Unlocking the Potential of Retinol: The Skincare Superstar

Exploring the Power of Retinol in Skincare

Retinol, a renowned ally in the quest against wrinkles, has firmly established itself as a star ingredient in many anti-aging cosmetic products, backed by solid evidence. However, a word of caution is warranted: when used at high concentrations without specialist guidance, it can potentially irritate the skin.

To mitigate these potential issues, the European Union is taking steps to regulate the concentrations of retinol in over-the-counter products. The proposed limits are 0.3% for facial products and a mere 0.05% for body products, with higher concentrations requiring a prescription.

But what exactly is retinol? Dr. Sara Gómez Armayones, a dermatologist, and member of the Spanish Group of Aesthetic and Therapeutic Dermatology, explains, “It is a derivative of vitamin A that has been used in dermatology for more than 40 years.” When taken orally, the active ingredient becomes isotretinoin, which is commonly used to treat acne and rosacea.

In the realm of skincare, retinoids, including retinoic acid (classified as a medicine) and the milder, more skin-friendly derivative, retinol, are employed. Retinol finds its place in cosmetic formulations and is celebrated for its role in photorejuvenation. It helps address minor wrinkles, improves skin texture, combats acne blemishes, acts as an adjunct in treating skin spots, and plays a pivotal role in preventing skin aging. As Dr. Gómez Armayones notes, “It has genuine, long-term effects, not just a surface improvement that fades quickly. The impact becomes noticeable within days.”

Retinol has long been prescribed by dermatologists. However, its popularity has grown to the extent that the EU feels the need to step in and regulate its usage. Dr. Gómez Armayones comments, “They need dermatological oversight, but they’ve become so prevalent and used without control that the EU has decided to intervene.”

In the post-pandemic era, there has been an upsurge in skincare awareness, largely fueled by the influence of social media. On the market, a range of retinol concentrations can be found in over-the-counter products, some even reaching 1%. Dr. Gómez Armayones cautions that high doses can result in irritation, redness, itching, and peeling—unpleasant side effects that might be mistaken for an allergic reaction to cosmetics.

A common misconception is that enduring these discomforts is an inevitable part of the process to achieve better skin. Dr. Gómez Armayones dispels this notion, stating, “When retinol causes discomfort, it’s a sign that the dosage is not suitable for the skin or that there hasn’t been a gradual and careful monitoring of the patient’s progress. Sometimes, it’s not about increasing the concentration but rather adjusting the quantity and combining it with moisturizing and reparative creams.”

To ensure a safe and effective experience with cosmetics containing retinol, the European Union aims to restrict concentrations to 0.3% for facial products and 0.05% for body products. The rationale behind this distinction lies in the thinner and less tolerant nature of body skin compared to the face.

The perennial question arises: Retinol or retinoic acid? Dr. Gómez Armayones advises, “Retinol is better tolerated than retinoic acid, but a thorough assessment of skin condition and guidance from a dermatologist are crucial before making a choice.” When using retinol, the key is to start gradually. “Begin by applying it twice a week on alternate days. Depending on your tolerance, increase the frequency until you can use it every night,” explains the doctor. Application should be at night on clean skin and, depending on specific needs, can be combined with barrier creams, acids, or alpha hydroxy acids. In the morning, sun protection with SPF 50 is a must. Dr. Gómez Armayones concludes, “If used with professional guidance, slowly and with good tolerance, you’ll start noticing its effects relatively quickly, in about two months.”

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