When it comes to universal beauty PSAs, every skin pro you’ll ever encounter (dermatologist, facialist, you name it) will always say there are two must-haves for every skincare routine. The first is sunscreen. The second is retinol.
While it’s probably safe to say that you’re aware of retinol’s benefits (or those of its Rx counterpart, retinoic acid), you might not have added it to your daily routine. And if that’s because you’re afraid of redness and irritation, you’re not alone. Experts say it’s the number-one concern women have when they recommend adding it to their regimen.
That’s about to change. Read on to learn how to truly transform your skin now and forever by using retinol…the right way.
Plain and simple: Retinoids are a skincare powerhouse. They’re a one-stop-shop ingredient for a long list of common complexion issues—from keeping skin clear to minimizing the appearance of large pores, uneven skin tone, dull skin, and fine lines. What other ingredient can do all this? The answer: none.
“Retinoids are known to influence multiple biologic functions in the skin,” explains Claire Chang, a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. “They’ve been used for their anti-aging effects since the 1980s, and have strong scientific evidence to back up the fact that they increase skin cell turnover, improve collagen stimulation, and increase epidermal thickness.”
Skin cell turnover is particularly major. If you can speed up the rate at which new skin cells are formed work their way up from the deeper layers of skin to the top layers of skin, you’re less likely to experience skin issues like clogged pores, blackheads, and zits, plus uneven skin tone and overall dullness.
Retinoids is the umbrella term for derivatives of vitamin A that come in several forms: including prescription-strength retinoic acid and over-the-counter retinol.
Whether you’ve given Rx retinoids a try in the past and your skin went bananas, or you’ve simply skipped over OTC kinds because you didn’t know how to use them, here’s your new game plan to gorgeous skin.
Opt for an OTC retinol (because, yes—it can work just as well as an Rx retinoid).
For the longest time, prescription-strength retinoic acid (the most common one you may have heard of is Tretinoin or aka Retin-A) was all dermatologists would recommend, whether you were battling breakouts or wanted to put fine line formation into slow-mo. Back then, over-the-counter retinol was looked down upon as not as efficacious.
Now, retinol formulations are rivaling Rx versions; they offer the same multi-faceted beauty effects as their prescription counterpart but with little irritation, thanks to breakthroughs in retinol science. “The technology has gotten a lot smarter, so now they provide similar skin benefits,” says Sejal Shah, a dermatologist in New York City.
A few brands are really leading that charge. Case in point: Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer Fragrance-Free and Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Serum Fragrance-Free, which contains a version of OTC retinol that isn’t typically used by brands.
“We formulated both the moisturizer and the serum with retinol and retinyl-propionate, while most retinol products use retinyl-palmitate, a very large molecule that has difficulty penetrating skin,” says Olay Principal Scientist Dr. Frauke Neuser. While you may see high amounts of retinol on the label of other products, it might not be stable. And when retinyl-palmitate is used, your skin is only absorbing a tiny fraction.
In-house Olay research showed that by formulating their Regenerist Retinol 24 products with retinol and retinyl-propionate, as well as a unique silicone oil blend, both stability and skin penetration were optimized. This is so important because skin penetration can be a challenge for conventional retinol formulations due to the fact that your skin’s outer layer is designed to keep stuff out.
Choose formulas that have multiple skin benefits.
Along with retinol and retinyl-proprionate, Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer Fragrance-Free and Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Serum Fragrance-Free both also contain niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3. Not only is niacinamide a proven anti-inflammatory, but it also helps strengthen your skin’s barrier so it holds moisture inside better.
Another benefit revealed in previous tests in the Olay labs, according to Neuser: Niacinamide gives skin cells an energy boost which helps skin to make the most of skincare products which means you see faster—and better—results in the mirror.
Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer Fragrance-Free or Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Serum Fragrance-Free also contain hydrating glycerin, which helps counteract any potential skin-drying effects of retinol.
In addition, they’re formulated to create “an oil in water emulsion in which the water is on the outside and the oil phase is hidden away inside consisting of teeny-tiny droplets which contain the retinyl-propionate,” Neuser notes. “The unique oil blend and emulsion type control the delivery—all the ingredients don’t hit your skin at exactly the same time, because that’s what can cause some of the irritation you see with other products.”
At the end of Olay’s four-week study that included almost 400 women between the ages of 25 and 65, 97 percent said that they would go on to use the products every day, and 96 percent said they had no issue with irritation.
Apply retinol products at night.
“Retinol can be slightly inactivated by sunlight, making nighttime application ideal,” says Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Plus, because you aren’t sweating or rubbing your skin as you sleep, overnight retinol can work its magic uninterrupted.
Focusing on nighttime application of Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Face Moisturizer Fragrance-Free or Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Serum Fragrance-Free has other benefits, too. Your skin isn’t combating any potential irritants like UV light, pollution, or stress. And you aren’t attempting to layer and mix a ton of other products like you do during the day (oh serums, creams, SPF, and makeup). The upshot: At night, your skin is more balanced and calm—and less likely to have a flare-up.
Commit to a gentle retinol regimen.
“Retinol is perhaps the best-studied ingredient we have over-the-counter,” Zeichner says. “But visible improvements can take several weeks to start kicking in, so it’s important to be patient and stick to your routine.”
Now, with gentle, hydrating retinol innovations like Olay Regenerist Retinol 24, this is easier than ever. Chang says that she’s 100 percent pro OTC retinol: “I prefer that my patients use a retinol every day to get that activity in their skin rather than going a whole week without using any prescription retinoid because of the dry, irritating effects.”
Initially, you’ll notice smoother texture and perhaps fewer breakouts and clogged pores. Over time, your pores will be noticeably smaller, your skin will appear more evenly toned, and any lines that were there will be less pronounced.
But the real retinol game-changer is also what you can’t see in the mirror, because it’s happening below the surface. Who knows how many potential lines were going to show up but will never make their debut now, thanks to the springy, healthy collagen that’s being created along with a cascade of other do-your-skin-good dynamics deep within your skin?