Retinoids are gold-standard anti-aging products that boost collagen, fade dark spots, and even out skin tone. They’re also a great way to keep breakouts in check and reduce fine lines.
However, when it comes to retinoids, there are many myths and misconceptions out there. Separating fact from fiction is an important skill to learn in this age of viral false information.
1. Retinoids are not an exfoliant
Retinoids are vitamin A-based skincare ingredients that boost collagen synthesis, increase skin elasticity, and improve uneven skin tone and pigmentation. There are various strengths and types of retinoids on the market, including prescription-only acne medications like adapalene, retinoid, and isotretinoin and over-the-counter retinol products. Retinoids have been used for decades and are one of the most researched and dermatologist-recommended skincare products.
Despite having a reputation as harsh, retinoids are not exfoliants. The underlying cause of the peeling and flakiness that many experiences when using a retinoid is that their skin is re-training itself to turn over cells faster than before, resulting in shedding old, dead skin cells more quickly.
These effects can be exacerbated by overuse or applying too much product (a pea-sized drop for the entire face), which leads to excessive irritation and dryness. However, these side effects typically subside once the skin acclimates and adjusts to the active ingredient.
When starting a new retinoid, it is best to ease into it with just a few applications per week and use a light moisturizer. Losing a topical antioxidant over retinoids in the evening is also recommended, as sun exposure can make them unstable and less effective. Aside from this, retinoids are highly effective and are a must-have in every anti-aging skincare routine!
2. Retinoids thin the skin
This myth probably started because when people first began using retinoids, their skin may peel and appear thinner as dead skin cells were removed. However, retinoids help to thicken the skin. This is beneficial because one of the natural signs of aging is thinning skin.
Retinoids also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by encouraging collagen production. They even promote the formation of new blood vessels that improves skin tone and softens rough patches of skin. They do all this by increasing skin turnover and reducing tiny microscopic clogs (called micro comedones) that eventually become pimples.
It takes a few months for people to begin to see results from retinoids. Those with sensitive skin should use them every other day and gradually work up to the nightly application. It is essential to use a moisturizer that works well with retinoids. People should avoid any face products that contain glycolic acid, salicylic acid, chemical peels, or other exfoliants while using a retinoid.
Less retinol is essential, as overdoing it can cause dryness and irritation. It’s best to consult a doctor or dermatologist who can recommend the right strength and type for your skin. Some would consider a comprehensive skin history when they suggest which retinoid to use with their clients. This ensures they get the best results and will be safe to use over time.
3. Retinoids don’t work for all skin types
Those with sensitive skin may experience skin irritation caused by retinoids or some retinol. However, most people with all skin types can use retinol. This is because retinol doesn’t penetrate the outer layer of the skin like other exfoliants, such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid, which are very harsh. Instead, they work underneath the skin’s surface, where the collagen and elastin are located.
Retinols also increase cell turnover, which helps clear clogged pores and reduce breakouts while smoothing the skin. They are also great anti-agers as they help to tone, brighten, and diminish fine lines and wrinkles while encouraging skin rejuvenation.
Evidence shows they can help increase collagen and elastin production to plump and firm the skin. Additionally, they can be used to treat hyperpigmentation caused by acne or sun damage.
Some recommend starting with a less potent over-the-counter retinol for sensitive skin. They advise using it once a week for the first month and then increasing the application to two times a week in the second month, then three times a week in the third month, and then nightly after that.
Some people start with the strongest over-the-counter or prescription retinol, thinking it will provide better results faster. However, this is often counterproductive and can cause annoying side effects. It’s much more effective to build a tolerance to the ingredient and gradually increase the strength over time.
4. Retinoids don’t work in the sun
Many skincare products, including retinoids, tell you not to go out in the sun after applying them. That’s because they can cause your skin to feel burning as the product releases new cells and turns over dead ones, leading to some flaking. However, this is normal and not related to sun damage. This type of exfoliation differs from that caused by acid exfoliants, which strip the skin and increase sun sensitivity.
The myth that retinoids thin the skin comes from the fact that some people experience peeling when they start using a retinoid, and this can make your skin appear thinner as the dead skin cells are removed. However, retinoids do more than exfoliate the surface of your skin, they also stimulate collagen production, help unblock pores, even out pigmentation, and reduce signs of aging.
Retinoids are hero ingredients for a good reason—they have a significant body of quality research to support them and improve a wide range of skincare concerns, from acne to wrinkles, uneven skin tone, to visible pores. But it’s important to remember that these powerful ingredients require patience, especially if you’re starting. The key is to stick with it, as your skin will adapt and look and feel better after a few weeks or months of regular use.