One can start using Retinol from the onset of puberty. In puberty, males, as well as females, produce the male hormone testosterone and this works on the sebaceous glands causing the oiliness of the skin, blackheads, and whiteheads. The younger teenager will often present with what we call Comedonal Acne i.e. just blackheads and whiteheads and not many pimples. This is the ideal time to start a topical Retinoid as every blackhead and whitehead will eventually become a pimple.
In fact, the whole Vitamin A/Retinoid story started in 1971 when the famous Dr Albert Kligman, a Dermatologist in the USA, discovered Tretinoin. It was patented and brought to the market by Johnson & Johnson with the tradename Retin-A. Forty-five years later it is still widely used but it is a prescription-only medication. Dr Kligman noticed that the patients that were using the Tretinoin for acne, had an improvement in their fine lines, wrinkles, and a lightening of their pigmentation.
From this original discovery, research scientists have taken the Vitamin A molecule and have made further derivatives of it – these are called Retinoids. Isotretinoin is a Retinoid taken orally for severe acne and this drug has the greatest chance of putting acne into permanent remission.
“Dr Kligman noticed that the patients that were using the Tretinoin for acne, had an improvement in their fine lines, wrinkles and a lightening of their pigmentation”
Retinol is also derived from the Vitamin A molecule and the great advantage of Retinol is that it does not require a prescription and it tends to be less irritating than Tretinoin when applied to the skin. Retinol is available in various concentrations from 0.1% – 2.5% in various bases. One can get pure Retinol on its own but it is often combined with other anti-ageing ingredients to lessen any potential irritation. The more modern Retinols are often encapsulated, with a slow-release delivery system to minimize irritation.
If Retinol is used for its anti-ageing benefits – early signs of ageing with fine lines, superficial wrinkles, and some pigmentation – then it can be started in the mid-to-late 20s. High concentrations of Retinol might not be necessary at this age but if used, it is preferable to only use it at night.
Because Retinols do have the potential to irritate the skin, it is best to start off only using it three times a week – Monday, Wednesday & Friday nights or according to your own skin tolerance. If there is a little irritation when Retinol is introduced, cut back to once a week and build-up from there – this is not an allergic reaction but rather what we call a transient side-effect, meaning it is temporary and will resolve. If introduced slowly over a period of time most people will develop a tolerance to Retinol and then it could be used every evening.
“One may get pure Retinol on its own but it is often combined with other anti-ageing ingredients to lessen any potential irritation “
In lower concentrations, Retinol can be used during the day but always use a high factor, broad-spectrum sunscreen. It can also be used on some other parts of the body such as the neck and I often prescribe a Tretinoin mixture to be used on fresh purple stretch marks.
If you have never used Retinol before, we always advise Low and Slow – start with lower concentrations over a period of time.
If your skin cannot tolerate Retinol every night, it is still beneficial even if it is used once or twice a week. On the other nights, it is a good idea to use a topical moisturiser containing Niacinamide which still has some anti-ageing benefits but is very calming on the skin.
I feel that when it comes to Retinol, rather start using it earlier than later to avoid skin concerns such as acne, skin ageing, and pigmentation from becoming worse.