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Retinol in Anti-Aging Products

Ever wanted to know about retinol and what it does for your skin?

There are so many anti-aging products on the market and all have similar claims. I wanted to know which products really benefit aging skin and which ingredients in those products are important.

Since I’ve heard a lot about retinol, that’s the ingredient I explored first. In high school, I remember a friend who was prescribed Retin-A to treat acne and all the terrible side effects. Over-the-counter products with retinol are way more tame than Retin-A.

Retin-A was approved by the FDA in the early 70s for acne treatment and vitamin A is used in many forms for skincare with retinol being one of those.

Essentially, researchers saw skin improving, anti-aging qualities among women using Retin-A, and now we have a zillion products to pick from that promise to fix wrinkles and lines and dark spots and dry patches. Products that contain retinol can help diminish fine lines by helping the body increase the production of collagen, which helps increase thickness of the epidermis (hence, reducing the appearance of those lines).

Scientifically speaking (I read a bunch of journal articles, so this isn’t me being an expert), retinol can help increase collagen fibrils and reduce collagen breakdown. It does this by inhibiting the metalloproteinases. That’s a big word that I’ll be Googling.

Topically, retinol can improve the skin’s appearance really fast. The cool thing is you don’t need a large concentration to have an impact. Most over-the-counter products have less than 1% concentration of retinol. In my reading, it appears that topical retinol should be between .3 and 1% concentration to be effective, but most over-the-counter products may be below .08%.

I tried reaching out to a few companies about their concentrations and got either no response or the “that’s our secret patent” response. A representative from Jan Marini was kind enough to share that the Age Intervention Retinol Plus is .5%, but for women who would like something stronger, a prescription for the 1% concentration, Age Intervention Retinol Plus MD, can be obtained from a licensed physician who carries their products. I’m really tempted to check out the .5% product for myself and plan to get my mom to talk to her dermatologist about the MD concentration.

Retinaldehyde is clinically effective at .05% and retinyl palmitate really needs to be about 2% to have an effect but has a low potential for irritation. You also may see retinyl propionate, which also has a lower irritation potential, so you could potentially see higher concentration levels. However, that version seems to be mainly focused on acne treatment.

So that means, retinol isn’t just retinol. There are other forms of vitamin A that may be in your anti-aging products. Don’t just look for “retinol,” though that seems to be the most prevalent.

Other factors to consider when buying an anti-aging product with retinol are the anti-irritants or anti-inflammatories in the formula, fragrances, and bottling and packaging.

Some of this sounds obvious, right? But the packaging is really important. Retinol is so sensitive to UV and oxygen that you want to be sure the product is packaged in a high quality way in an opaque container that offers as little oxygen exposure before application as possible. That means no open jars.

You also probably should just use a retinol product at night when you won’t be outside and exposing your skin to sunlight. It’s just less risky that way and you still get all the benefits of the anti-aging components.

The thing is, no product is a miracle cure. Your wrinkles aren’t going to permanently disappear. If you already have great, youthful skin, always wear a sunscreen moisturizer during the day and a great anti-aging cream at night. Prevent lines and wrinkles before they start.

If you want to turn back the clock, have realistic expectations unless you’re planning a trip to the dermatologist’s office or cosmetic surgeon. Over-the-counter products can’t make you 20 years younger though you can look temporarily a lot fresher and healthier.

If you’re curious to try Jan Marini Age Intervention Retinol Plus, it lists for about $65, but you can get it on Amazon for just $35.82 right now. Another option would be Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair set, which includes a retinol-infused SPF 30 day cream. I’d still suggest only using it at night though.

I know this was a super long post, but I hope it helps provide some clarity around retinols. They’re good. They’re real. They can probably help your aging skin. Just beware of product claims and read lots of reviews before picking a product.

Chen, L., Hu, J. Y., & Wang, S. Q. (2012). The role of antioxidants in photoprotection: a critical review. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 67(5), 1013-1024.

Bissett, D. L. (2009). Common cosmeceuticals. Clinics in dermatology, 27(5), 435-445.

Manela-Azulay, M., & Bagatin, E. (2009). Cosmeceuticals vitamins. Clinics in dermatology, 27(5), 469-474.


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