What About Retinoids? Dr. Lisa Airan Explains.
There’s nothing new or sexy about the most-researched anti-aging (and acne-fighting) ingredient on the market. Discovered when the sinking of the Titanic was front-page news and before Alaska and Hawaii became states, retinoids are veterans in the skincare aisle. So in an age where nothing is a mystery as long as Google is a click away, it’s hard to understand how retinoids circumnavigate transparency and billow heaps of misinformation (the myths are endless). I asked dermatologist Dr. Lisa Airan (pictured above) to set the record straight.
Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A that “help to improve the orderly turnover of the skin so the skin appears uniform and more even toned,” says Dr. Airan, whose Manhattan practice is a revolving door for famous names who trust their famous faces in her talented hands.
This turnover is helpful to everyone from teens wrestling with a bout of acne (more turnover means less clogged pores) to men and women who are looking to tap rewind on the aging clock (increased turnover softens wrinkles and hides aging spots). I’ve enlisted different forms of retinoids to help improve my skin, on and off, for about ten years and nothing (and I mean nothing) has catapulted my skin into a more beautiful state. Just about anyone can use the multi-tasking ingredient, but folks with very dry or overly sensitive skin should seek alternative treatments, advises Dr. Airan.
How often you use a retinoid depends on its strength. “I tell patients to start out using the strongest forms two to three times a week—a very small pea-sized amount. If the form is weaker the skin may be able to tolerate use more often,” says Dr. Airan. And keep in mind that you won’t experience results overnight. It takes about four weeks for retinoids to show visible results—which depending on your style, may also serve as a lesson in patience as well.
Maybe the crux of the retinoid confusion lies with its name. Retinoid is a general term to describe a group of vitamin A compounds that convert into, or already are, retinoic acid. Only retinoic acid directly affects skin. Some retinoids must convert into retinoic acid; these retinoids are available over the counter with names like retinaldehyde, retinol, and retinyl palmitate, listed in order from strongest to weakest. Even more potent than the over-the-counter options is pure retinoic acid (like tretinoin), which is available with a prescription (found in brands such as Retin-A and Renova).
In any case, retinoids can be irritating to skin—especially when used in conjunction with alpha or beta hydryoxy acids. What are those, you ask? Alpha hydroxy acids are chemical exfoliants often found in peels and brightening products. Look for ingredients like glycolic, lactic, malic, and mandelic acid. Beta hydroxy acid is another name for salicylic acid, which is commonly found in acne products. Dr. Airan recommends easing into a retinoid regimen once or twice a week, while carefully monitoring any irritating effects. If skin becomes irritated, stick with either the hydroxy acid or retinoid—but not both.
My favorite retinoids are available over the counter and are relatively inexpensive. Roc’s Deep Wrinkle Serum and Retinol Correxion Max Wrinkle Resurfacing System are reliable drugstore staples, while Avene’s TriAcnéal, YsthéAL Anti-Wrinkle Emulsion, Eluage Cream, and Rétrinal all employ the use of the more potent retinaldehyde. Whichever retinoid you choose, make sure to pat your skin with sunscreen as well—retinoids degrade when exposed to the sun.