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The Myths & Facts of Retinol with Before & After Pictures

My top requested—and personal favorite—skincare ingredient is retinol

The benefits of this powerhouse ingredient are pretty much endless. Retinol is proven to encourage cellular turnover, stimulate collagen, treat acne, soften wrinkles, fade pigmentation and give the skin a youthful glow. Sign me up, right?!

While retinol products are my best-selling and among my most effective products, they also prompt a lot of questions. As with any trending skincare topic, word of mouth and uncredible sources have given these products a confusing (and sometimes bad) rap online.

So, while retinol is giving your skin clarity, I want to give you clarity on the myths around the hero ingredient - and the facts behind these crazy claims.

What is retinol vs. retinoid?

Let me back up and explain what retinol is before we dive into the chatter. 

Retinol is a topical type of retinoid, the blanket term for vitamin A derivatives. Numerous rigorous studies show that retinol cream improves conditions associated with aging, like wrinkles and fine lines, by encouraging quicker skin cell turnover, preventing collagen breakdown and thickening the deeper layers in the skin where wrinkles form. Next to vitamin C, it’s one of the best preventative anti-aging ingredients. Retinol also stops excess sebum production, changes the skin’s responsiveness to stress and helps the skin adjust to hormonal fluctuations.

To phrase it simply, retinol is a topical form of Vitamin A that radically helps skin texture and imperfections while helping to improve your youthful glow. 

Before and After Using Retinol-TCA-Blend Perfect Change Serum + Perfect Tone Pads

Before after retinol perfect change serum

Myth vs. Fact

How long does retinol purge (aka retinol uglies) last?

Myth: If retinol causes irritation, stop using it completely.

Fact: People will often experience mild irritation (a sensitive feeling, pink, and dry, flaky skin) when they begin to use a retinol product—aka the “retinol uglies.” Retinol speeds up a natural cellular turnover process, so it can result in dry, flaky skin for 2-4 weeks at the initiation of treatment. This is NOT a sign that the ingredient isn't working for you, or that you should stop using it. Quite the opposite actually.

This retinol uglies phase is very normal, and nearly everyone who starts a vitamin A derivative product will experience this. If you're only using retinol a couple of times a week, then each application is like the first time. The skin will just never adjust this way!

I recommend pushing through any mild irritation because the quickest way to get through this retinol uglies phase is consistent and continued use of the ingredient. What if it's more than mild? Then take a night or two off the product and hop back on when you feel ready.  The best way to counteract this stage is to moisturize. Our most popular cream for healing dry skin is Enriched Biotherapy. It's a decadent cream that won't leave your skin feeling heavy or oily.

If you're new to retinol, the best way to slowly introduce it to your skin is to either use it every other night initially, or mix it with an oil-free moisturizer every night for the first few weeks. This is how I recommend using Perfect Change Serum. With consistent use, the skin will build retinoid receptors to control the irritation.

Purging is another normal part of the introductory phase of retinol. With increased cell turnover, oil and dead skin cells trapped within pores will be cleared out much quicker than before. Purging can manifest as new blemishes that may last a couple of weeks. The treatment for this new breakout is the exact ingredient that is causing the breakout, so stick with it and be patient!


How long does retinol take to work?

Myth: Retinol transforms your skin overnight.

Fact: Patience is a virtue with retinol. Retinol can take up to a few months to show outward results on your skin. It’s worth the wait!


How does retinol work? 

Myth: Retinol exfoliates. 

Fact: One of the biggest rumors about retinol is that it is merely an extra-strong exfoliator. However, retinol works by enhancing collagen production and increasing the rate that the epidermal layer turns over and regenerates. As the epidermal layer regenerates, dead cells on the outer layer of the skin can flake, causing this common misconception. However, retinol is restoring the skin versus exfoliating it.

Let's digress for a second to discuss why the skin cell cycle matters so much. The skin cell life cycle slows as we age. It takes about 28 days for the average, middle-aged adult. As we grow older, this skin cycle slows to about 45-60 days in our 40s and 50s, and further slows to about 60-90 days in our 50s and 60s. Why do we care? As this process slows, dead cells accumulate on the surface of the skin causing sagging and collapse of structure or what we see as lines, wrinkles, and folds. Bacteria can become trapped causing blemishes and breakouts. Discolored and irregular cells can also become trapped causing spots and discoloration. When the outer surface of our skin is made of newer skin cells, it will feel softer and smoother and we will look more luminous with fewer lines and wrinkles. This is key!

