Retinol, retinoids...vitamin A can be a confusing ingredient to get your head around. But in terms of real benefits, this skin ingredient is a star player. In fact, it is the only ingredient clinically proven to create real skin change.
“Retinol helps improve overall texture and tone,” says Dr Dendy Engelman, Elizabeth Arden consulting dermatologist based in New York. Happy to tackle a range of skin issues such as radiance, pore size, skin elasticity, unevenness, lines and wrinkles, vitamin A performs skincare wizardry when warding off the typical signs of ageing. Experts say vitamin A is appropriate for all adult skin (though they advise putting it aside during pregnancy), but it is particularly valuable for those aged over 30 – when collagen production starts to wane.
“Retinol helps to rejuvenate the skin and bring new skin to the surface,” says Philippa Curnow, head of education at Elizabeth Arden. “It can help with lines and deep wrinkles, skin discolouration, uneven skin tone and pore size.”
The reason retinol is so good at warding of the signs of ageing is because it works on receptors that signal the skin to boost collagen production. “This means an improvement in fine lines, wrinkles, skin texture and the appearance of pore size,” says Engelman. Clarity is the other skin benefit of vitamin A. “Retinoids decrease pore clogging and are anti-inflammatory, which helps treat and prevent acne,” adds Engelman.
Confused about the difference between retinol and retinoids? It essentially comes down to strength. “There are several different forms of retinol on the market but, typically, retinoid refers to a prescription, [while] retinol is available over the counter,” says Engelman. Both derivatives of vitamin A, retinol and retinoids can have differing reactions with the skin: retinols are usually gentler, while retinoids can potentially cause redness while your skin adjusts.
Elizabeth Arden is one brand getting into retinol rejuvination. After its cult-followed Advanced Ceramide Capsules comes the Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum capsules. These new night recruits are dosed with retinol as well as the skin barrier repair benefits of ceramides 2 and 3 (found in the original), peptides for skin elasticity, and conditioning avocado, sunflower seed and olive oils. The result? These single-serve doses are both effective and gentle.
“The new capsules work with the ceramides to soften and smooth the skin, while you have retinol going down into the deeper layers,” says Curnow. “It’s a really soft and smooth product that everyone can use without worrying about having a reaction.”
A lot of retinol’s issues with skin sensitivity comes down to overuse. “Using more of a retinol product won’t make it more efficacious, just more irritating,” advises Engelman. Elizabeth Arden’s single-dose capsules have the added benefit of delivering exactly the right amount. “They’re pre-dosed so you don’t need to think about how much you’re using,” she says.
Another way to avoid a retinol red-skin run-in is to add plenty of nourishment. “After cleansing, use a topical probiotic to support the skin’s microbiome, before or after [retinol],” suggests Engelman. “Then, follow with your favourite hydrating night cream.”
For this same reason, devotees of Elizabeth Arden’s original capsules don’t have to give them up. “If you are already using Advanced Ceramide Capsules day and night, apply the advanced caps in the morning, then in the evening apply advanced caps first, massage it all in, then apply the retinol caps afterwards,” says Curnow. The explanation for this is the retinol won’t waste any time at the surface, instead going deep down where it’s needed most.
If you are keen to enlist retinol, be sure to add it to your night routine. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, retinol is sensitive to light, which affects its potency (another tick for Elizabeth Arden’s one-dose capsules, which are said to be 76 per cent more potent than their non-encapsulated equivalents). Night-time is also when the skin lets down its daytime defences, meaning retinol has greater penetration and results. Retinol can also increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, so ensure you protect it during the day. “It’s critical to make sure you are wearing SPF and antioxidants,” says Engelman. “Apply it in the morning after a nightly retinol treatment.”
Want A-class skin? Vitamin A is a game changer.
Whatever your skin gripe, the A-class skin results make retinol a compelling proposition. Here are four other power-packed retinol products to try:
Chock-filled with skin nourishing grape-seed and avocado oils, as well as retinol, this doctor’s brand night cream will get skin looking plump and bright.
This power-packed night cream from popular brand Rationale is dosed with DNA-repairing enzymes and retinol to repair and rejuvenate.
Revision Skincare Retinol Complete 0.5, $119.99.
Dosed with antioxidants, botanical extracts and time-release retinols, this salon-only overseas favourite is now available on our shores.
Dosed with natural vitamin A, this night-worker helps improve skin tone and radiance.
A version of this article originally appeared in the November issue of marie claire, on sale now.