I start this post by stating that I am not a chemist, aesthetician or pharmacologist. What I have written below is based on scouring the Internet and using my passable secondary school Chemistry classes to determine what works for my skin and using this as a basis for this post.
The below may not be appropriate for you and Retinoid products may not exhibit the same results in your skin as it does mine.
What is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that is also a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin A plays a critical role in maintaining healthy vision, neurological function, healthy skin, and more.
What are the sources of Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is found in two primary forms: active Vitamin A and Beta Carotene. Active Vitamin A comes from animal-derived foods and is called Retinol. This form of Vitamin A can be used directly by the body; the Vitamin doesn’t need to be converted prior.
The other type of Vitamin A, which is obtained from colorful fruits and vegetables, is in the form of Vitamin A carotenoids, which are converted to Retinol by the body after the food is ingested. Beta carotene, a type of carotenoid, which is found primarily in plants, needs to first be converted to active Vitamin A in order to be utilised by the body.
Vitamin A exists in different forms inside the body, and there are different forms of it in skincare products.
Vitamin A in the form of Retinoic Acid (a form found naturally inside cells) has proven efficacy in reversing the signs of photo ageing.
Skincare products utilise synthetically engineered derivatives of Retinoic Acid known as Retinoids. Retinoids are able to regulate cellular behavior and increase cell turnover, which means they can increase the shedding of dead skin cells. This shedding process produces new, healthy skin faster.
I have also found research that states that Retinoids correct pigmentation related issues by sloughing off brown spots and curbing melanin development. I haven’t found this to be the case for my skin.
What are the forms of Vitamin A?
This is the acid form of Vitamin A. It is the active form used directly by the cells in the human body, i.e. this is the only form of Vitamin A the human body can use.
When the skin absorbs other forms of Vitamin A, the body must convert it into this active form.
It is by far the strongest form of Vitamin A. But it is only available by prescription.
It not only prevents ageing but also corrects pre-existing photo ageing damage.
Because it is acidic, it is the most irritating form of Vitamin A and can cause redness, peeling, flaking, irritation, dryness, and sun sensitivity.
This is the alcohol form of Vitamin A; it has been shown by several scientific studies to have the same effects as Retinoic Acid but without the same level of irritation.
Retinol is both an antioxidant and a cell-communicator, in its role of cell communicator, it tells other cells to produce new skin cells, which increases cell turnover, and this exfoliates the skin in the process. It also stimulates the production of elastin, which increases skin thickness.
Retinol is one of the most usable forms of Vitamin A, absorbing quickly into skin. But Retinol is not active when applied to skin. It is held there until it is needed.
Retinol undergoes several transformations in the body before it becomes usable in skin cells. Excluding Retinoic Acid as stated above, all forms of Vitamin A has to go through a conversion process before it is effective in the skin.
In the human body, Retinol accomplishes the same as Retinoic Acid, just at a slower pace.
Although Retinol is much weaker than Retinoic Acid, it is also less irritating.
Retinol is unstable in light and tends to oxidize quickly. This is why Retinol is usually recommended for nighttime use. UV light can degrade Retinol.
Retinol can be drying and irritating if the skin has not been gradually conditioned to it. Some people with very sensitive skin cannot tolerate products with Retinol or any Retinoids.
Retinoids and Your Skin Type
The number one consideration when deciding to use a retinoid is your skin type.
If your skin is sensitive or easily irritated you should avoid Retinoic Acid and Retinol.
Retinoic Acid is the most effective option for treating photo ageing, but it is aggressive on the skin and available only by prescription. Always consult with your doctor or dermatologist about whether your skin is appropriate for these ingredients.
Retinol is the second most effective option for treating photo ageing. However, the higher the concentration of Retinol, especially if greater than 1%, the greater the chance for skin irritation.
My Retinoid usage is as follows:
I always keep my Retinoids away from sunlight as this causes the product to break down quickly and also make the product unstable. I also try to keep my Retinoids away from oxygen and moisture to ensure its continued efficacy over a longer period of time.
I currently use either of The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2% or Retinol 1%, I only use these at night, NEVER during the day
I alternate my use of the above Retinoids with my Vitamin C serum i.e. Mondays, Wednesday and Friday nights I use a Retinoid and Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays nights I use a Vitamin C serum. Sunday night I use a Hyaluronic serum at night to give my skin a breather and to inject extra moisture into it.
In the short term I will be sticking with the above routine at the above strengths.
I ALWAYS wear sunscreen during the day; I use a minimum SPF of 30 as Retinoids can cause photosensitivity when the skin is exposed to the sun. Additionally prolonged used of higher concentrations of Retinoids can make the skin thinner, remember it tells other cells to produce new skin cells which increases cell turnover and this exfoliates the skin in the process. This is also why I do not intend to either increase my concentration or utilisation frequency of my Retinoids.
I hope the above is useful, please ensure you do what is right for your skin and consult a doctor or dermatologist before using Retinoids. Remember my Skin Quartrinity; Genes, Diet, Exercise and Skincare. I am trying to practice what I preach.