Why Your Skin Needs A Retinoid—And How To Use It

Retinoids go by a dizzying number of names, and between the over-the-counter and prescription options, a number of different brand names, and scientific-sounding word endings like -ol, -oid and -ate, it’s enough to make your head spin. But understanding this proven active ingredient is one of the most important things you can do for your skin.

“Retinoid” is a general term for a family of products derived from vitamin A. The family includes prescription retinoic acids such as Retin-A and Tazorac, as well as the over-the-counter ingredients retinol and retinyl palmitate.

The problem is, not all these products were created equal, and some have vastly greater benefits than others. Prescription retinoids are the only topical products proven to fight lines and wrinkles by stimulating the production of collagen and elastin. They also increase cell turnover, which helps treat acne, erase dark spots and keep the complexion bright. I use them every day on my face, neck, chest and hands.

Retinol is the strongest of the over-the-counter retinoids. Like its prescription cousins, retinol treats wrinkles and acne and increases cell turnover. Some people who can’t handle the peeling, flaking and redness that can come with prescription retinoid use find they can tolerate retinol much better. Look for products that contain at least .03 percent (one percent is the OTC limit). Retinol is my first choice when it comes to over-the-counter products, and I actually advise patients to avoid retinyl palmitate for a few reasons (learn more here).


How to use them

  • Retinoids make your skin more sensitive, so stop using them one week prior to facial waxing.
  • Avoid facial scrubs, facial brushes and chemical peels unless approved by your doctor.
  • Retinoids can make rosacea worse, but you might be able to tolerate a low dose. Talk to your dermatologist before using a retinoid.
  • Sunlight deactivates retinoids so always apply them at night.
  • Retinoids are easily broken down by light and air; so only buy products in airtight containers. I like opaque pumps or the small-mouthed aluminum tubes that RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream and Philosophy Help Me come in. If a product comes in an open-mouth jar, it does not contain active retinol!
  • Always screw the lid back on your tube.
  • To minimize irritation, start with a nightly application of OTC retinol. Once the bottle is empty, visit your dermatologist for a prescription retinoid. Which prescription to use depends on your skin type. Don’t know your skin type?  Visit www.skintypesolutions.com for a free evaluation.


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Dr. Baumann is the author of the New York Times best-selling book, "The Skin Type Solution." Look for the new edition in bookstores  Nov 23rd 2010. 

To discover your Baumann Skin Type®, visit her Web Site, SkinTypeSolutions.com.  



Once you know your Baumann Skin Type®, you can shop by your skin type and choose from hundreds of brands at SkinTypeSolutionsStore.com




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