Vitamin A, also known as Retinol, is the anti-aging golden child of ingredients. Starting one in your 20’s, and definitely by your 30’s, can create an impressive impact on your complexion. One that might even prevent you from needing Botox earlier in life.
We love it because it increases cell turnover, helping with acne, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. As a cell-communicator it stimulates collagen and elastin production, thickening the skin and slowing down the aging process and filling in fine lines. It even helps your skin stay hydrated and increases that coveted glow.
I have some tips and guidelines for you though! After reading this article you’ll be less likely to have a bad experience and reap the benefits of having Vitamin A in your routine.
Vitamin A goes by a few names including Retinol, Retinal, Retinoid, and Retinoic Acid
I use Retinol as a blanket term for both over the counter products and prescription, even though it’s not PC.
Technically a prescription from your dermatologist, like Retin-A, is a Retinoid or Retinoic Acid, a chemical compound related to Vitamin A.
Over the counter Retinol is a form of Vitamin A, however, your skin must convert it to Retinoic Acid, and it may take several weeks to do so.
0.5% Retinol is similar in efficacy to 0.025% Retinoid
1.0% Retinol is similar in efficacy to 0.05% Retinoid
What all of this means is that prescription Retin-A will gain results much more quickly than an over the counter product. The downside is the likelihood of increased sensitivity, irritation, peeling skin, etc. By comparison, an over the counter product will usually be more gentle with slower results. Either way, the end result is the same, just at different speeds of accomplishment.
That said, some over the counter products are still too strong for us. Every skin type is different and finding the right Vitamin A product for you may be a game of trial and error.
My #1 Tip: BUILD UP YOUR TOLERANCE
When I was in the treatment room I never start a client on 1% Retinol. Slow and steady is the name of the game! Starting at higher concentration means you’re more likely to experience sensitivity. While there are some who can start higher without any issues, it’s safe to say they aren’t the majority. I would start my clients on 0.5% Retinol and build from there.
Whether you’re using prescription Retin-A or over the counter, the schedule looks like this:
First 1-2 weeks apply Vitamin A 2x week
Weeks 3-4 increase to 3x week
Weeks 5-6 alternate every other night
Finally, weeks 7-8 increase to every night
Not everyone will make it to using Retinol every evening, and that is okay! If you experience irritation, sensitivity, or excessive peeling, back off. Your sweet spot may have been the frequency you were using prior to adding an additional night. The ideal situation is finding a product and schedule that causes the least irritation.
Keep seasons in mind, too. Humid, summer months will allow higher frequency than dry, cold winters. After 3 months of using 0.5% you can entertain the idea of moving up to 1%, but you shouldn’t consider it necessary.
I suggest adding Retinol to your PM regimen instead of AM for two reasons:
1. It adds extra time to your routine and we may not be willing to do so in the morning
2. Depending on the products you’re using throughout the week the evening is the easiest way to remember where to fit in your Retinol
If you’re using AHA/BHA treatments avoid using them the same evening to avoid additional sensitivity. As you build tolerance, you can entertain using AHA/BHA and Retinol in the same routine but I wouldn’t begin there.
Always apply to dry skin, applying to damp skin allows the product to absorb faster increasing the chance of irritation. It can be applied to your face, neck, décolleté, and hands… just remember to be diligent with SPF as photosensitivity increases!
1.) Cleanse, tone and wait for your skin to dry
2.) Apply pea-size to skin
3.) Wait at least 20 minutes for traditional Vitamin A products, like Retin-A or Skinceuticals 0.5%, to absorb
4.) Apply serums, oils, and/or moisturizer
I highly, highly suggest applying a nourishing moisturizer or oil over your Retinol. Adding moisture back into the skin will decrease sensitivity. My absolute favorite moisturizer for Vitamin A evening is Sarah Nicole Skincare Nourishing Cream or Skinceuticals Triple Lipid. Both are great for keeping the skin’s barrier healthy and balanced, locking in much-needed hydration.
Then there’s Retinal…
Retinal converts to Retinoic Acid much more quickly than Retinol, meaning it’s even more gentle. Having sensitive skin I can’t use many Vitamin A products without feeling incredibly dry. I could only use Skinceuticals 0.5% once a week, hardly frequently enough for me to feel like I was getting much benefit, although it was better than nothing.
It’s become my favorite Vitamin A product because I can use it nearly every day without any dryness, irritation, or sensitivity. I’m super excited that I can experience all the amazing benefits of the ingredient without compromising my skin!
I’ll write a follow-up article about the different types of Vitamin A soon!
What’s your go-to Vitamin A serum, cream, or lotion??? Or have you completely given up on finding a product that works for your skin? The struggle is real, I know! xo