Retinoids are the most powerful family in the skin care world.
They are the ones to turn to when you want to get those pesky wrinkles off your face, fade dark spots, and kick your butt acne.
But they are not all created equal …
Some members are more productive than others and deal with wrinkles quickly, while others take the time to work.
Some are so gentle you can’t feel anything and others turn your face into a red, scaly mess that you wonder why you started using them in the first place.
Some are tried and tested while others are newborns who have yet to prove themselves.
How the hell do you know which one to use ?! Here is a quick guide to help you figure out which form of retinoid is right for you.
What are retinoids?
Retinoids are all forms of vitamin A. They include:
- Hydroxypinacolone retinoate
- Retinyl palmitate
Basically, if there is a “retin,” you know it is a retinoid.
Are you struggling to put together an antiaging skin care regimen that will really reduce the appearance of wrinkles and give your skin a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skin Care Routine” to get started (includes product recommendations + correct application order):
Retinoid Benefits: Why Should You Use Them?
Retinoids do all sorts of wonderful things for your skin:
The catch? Almost all of them need to be converted to retinoid acid in order to work. The conversion looks like this.
Retinyl palmitate> retinol> retinaldehyde> retinoic acid
Usually, the further a form of vitamin A is from retinoic acid, the less effective BUT gentler it is.
Related: 3 reasons why you should use retinoids
Now that you know what retinoids are and what they do, let’s take a closer look at each family member:
What is it: The alcohol form of vitamin A.
What it does: It stimulates collagen production, tones the skin and fights free radicals, and speeds up cell turnover (the skin’s natural exfoliating process) to fade wrinkles and dark spots.
Side effects: Dryness, flaking, peeling, and redness. One trick to minimize irritation is to use sustained-release microencapsulated retinol that is released into the skin over a period of several hours.
Who should use it: Over 25 women who are serious about antiaging but not ready to get a prescription.
Related: The Complete Guide to Retinol
What is it: A mixture of retinol and palmitic acid, a fatty acid.
What it does: They need a high enough concentration to reduce wrinkles and smooth the texture of the skin.
Side effects: It’s the gentlest retinoid out there. If your skin is peeling and flaking, you may not be able to use retinoids at all.
Who should use it: Only people with super-sensitive skin who cannot tolerate any other form of retinoids.
Related: Is retinol palmitate an effective retinol alternative for sensitive skin?
What is it: Also known as retinal, it is the aldehyde form of vitamin A.
What it does: It strengthens the collagen and makes the skin firmer.
Side effects: It’s quite gentle, but it can still cause irritation in people with sensitive skin.
Who should use it: Anyone who does not tolerate retinol well but would like a stronger form of vitamin A.
- Arcona Advanced A Serum ($ 85.00): available from Dermstore and Nordstrom
- Medik8 Crystal Retinal 10 (79.00 €): available from Medik8
- Osmose Renew Level 4 Vitamin A Serum ($ 88.00): available in the dermstore.
Related: Does retinaldehyde offer the same benefits as retinol without the side effects?
What is it: An ester of all-trans-direct retinoid acid that does not have to be converted into retinoid acid in the skin.
What it does: It’s the newest retinoid, so research is still sparse here. It is good at treating acne and should help with wrinkles as well.
Side effects: It’s very gentle. If your skin can’t tolerate it, you may not be able to use retinoids at all.
Who should use it: Anyone who cannot tolerate traditional retinoids
What is it: The acid form of vitamin A and the one your skin can use right away. No conversions are required here.
What it does: It’s very effective at treating photo damage (think wrinkles and dark spots).
Side effects: Peeling, flaking, dryness, irritation. The side effects are so severe that it can only be obtained with a prescription. Ask your derm how to minimize side effects and follow their directions on a T.
Who Should Use It ?: Those with resistant skin (i.e. skin that tolerates harsh ingredients well) who have tried all of the OTC retinoids and need something stronger.
Best selection: Retin-A and Renova
How to use retinoids
Whichever form of retinoids you choose, always follow these tips to get the most out of them:
- Small steps: Start with a small dose twice a week and increase the dose and frequency over time.
- Moisten: Then apply cream to avoid dryness.
- Use at night: Retinoids can make the skin more prone to sun damage.
- Alternatively: If you’re using other powerful skin care actives like vitamin C, glycolic acid, and benzoyl peroxide, apply these in the morning and retinol in the evening. Another option is to use them on retinol-free nights.
- During pregnancy or breastfeeding, avoid: Prescription retinoids can cause birth defects, but smaller doses can also be potentially problematic.
The bottom line
If you are just starting out on retinoids, opt for low levels of retinol or retinaldehyde and increase them slowly. If you’re already using the highest possible concentrations of retinol or retinaldehyde and need something stronger, it’s time to get a prescription. Avoid all other forms unless your skin is sensitive enough to irritate even the smallest concentrations of retinol and retinaldehyde.