Why Retinol Still Reigns in Skincare (Yes, Even In The Summer Months)

Anti-Aging Medicine
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Anti-Aging Medicine
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Back in the 1980’s, chances are that a tretinoin tube (aka Retin-A) was one of the sole anti-aging prescriptions found inside a bathroom vanity. Originally approved to treat skin conditions like acne, these days, retinol is also known to target cellular turnover, fine lines, pigmentation and rough patches. And thanks to a bevy of advanced retinol formulations, you won’t experience the irritation and skin-stripping side effects of yesteryear.

But first, why is retinol still considered a great anti-aging ingredient? “Retinol, or Vitamin A, penetrates into the nuclei of our skin cells where there are receptors specifically for it. Activating these receptors actually alters gene expression,” says Dr. Dan Belkin, a highly-coveted dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon at New York Dermatology Group (who counts the dewy-faced Martha Stewart as one of his clients).

Enhancing what’s known as “differentiation” of our skin cells — retinols help renew the skin’s aging and cellular stress (i.e., sun damage). Healthily differentiating skin translates to “an even tone with lack of hyperpigmentation, a clear complexion (without acne, whiteheads, blackheads) and smoothness without dullness,” Belkin says. And that’s not all: retinols have been shown to stimulate collagen production.

As for quelling retinol’s side effects including redness, Dr. Belkin recommends looking for encapsulated (protected by a small shell) retinols. In a nutshell: encapsulation allows active — and potentially irritating ingredients — to move beyond the skin’s outermost layer and penetrate into the skin. First-time retinol users should start slowly. Dr. Belkin suggests “building up to every other night — or nightly over several weeks. This allows the skin to “retinize” and become acclimated to the product.”

In late April, skincare line Malin + Goetz debuted a time-release retinol correction serum. The mission for Matthew Malin, the brand’s founder, was formulating a less-is-more-product. “I have rosacea, eczema and seborrhea,” he says, adding he uses his namesake retinol as his nighttime moisturizer. “My skin’s the smoothest, softest and brightest it’s been since I was 25 – and I am now 55,” he quipped. Belkin, who helped with the launch, echoed the sentiment. “It’s extremely gentle and it also has encapsulated Vitamin C which is another powerhouse ingredient.”

Belkin also touts Alastin Renewal Retinol and cult-favorite U Beauty Resurfacing Compound, which he hails for its “fantastic encapsulation technology” alongside its plentiful AHAs, which gently exfoliates, leaving skin brighter and smoother. Alternatively, for natural skincare lovers, Marie Vernonique and Kristina Holey make a Multi-Retinol Night Emulsion that leans on three types of retinoids alongside softening ingredients (for folks with sensitive skin).

So, with summer only a few weeks away, can we safely debunk the myth we shouldn’t use retinols in the warmer months? “They can be used all year as long as the skin is retinized — or used to them,” Belkin says. But he added: “I’d be cautious starting a retinol in summer months. Irritation is common and sun exposure when the skin is red makes one more sensitive to burns and hyperpigmentation.”

A quick note on sun safety: always make sure to apply daily broad-spectrum like Supergoop’s plant-based Daily Dose Bioretinol + Mineral SPF 40. Also: don’t forget the oft-neglected neck or decolletage – simply add a dollop of moisturizer before smoothing on your retinol.



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