You’ve likely seen those social media memes that go something like, “If you can remember [insert vague reference from the a decade], it’s time to use a retinol.” And, yeah, they’re right -- but you’re never really too young to use a retinol. This myth likely started because one of the biggest claims of retinol is that it helps with wrinkles -- which is true! But this isn’t all it does.
Retinol was originally marketed as an acne treatment for young girls, but now is a popular product among older gals for wrinkle prevention. Retinol contains cell turnover properties, meaning your skin cells refresh more quickly, which can totally help with wrinkles and a lot of other things as well, like repairing your skin barrier, lightening hyperpigmentation and making pores look smaller. (Note: Pores can never actually get smaller.) Retinol also boosts collagen production, which could also contribute to the myth, as your skin thins a bit as you age.
Retinol needs to be used daily.
Retinol is a pretty intense ingredient -- while this doesn’t mean you should avoid it, you should be careful and purposeful in your use of it. When you start a retinol, it’s not recommended to plaster it on your face twice a day. Instead, build up your skin’s tolerance: Try once a week (preferably at night) for a few weeks, then go for two or three if you’re not feeling tight or dry to an extreme amount.
Retinol makes you sensitive to the sun.
Unlike active products like Accutane, retinol won’t make you more susceptible to sunburns. Now, you’ve likely heard this because it’s basically law that you wear SPF religiously when using retinol, but this is more because of the retinol’s productivity than your skin becoming more sensitive. (Also, you should just always use SPF.) Sunlight can break down retinoids, so the product itself can become less effective when exposed to the sun too directly -- this is also why recommended use is at night.
Retinol is an overnight fix.
Sorry ‘bout it. While using some skin care products can result in immediate results (a really good moisturizer, for example, can make you feel like a million bucks the next day), retinoids need longer to work. Think about it: The point is cell turnover, and there’s no way all your skin cells can do an about-face in 24 hours. Your skin needs time to acclimate, which means you’ll probably see some side effects (tightness, peeling, skin “purging”) before anything looks better. Stick with it for 12-ish weeks to see some substantial difference.
You have to stop using exfoliants while on retinol.
Are you regularly using an AHA or BHA and want to incorporate retinol as well? Have at it! The truth is, these exfoliants (glycolic, salicylic, tranexamic acids and more) do things that retinol can’t. As a vitamin A, retinol is more an antioxidant than an exfoliant, so in a lot of cases, you’re going to want multiple ingredients in your routine. A word to the wise, though: Don’t layer your exfoliants with your retinol on the same days. Like I said, retinoids are harsh, and you don’t want to give your skin more than it can handle.
Retinol should stay away from the eye area.
Nah. Where do your first wrinkles usually originate? Hello, crow’s feet. Go ahead and swipe retinol around your eye area, and if you’re feeling some uncomfy irritation, follow up with an eye cream.