All of Your Retinol Questions, Answered

March 20, 2019

Retinols have long been touted as one of the most effective treatments for increasing collagen in the skin, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, fighting acne and evening out pigmentation. They are, said Murad Alam, a dermatologist in Chicago and president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, "the best-studied and most-evidence-backed topical medications for reducing the visible signs of aging due to sun exposure."

All are derived from vitamin A, but the prescription-strength formulations are more potent. Over-the-counter retinols can give you the same results of a prescription," said Marnie Nussbaum, a dermatologist in Manhattan and an assistant professor at Cornell NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. "It will just take longer."

Gerald Imber, a plastic surgeon and founder of the Youth Corridor Clinic, an aesthetic center on the Upper East Side, advises that you start with a nickel-size dollop of retinol product. "People seem to think that if a little bit is good, a lot is better," Dr. Imber said. "Excessive irritation is not a sign that you are getting a better result from it."

Similarly, Shani Darden, a celebrity facialist in Los Angeles, tells her clients to start using their retinol once a week, adding a day each week. "Use it as often as your skin can tolerate it," said Ms. Darden, who also recommends applying a moisturizer before your retinol if it is making your skin too dry.

The 20s are not too young, according to Dr. Nussbaum, who noted that retinols can "prevent photo damage, increase skin cell turn over and decrease acne breakouts."

The main reason, Dr. Anolik said, is because the sun's ultraviolet rays render retinols inactive.


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