. I recommend a light humectant such as Obagi Hydrate or using Daily Power Defense which can act as a Retinol moisturiser.

Which Retinols do I recommend?

I recommend different forms of Retinol depending on your ability to tolerate redness and irritation and also the degree of skin damage.

A nice introductory Retinol is ZO Daily Power Defense – it has low dose Retinol, comes in an airtight container and gives minimal redness and flaking. You can apply this daily at night to start with. It can replace your daily moisturiser as well. Another option is Skin Brightener with 0.25%, but this will have more side effects than Daily Power Defense

Once you have used a bottle of Daily Power Defense you can introduce a moderate retinol like ZO Skin Brightener with 0.5% Retinol at night. This you will introduce gradually until you can tolerate it. If you have used Daily Power Defense before, the transition is a lot easier. You can now use the Daily Power Defense as a morning cream and introduce the moderate retinol gradually at night.

Once you have used Skin Brightener 0.5% for a while and you feel like you want an even stronger Retinol (you can stay on the 0.5% without missing out on any benefits) then I would recommend ZO Radical Night Repair with 1% Retinol or Skin Brightener with 1% Retinol. You can continue the Daily Power Defense as a morning cream while adjusting the evening retinol. You may experience redness and irritation as you increase the strength of your retinols.

(Please note ZO brands are not available online and only available from Medical Clinics - please email to discuss costs and prices.)


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