We've all heard of Retinols. I remember first hearing this word on an Olay commercial, and my mom ran to the store to buy this age-reversing cream. If only I knew then what I know now!
Retinol and Retinoic acid are both retinoids – shocking, right? While that might not be news to you, did you know that these are all different forms of Vitamin A? We refer to retinoids as the "A" in the ABCs of skincare.
Let's start with the basics. How does Vitamin A work when applied to the skin? Vitamin A (retinoids) work by increasing our natural cell turnover rate. What does that mean? Our skin naturally sheds, and the rate depends on our age and the products we use. When we are younger, this process can happen as quickly as every 14 days, but as we age, that process can slow dramatically, taking as long as 60 days. Slower skin turnover means more time with dull, pigmented, and aged skin and less time with luminous, healthy, glowing skin.
What strenth and frequency of retinoids is the best way to start? This can be up for debate because a lot of it has to do with personal preference. Because the purpose of this ingredient is to increase our cell turnover rate, high concentrations and more frequent use can result in some peeling and mild irritation. As a general rule, start low and go slow. Let your skin acclimate slowly.
When I began using Vitamin A, I started with Obagi’s Tretinoin. This is the RX form of Vitamin A, also commonly known as Retinoic Acid. This product has the highest chance of causing irritation to the skin, but it is so worth it. Here are some tips that helped me introduce Vitamin A into my skincare regime. I began by using this product every other night, and as my skin became acclimated to the product, I increased my usage to nightly. This took me about a month. Everyone is different – some people can use it every night with no problem, while others have to start as slowly as twice a week and can take months to get to nightly usage. I made sure that my face was totally dry before applying, and I knew what to expect, so I wasn't surprised when I experienced some shedding in the days following. It also helps if you are starting with a healthy barrier – make sure your skin is hydrated and moisturized (to learn more about the differences, see our blog post on Hyaluronic Acid).
Also, make sure you are using SPF. When you top layer of dead skin cells is gone, you newer cells are more susceptible to sun damage, so using this product and then having sun exposure is the equivalent of eating a Big Mac while on the treadmill.
If you are in a position where you simply cannot manage flaking skin (celebrity status, a job that requires you to wear makeup, or if you know your skin is far too reactive), there are options for you. We call these the training wheels to Tretinoin because that is our goal, right? Tretinoin is the goal because when our skin receives any form of retinoid topically, it can only use the active form of Vitamin A, which you guessed it… is retinoic acid. So our skin goes through a process where it converts retinol to retinoic acid. In doing so, we lose so much efficacy, and your skin is getting a micro dosage. While this is "fine" temporarily, the goal for using retinol is to acclimate your skin to retinoic acid so that when you do begin using Tretinoin, you go through far less shedding and can be on your way to flawless skin faster. In a perfect world, I would recommend going straight to Retin-A; however, if you have reservations, starting with retinol in the warmer months and then upgrading to the RX form in the cooler months where we have less sun exposure is a great path.
Now between Retinol and Retinoic Acid, there is a key player that I haven’t mentioned. The middle child in the Vitamin A family is known as aRetinaldehyde. Far less fun to say, but this ingredient has increased in popularity over the last few years. Let's talk about why. No one can argue that the era of skin-fluencers is here in full swing. Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of spreading awareness and knowledge about skincare ingredients, but I think we could do better. Without a doctor's prescription, you cannot access Tretinoin, so Retinaldehyde is falsely being marketed as the gold standard in anti-aging and acne but it is actually second best. Few brands can sell Rx products online. Here at Totality Skincare, we have partnered with a Tele-health company to provide access to Retinoic Acid without a trip to the dermatologist's office. Don’t get me wrong, Retinaldehyde has its place in the market, but I much prefer it for someone who is truly reactive and cannot tolerate Retinoic Acid no matter how slow the introduction. That isn't a huge market if we are being honest. With patience and commitment, most of the population will be able to tolerate Retin-A usage nightly.
Now for everyone's (or just my favorite part) Good, Better, and Best.
GOOD - Obagi 360 retinol 1% This entrapped form of Retinol is gradually released, improving complexion and smoothing the appearance of uneven skin texture for clearer-looking skin with minimal irritation. I like this product for teens without acne. However, if your concerns are more anti-aging, keep reading.
BETTER - Obagi SuzanObagiMD Retivance® Skin Rejuvenating Complex Here she is, the ever so controversial Retinaldehyde. Dr. Obagi created this product for his daughter who suffered from extremely inflamed skin (Pro tip: anytime you see the SuzanObagi logo, it is geared towards that demographic). Knowing the importance of vitamin A in everyone's regimen, he formulated this to work even in the most sensitive and reactive skin.
BEST - Obagi Tretinonin 0.05% Obagi Tretinoin uses the healing abilities of Vitamin A and delivers it in an easy-to-use topical skincare cream. The reason that Obagi Tretinoin is so powerful is that it is formulated in a way that is “ready to use” – meaning that when it gets absorbed into your body, it can instantly and naturally be transformed into usable Vitamin A, the precursor needed that leads to increased skin cell growth to build new elastin and collagen. With this, you have the best solution for clear-looking and healthy skin.
Please note that Tretinoin 0.05% is a prescription medication in the retinoid class used to treat multiple skin conditions (acne vulgaris, hyperpigmentation / discoloration, sun damage, and premature aging). It may only be used with a prescription and under the guidance of a licensed physician. Totality Skincare offers this product through their telemedicine partner, providing access to Tretinoin without a visit to the dermatologist's office.
Why is Obagi Tretinoin considered one of the best treatments for acne and aging? The secret lies in the unique formulation of Obagi Tretinoin. The molecules of Tretinoin in this product are specially designed to be incredibly small. This characteristic allows the skin to absorb a higher percentage of the cream, leading to enhanced effectiveness. As a result of the increased yield of retinoic acid, this comprehensive skin rejuvenation solution surpasses all other products available on the market, delivering the best overall results.
-By Mei Ryan