Regular use of retinol can help maintain an average of 28-day or faster replacement cycle for your skin cells and that will keep your skin looking youthful!


How to apply retinol?

Myth: The more retinol, the better!

Fact: Absolutely not! I recommend a pea-size amount for your entire face to prevent additional drying and peeling. When you apply this amount, pat the retinol product on to your skin. Rubbing the product in can increase any irritation.


What does retinol do for your skin?

Myth: Retinol thins the skin.

Fact: Dermatologists note that topical retinol actually thickens the dermal layer of the skin by regenerating it.


More on retinol vs. retinoid…

Myth: Retinol cannot be used on sensitive skin.

Fact: Sensitive skin types can experience more irritation during the introductory phase of application, but can benefit from lower-concentration products with consistent use. The skin will build retinoid receptors (proteins naturally found in the skin that act like shuttles to carry and release retinoids into the skin cells) to control the irritation. Note: People with oily skin tend to tolerate retinoids better. If  you think your skin is too sensitive for a retinol, try 0.5% Retinol Serum. This one is for you!


Retinol Before and After Photos


Retinol Before and After Photo

What is retinol good for?

Myth: Retinol is only good for fine lines and wrinkles.

Fact: Retinoids are great for fine lines and wrinkles, but they multitask too! It’s part of their magic. Retinoids work at a cellular level compared to a topical level, so they help with cellular turnover and generating a pristine epidermal layer. Consistent use of retinol will fade dark spots, smooth bumps (look at these before and afters above), decrease acne and imperfections and regulate oily skin. It really is an all-in-one solution.


Can you go in the sun when you’re using retinol?

Myth: You can’t go in the sun if you’ve used retinol.

Fact: Retinol can cause sun sensitivity because the fresh new skin on the surface is more vulnerable to UV rays. Retinol products are recommended to be used in the evening because sunlight can deactivate the ingredient. Note: Retinoid products like retinol are actually well known to correct pre-cancers, slow the growth of existing skin cancer and and decrease the risk of developing new skin cancer. Just one more reason to get on the retinol train!


When to start using retinol?

Myth: Your twenties are too early to start using retinol. 

Fact: Retinoids are scientifically proven to increase collagen production, which produces younger-looking skin. If you start to use a retinol product in your twenties, your collagen levels will remain higher and more productive as you age in comparison to your non-retinoid-using friends, whose collagen and elasticity levels will continue to diminish.

Did you know you begin to lose collagen in your mid-20s? By the age of 40, you lose approximately 1% of your collagen every year! This leads to a decrease in skin thickness by 7% every 10 years with loss of elasticity and the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.

I’m all about preventative skincare and skin treatments (like microneedling). So, find a retinol that you love and use it!


Why can’t you use retinol while pregnant?

Myth: Retinol is safe during pregnancy.

Fact: Unfortunately, you’re going to have to nix retinol from your routine during pregnancy! High doses of vitamin A can be harmful to an unborn child and cause birth defects. Check our what I recommend during pregnancy in place of retinol!


How Do I Start? 

So now you know you’re never too young to start with a retinol. It's never too late either!

I recommend kicking off your retinol treatment with either 1% Retinol cream, or our best seller, Perfect Change Serum (which contains 1% retinol in combination with TCA, a chemical peel ingredient). Apply a diluted concentration for 2-4 weeks before moving to an undiluted application when your skin adjusts. 

If you’re looking for a higher dose of retinol (or a single product to take your skin to the next level) indulge in Liquid Gold 1-2 times per week for ultra elasticity, bounce and brilliance.

And don’t forget to snap those before and after retinol photos!

As always, I’d love to answer any additional questions you may have about retinol. I could talk about it for days!


Dr. Zoe

Shop our Retinol SerumsPerfect Change Serum and Liquid Gold from the PFAM store today.

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