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Skingredient: R for Retinol and Renewed Skin

Esthetician / Skincare Ingredients

Skingredient: R for Retinol and Renewed Skin

Retinol is a vitamin and ingredient commonly used in many skin care regimens and products that are available over the counter. Here, we delve into the science and the studies behind retinol and what you should know about using retinol in your skincare.

Retinol is a vitamin and ingredient commonly used in many skin care regimens and products that are available over the counter. Here, we delve into the science and the studies behind retinol and what you should know about using retinol in your skincare.

Retinol belongs to a class of molecules known as retinoids, which are a family of compounds that are derived from vitamin A. Vitamin A has been used for skin care for thousands of years dating back to when the ancient Egyptians used animal livers (livers are rich in vitamin A) topically to the eyes to treat vitamin A deficiency-related blindness. The Egyptians did not know about vitamin A specifically but the last century has exploded with research into the health and skin benefits of retinol and Vitamin A.

Retinol has several cosmetically beneficial effects and has been studied in a range of concentrations from 0.04% to 1% preparations (Table 1). Overall, regular retinol use improves fine lines and wrinkles on the face and leads to more even skin tone and complexion. Retinol can help recharge collagen formation in the dermis, and it helps to even out how the skin turns over in the skin’s epidermis. As you’ll see in Table 1, the effects are modest, and there are a large group of people for whom there seemed to be no effect. That being said, regular use of topical retinol over many months to years is needed to reap the benefits of retinol. 

It’s important to remember that retinoids like retinol can lead to facial irritation including redness and scaling. The good news is that the skin can adapt and become less and less irritated by retinol with continued use. Sometimes your dermatologist or esthetician may direct you to use the product every other night or every third in the beginning as you get used to using the product and then build up toward nightly use. 

Stabilized Forms of Retinol

Newer approaches are aimed at stabilizing the retinol so that it does not break down as easily. This is done by changing the chemical structure of the retinol by creating a family of compounds known as retinyl esters. Some examples include retinyl palmitate and retinyl retinoate. Two studies published in the British Journal of Dermatology and in Skin Research and Technology showed that retinyl retinoate improved the fine lines around the eyes. These compounds still need to be converted into retinol once in the skin to have their effects, but their higher stability in creams makes them attractive for skincare products. Another benefit is that while retinol can be irritating to the skin, retinyl retinoate may be less irritating to the skin.

The stabilized forms of retinol have their share of safety debates as well. Their frequent use in sunscreens has raised concerns about the safety of retinyl palmitate. While studies in mice raised possible safety concerns, there are no human studies that show the retinyl palmitate is unsafe. For a more detailed discussion regarding retinyl palmitate use in sunscreens, please see a deeper discussion on Dermveda.

Tips for Using Retinol

Retinols are meant to be used in the evening

The reason for this is that they break down when they are exposed to light. If you have any retinol products left out in the sunlight or stored in a clear container, you should probably discard the product and get a new batch. If you have a retinol-based product, wearing it during the day is not useful as the retinol will break down. Another reason to use retinol in the evening is that it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Stick to using retinol at night to maximize the effect and keep your skin happier.

Even with the “stabilized” esters, such as retinyl retinoate and retinyl palmitate, it’s better to use these products at night. The stability refers to how stable they are to sunlight when they are in the cream. However, once these retinyl esters are placed on the skin, the skin’s enzymes convert them to retinol and so forth. When converted to retinol in the skin, the retinol is not so stable anymore so best to keep these products out of the sunlight once they are on your skin.

Avoid using retinol with benzoyl peroxide

If you suffer from acne or have a breakout, it is better to use benzoyl peroxide in the morning. Benzoyl peroxide can break down the downstream products of retinol, such as tretinoin, and make the retinol less effective.

Be careful with using retinol with acidic compounds

Acidic ingredients like salicylic acid, azelaic acid, and kojic acid can cause the skin barrier to become more permeable and lead to faster absorption of retinol and vice versa. This can lead to irritation, inflammation, dryness, and redness. Those with darker skin colors should be more careful as the irritation can leave behind flecks of dark pigmentation known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Table – Selected Studies That Have Investigated Retinol

What Form Was Used?

0.04% retinol cream

How Much Was Used?

Applied once daily in the evening

How Long Was It Tested?

13 weeks

What Was The Effects?

Improvement in wrinkles was more common in the retinol treated group (47% of people) compared to the placebo group (25% of people). 28% of the people had no improvement.

What Form Was Used?

0.075% retinol cream

How Much Was Used?

Applied once daily in the evening

How Long Was It Tested?

28 weeks

What Was The Effects?

Improvement in fine wrinkles was more common in the retinol treated group (24% of people) compared to the placebo group (12% of people). 72% of the people in the retinol-treated group had no improvement, and 83% of the people in the placebo-treated group had no improvement.

