Read any skincare blog, follow any skincare expert or speak to any Lion/ne Skin Mentor, and they’ll all harp on about the virtues of retinol. A derivative of vitamin A, retinol (along with other retinoids like retinal) is often considered the gold standard in the skincare space.
When used correctly, retinoids can stimulate cell turnover, improve collagen synthesis, smooth out skin texture, fade fine lines and wrinkles, reduce the appearance of pores and help alleviate acne, by limiting sebum production. In other words, they can do a lot!
But there’s also a trickier side to this ingredient family.
Overuse can lead to skin sensitivity, peeling and even retinoid dermatitis in more extreme cases. That means it’s important not to dive into your retinol journey with a super-strength formula. Skin needs time to adjust, so starting with a gentler formula and using it twice a week before gradually building up both concentration and frequency of use is often the best way to reap the rewards of this golden ingredient without upsetting the skin.
So! Which retinol should you start with?
Surprise, surprise! The best place to start is at the lower end of the strength spectrum. This tends to cover formulas that contain 0.01% to 0.03% concentration of retinol. It might not sound like much, but even these low percentages can make a marked difference in the skin.
If you find that even a low strength formula is too much for your skin to tolerate, you can try ‘buffering’. This simple technique involves either mixing your retinol into your moisturiser, or applying a light layer of moisturiser pre-retinol to slightly dilute the formula on your skin.
We often consider the medium strength category to encompass all retinol formulas that contain between 0.03% to 0.3% retinol. Once you’ve worked your way through a lower-strength formula without any skin hiccups, this might be when you shift up to the medium category, but it’s always best to work with your Skin Mentor to figure out the right retinol journey for you.
Spanning the 0.3%-1% concentration category, these retinol formulas are pretty hardcore and best for those with particularly stubborn skin concerns, but only once their skin has got used to weaker versions first, of course.
The strongest form of vitamin A available without prescription, retinal works much faster than standard-issue retinol and is particularly good for those with oilier complexions. Depending on the brand (Medik8 is excellent at this), there are different concentrations of this ingredient, too.
However, not all retinoid formulas were made equal, and often serve up retinol alongside a mixture of other skin ingredients. That’s why consulting your Skin Mentor is the only way to figure out which ones are actually suited to your unique skin, as well as how to build a complementary skincare routine around this powerful ingredient.
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