The Biggest Retinoid Myths
Posted: Dec 11 2017
The Biggest Retinoid Myths
According to Dermatologists
All These Ingredients Starting With R (Retinol, Retinoic Acid, Etc.) Basically Do the Same Thing
Yes, and no. Prescription formulas contain retinoic acid, one of the many forms that fights visible aging; nonprescription alternatives need to be converted into retinoic acid by the skin at the cellular level. "In off-the-shelf formulas, the ingredient called retinol is the only derivative of vitamin A worth using," says Dana Sachs, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical School. "There's a lot of literature showing that while retinol is more gentle than retinoic acid, biochemically it does exactly the same thing—it may just take longer to see results. The “delivery system” or carrier ingredients can be equally as important. They can either enhance or reduce the effectiveness of Retinols.
Retinoids Work by Exfoliating Your Skin
Honestly, we thought they swept away dead skin cells, too. "There's often peeling and redness, but that's a side effect — not a true and even exfoliation, like the one you get from an ingredient like glycolic acid," says Sachs. In fact, it's why most people give it up." Retinoids work at a much more profound level by affecting gene expression and causing enhanced collagen production, skin smoothing, and evening out of pigmentation. If your clients peel, they may see results a bit faster, but eventually they should stop peeling from retinoids as their skin adapts. This does not mean that the retinoids are not working.
You Shouldn't Wear Retinoids During the Day Because They Increase Your Risk of Sunburn
Are you sitting down? "This is one of the biggest myths out there," says Sachs. It's true that retinoids break down in sunlight, which is why they are bottled in opaque packaging and are still best worn at night—to make sure they aren't rendered inactive. However, they do not make the skin more prone to sunburn. "This misconception came about because in some early studies, people described putting on a retinoid, walking into the sun, and immediately burning. But that redness is likely related to heat exposure," says Sachs. "Clinical studies have shown pretty definitively that retinoids do not lower the MED or minimal erythema of human skin, which is the amount of UV light you can take before the skin burns."
You'll Need to Wait Four to Six Weeks for Your Retinoid to Really Work
It really depends on the skin, the products and additional treatments taking place at the same time. According to Gary Fisher, a professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical School. "Many over-the-counter formulas claim you'll see results within weeks," says Fisher.
Gentle Retinoids Can Be Just as Effective as Stronger Ones
"The words 'sensitive skin' on a label are often code for a low concentration of active ingredients," says Sachs. However, dermatologists still recommend them because these lower concentrations (and soothing supplemental ingredients) make them the perfect gateway retinoid. "Once a patient with sensitive skin has tolerated a tube of that, over a period of several weeks, we can then graduate to a stronger retinoid knowing the skin cells are now better adapted to handle it," says Jonathan Weiss, an Atlanta dermatologist.
You Should Stop Applying a Retinoid if Your Skin Gets Irritated
In the words of our high-school cross-country coach, push through it. Irritation that flares up after adding vitamin A to your regimen is "all part of the process," says Weiss. "We've seen clinically that after two or three weeks, the skin cells adapt to the retinoic acid and begin to tolerate the ingredient." The caveat: We're talking about reasonably flushed, drier-than-usual, lightly peeling skin. "If the discomfort is prolonged or very uncomfortable, use it once a week or switch to a weaker formula," says Sachs.
You Can't Take Your Retinoid on Vacation
"A change in climate won't suddenly make your skin react to a retinoid you were tolerating a few days earlier at home," says Weiss. Once skin cells have adapted to the strength of the retinoid you're applying, any irritation (called retinoid dermatitis) generally stops. "It's unlikely to flare up again until you switch to something stronger," says Weiss. Still, if you're jumping on a long-haul flight or going skiing, it's a good idea to layer a heavier moisturizer over your retinoid to avoid dryness, which makes skin more susceptible to irritation in general.
Ok, but You Shouldn't Take It With You on Your Beach Vacation
We're still processing the fact that retinoids don't increase your risk of sunburn, too. But get this: Combining retinoids with island hopping may even be a good thing. They not only boost collagen production, but may also have the potential to stop photoaging before it starts. "They've been shown to prevent the rise of collagenase—the enzyme that breaks down collagen—after UV exposure," says Sachs.
Don't Put Retinoids Around Your Eyes. the Skin There Is Too Sensitive
Not only can you, you really should—that's where most of the damage shows up, says Weiss. "Studies have shown that people who apply retinoids right up to the eyes get the best results." And if you get it in your eye? "It may sting a little, but it won't do any harm," says Weiss, and the skin there is no more likely to get red or flaky than anywhere else on the face.
Retinoids Plateau After About Six Months
"Several clinical studies have shown that prescription retinoids will significantly improve skin for over a year and longer," says Weiss—and Johnson & Johnson recently completed a trial demonstrating that over-the-counter retinol smooths wrinkles and fades blotches over 12 months, too. OK, so what are you supposed to do after the year is up? The answer is to begin to alternate retinoids with other well tested ingredients.
The Bottom Line
For many, if not most, people interested in maintaining healthy skin or reversing damage, Retinoids are proven and safe as long as you are getting them from a reputable source.