What Form Was Used?

0.01% “stabilized” retinol lotion

How Much Was Used?

Applied once daily in the evening

How Long Was It Tested?

52 weeks

What Was The Effects?

1) Improved fine lines and wrinkles (ranged from 27.6% of people seeing improvement on the forehead to 86.2% of people having improvement on the cheeks)

2) Improved overall skin complexion (100% of people) and tone (86.2% of people)

3) Retinol leads to more collagen synthesis in the skin (not quantified but based on visualized skin sections)

What Form Was Used?

0.025% retinol cream

How Much Was Used?

Applied once daily in the evening

How Long Was It Tested?

12 weeks

What Was The Effects?

1) Approximately 27% improvement in fine lines around eyes and on cheeks (based on dermatologist rating).

2) Approximately 18% improvement in skin tone and mottled pigmentation (based on dermatologist rating).

What Form Was Used?

0.5% retinol cream

How Much Was Used?

Applied once daily in the evening

How Long Was It Tested?

12 weeks

What Was The Effects?

1) Approximately 32% improvement in fine lines around eyes and on cheeks (based on dermatologist rating).

2) Approximately 20% improvement in skin tone and mottled pigmentation (based on dermatologist rating).

What Form Was Used?

1% retinol cream

How Much Was Used?

Applied once daily in the evening

How Long Was It Tested?

12 weeks

What Was The Effects?

1) Approximately 29% improvement in fine lines around eyes and 35% improvement of fine lines on cheeks (based on dermatologist rating).

2) Approximately 20% improvement in skin tone and 18% improvement in mottled pigmentation (based on dermatologist rating).

What Form Was Used?

0.06% retinyl retinoate compared to 0.075% retinol

How Much Was Used?

Applied twice daily in the morning and evening

How Long Was It Tested?

8 weeks

What Was The Effects?

Retinyl retinoate improved fine lines around the eyes by 33% and was better than retinol 0.075% which improved the fine lines around the eyes by 22%.

What Form Was Used?

0.06% retinyl retinoate compared to 0.075% retinol

How Much Was Used?

Applied twice daily in the morning and evening

How Long Was It Tested?

12 weeks

What Was The Effects?

Retinyl retinoate had better improvement in the clinical wrinkle grade score (wrinkle grading by dermatologists) compared to retinol after 8 weeks, but both retinyl retinoate and retinol had similar effects at 12 weeks.

What Form of Retinol Was Used?

How Much Was Used?

How Long was it Tested?

What Was The Effect?

Applied once daily in the evening

13 weeks

Improvement in wrinkles was more common in the retinol treated group (47% of people) compared to the placebo group (25% of people). 28% of the people had no improvement.

Applied once daily in the evening

26 weeks

Improvement in fine wrinkles was more common in the retinol treated group (24% of people) compared to the placebo group (12% of people). 72% of the people in the retinol-treated group had no improvement, and 83% of the people in the placebo-treated group had no improvement.

Applied once daily in the evening

52 weeks

1) Improved fine lines and wrinkles (ranged from 27.6% of people seeing improvement on the forehead to 86.2% of people having improvement on the cheeks).

2) Improved overall skin complexion (100% of people) and tone (86.2% of people).

3) Retinol leads to more collagen synthesis in the skin (not quantified but based on visualized skin sections)

Applied once daily in the evening

12 weeks

1) Approximately 32% improvement in fine lines around eyes and on cheeks (based on dermatologist rating).

2) Approximately 20% improvement in skin tone and mottled pigmentation (based on dermatologist rating).

Applied once daily in the evening

12 weeks

1) Approximately 29% improvement in fine lines around eyes and 35% improvement of fine lines on cheeks (based on dermatologist rating).

2) Approximately 20% improvement in skin tone and 18% improvement in mottled pigmentation (based on dermatologist rating).

Applied twice daily in the morning and evening

12 weeks

Retinyl retinoate improved the fine lines around the eyes (11% improvement in retinyl retinoate treated skin compared to 4.5% improvement in the placebo-treated skin).

Applied twice daily in the morning and evening

8 weeks

Retinyl retinoate improved fine lines around the eyes by 33% and was better than retinol 0.075% which improved the fine lines around the eyes by 22%.

Applied twice daily in the morning and evening

12 weeks

Retinyl retinoate had better improvement in the clinical wrinkle grade score (wrinkle grading by dermatologists) compared to retinol after 8 weeks, but both retinyl retinoate and retinol had similar effects at 12 weeks.

* This blog is for general skin, beauty, wellness, and health information only. This post is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health condition or problem. The information provided on this Website should never be used to disregard, delay, or refuse treatment or advice from a physician or a qualified health provider.Integrative Dermatology Symposium.