Retinol seems to be on everyone’s mind lately! I am getting so many questions about retinol in my office, from the press, and on social media so I wanted to share a quick Q & A in case these questions were also on your mind.
Q: What is Retinol?
Dr. Bowe: Retinol is a Vitamin A derivative which is often added to topical skincare products to promote skin renewal, brighten skin tone, reduce acne, and boost your skin’s collagen production. It also functions like an antioxidant to help address free radical damage which leads to visible signs of aging. Retinol is over the counter, so we are talking about the products you can buy in stores – this does not require a prescription.
Q: I’ve heard that retinol is going to make my skin inflamed and red and then peel. Is this true?
Dr. Bowe: I often recommend introducing retinol slowly into your skincare regimen (not every single night) and starting off with a low percentage (0.025%). Retinol can be very irritating if used too frequently or if the formulation is too strong for your skin. Overuse of retinol can cause flaking, redness, and burning, not to mention retinoid dermatitis, which means red scaly patches which sting and burn. There is some peeling associated with retinol use. I recently demonstrated the way I suggest that my patients apply retinol on Good Morning America to reduce inflammation and irritation.
Q: How should I prep my skin prior to makeup application when it’s peeling from retinol?
Dr. Bowe: I recommend gently exfoliating with a scrub or mask made for the face. Using one with sugar or salt is way too harsh for delicate facial skin. My Exfoliating Honey-Avocado-Yogurt Mask from The Beauty of Dirty Skin is a great one to try (p. 174):
Yogurt contains lactic acid which is a natural exfoliant. It also has soothing properties, which are so important when your skin is healing. To make: mash together half a peeled and pitted avocado and 2 teaspoons of honey until the mixture is a paste. Add one small container of plain Greek yogurt and mix well. Apply to your face and leave on for up to 20 minutes. Rinse off with warm water and pat dry.
Then, apply a moisturizer and let it absorb. I would avoid toners, and don’t give into the urge to scrub with a harsh scrub, or peel at the skin! Less is more during this fragile time. Probiotic products are especially helpful at promoting healing. I share links to a number of brands I like here.
When you apply makeup, you want to avoid anything with alcohols, and I’m a huge fan of mineral makeups for peeling skin.
Q: How long does it take a retinol to work?
Dr. Bowe: If you are using retinol to address wrinkles and signs of aging, studies show that you will start to see noticeable results in about six months. These results only continue to improve and are even more noticeable at approximately one year after use. Stay consistent with it and you will see results! Be patient!
Q: Can you make some specific product recommendations?
Dr. Bowe: dermalogica’s overnight retinol repair has been one of my favorites for a while. I included it on my Dr. Whitney’s Picks page because it’s so non-irritating and good for people with sensitive skin who are just starting to use a retinol. You can read more about it here. If you are a seasoned retinol veteran, one of the new products on the market you might consider is Sunday Riley’s A+ High Dose Retinol Serum.