UPDATE: In anticipation of all the wear and tear your skin may be exposed to as the weather warms up, we're reintroducing you to the miracle cure we can't get enough of. Read up and see why beauty pros are raving about retinols. This story was originally published on April 20, 2012.
Plenty of skin care creams claim to contain the latest wonder ingredient, but as far as most dermatologists are concerned, the only one that truly deserves that moniker is retinoic acid. Derived from vitamin A, it has the power to tackle everything from acne to fine lines and hyperpigmentation. But, as Bret Michaels would say, every rose has its thorn — in this case that drawback is irritation, peeling, and sensitivity. In an attempt to minimize some of these side effects, many brands resorted to using a toned-down version of retinoic acid, commonly referred to as retinol.
While retinol is less irritating, it's also not quite as potent, so it takes longer to work. It's also extremely difficult to stabilize — it degrades very quickly when combined with other ingredients, so many creams that claimed to have retinol in it were't very effective. Well, that was then and this is now — thanks to new advances by scientists, retinol has gotten a facelift of its own and is now super charged and more effective than ever, as evidenced by some of the latest and greatest new skin care launches.
"New retinoids include micro-delivery systems that make them less likely to cause irritation and dryness," says Dr. Frederic Brandt. "There are also retinoids that have moisturizers mixed with them, such as Refissa and Tretin-X." Brandt's new Glow Overnight Resurfacing Serum features 2% retinol — one of the highest strengths that you can get without a prescription — but thanks to a time-release system and micro-encapsulation, it also contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which help keep the skin calm and soothed as the active ingredients blast away zits, dark spots, and fine lines.
According to Brandt, by micro-encapsulating retinols — that is, surrounding them with a film that keeps them separate from other ingredients so that they don't break down until they are applied to the skin — it allows you to use them on sensitive areas like the chest, neck, stretch marks, acne scars, and even your eyes. There have been advances in the speed at which retinols can work, too: Neutrogena's Rapid Wrinkle Repair line uses an accelerated Retinol SA, which promises immediate results thanks to an infusion of glucose and hyaluronic acid. "The Retinol SA is sustained action and it works continuously," says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. "Because of the glucose complex, it also penetrates the skin better, so it is more effective – you see results in one week."
The lesson here is that despite what you may have heard about retinol products, there's no time like the present to give them a try. Thanks to these new innovations and technologies, vitamin A in all its various forms is having a moment and the proof will be on your soon-to-be smooth, even clear skin. But even with all of these breakthroughs it's still important to give skin being treated with retinol a little extra TLC: Dr. Jaliman says it's imperative to wear an SPF 30 daily and avoid any abrasive scrubs and exfoliators, so as not to inadvertently scratch or irritate your newly flawless visage.