Is retinol the secret of anti-aging?

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Woman middle age retinol cream

The value of antioxidant vitamins has been proven even when intended for topical use – with application to the skin-and the most prominent example is retinol (vitamin A) and its derivatives (retinoids). Retinol is the first vitamin approved by the Service US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an anti-wrinkle agent that changes the appearance of the skin and has anti-aging action [1].

The term retinoid appeared in the mid-1970s and refers to the family of molecules that have a structural resemblance to retinol. Thousands of retinoids have been recommended for systemic or topical treatment of various skin disorders.

Retinol and action

By age 30, skin cells renew about every 28 days. But as we age, regeneration slows down to 50, 60 or 70 days. The slower pace is one of the reasons why the skin looks drier, duller and wrinkled. Topically applied retinol is absorbed by the skin and accelerates cell recycling, making the skin thicker and more complex. This is believed to be because retinol increases mitosis in the skin, resulting in the formation of more cells. It stimulates the cellular activity of keratinocytes, fibroblasts, melanocytes and Langerhans cells [1].

Retinol penetrates the stratum corneum and slightly into the corium. When it reaches a keratinocyte (more than 90% of the skin is made up of this type of cell), it enters it and binds to the appropriate receptor. Interacting with receptors on keratinocytes, it promotes their proliferation. In addition, it helps retain moisture in the skin, treats acne, relaxes tissues, strengthens the skin’s defenses, protects collagen from its degradation and reduces inflammation, a factor that usually coexists with acne.

But you will not see these results overnight. In order for retinoids to work, you must use them constantly. And you may need to change products over time. It will take at least three months of constant night use to notice a reduction in fine lines, dark spots and acne.

The types of retinoids

There are five main types of retinoids used to treat wrinkles and anti-aging skin:

  • Palmitic retinol. This is the least potent retinoid. You may want to consider this option if you have sensitive or overly dry skin and minimal wrinkles.
  • Retinaldehyde. It is slightly stronger than palmitic retinyl.
  • Retinol. It is the most powerful ingredient among retinoids purchased without a prescription. It has the same effects as retinoic acid but fewer side effects.
  • Tretinoin. It is a powerful retinoid that is usually available with a prescription. It acts on the sebaceous glands and suppresses sebum suppression. Used in acne and photoaging.
  • Tazarotein. It is the most potent retinoid, available with a prescription


Retinol and use

Retinoids are used only at night due to their sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation.

You should always get a skin test before adding a new product to your routine. Apply a small amount of the product on one side of your hand and cover the area with a bandage for 24 hours. If you start to get irritated, you should not use this product. If you have no symptoms within 24 hours, then it is probably safe to apply it elsewhere. Once the product has passed the test, you can start applying it every other night, using it after cleansing but before your night moisturizer. After a week or two, you can start applying the preparation every night.

Retinol and side effects

Retinoids are effective but can have some side effects, such as dryness and irritation, especially when you first start using the formulations.

Vitamin A and its derivatives are photosensitive [1] and therefore if you put on sunscreen during the day you will reduce the risk of side effects. You are more likely to experience side effects if you use several anti-aging products at the same time. If side effects persist, discontinue use. You may need to switch to a different retinoid or try a different anti-aging method.

Do not use retinoids if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to have a baby. Vitamin A and its derivatives are involved in embryogenesis, the development of the nervous system, liver, heart, kidneys, intestines, eyes and limbs [1]. Too much of them can cause teratogenesis. What is taken orally can have detrimental effects on the fetus if consumed in large quantities and therefore should not be used during pregnancy. Although topical retinoids are absorbed in extremely low amounts by the skin and are unlikely to cause harm to your baby, excessive use or the presence of skin lesions could increase absorption.

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  1. Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments.
  2. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety.
  3. Retinol helps reverse normal skin aging.
  4. A comparative study of the effects of retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skin.

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