Retinol Myth Busters

Do you have retinol questions? Fig.1 Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Courtney Rubin has answers. 

Myth #1: My skin is too sensitive to use retinol. 

Retinization, or flaky, red skin, is actually a normal and expected response when you introduce retinol to the skin for the first time. Retinol, which stimulates cellular turnover, requires about a one month adjustment period, during which the skin is acclimating. Because of this transition phase, most people believe that their skin is too sensitive to tolerate retinol, but in reality, retinization is a good sign that the product is working. Our innovative “step up” system allows you to acclimate your skin to a low level of retinol and gradually increase your retinol dose over time, leading to retinization without irritation, redness or flaking! Even those with sensitive skin can tolerate the low level of retinol in the Retinol Renewal Cream No. 1 (.15% retinol).

Myth #2: I’m too young to use retinol! 

If you are old enough to have acne, you are old enough to use retinol! Retinol is actually one of our most trusted recommendations for teenagers who struggle with acne because of its proven skin smoothing and pore clarifying benefits. If you’re concerned about introducing retinol too early, just remember that prevention is the best defense against signs of premature aging!

Myth #3: Retinol isn’t naturally-derived, so it isn’t good for you. 

Retinol might sound intimidating, but it’s actually vitamin A. We all know how important it is to have a vitamin-rich diet for a healthy body, and the skin is no different. Vitamins in skincare, like vitamin A (retinol), vitamin B (niacinamide) and vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), are amazing companions to help keep the skin healthy, radiant and smooth- and are perfectly healthy for both the skin and the body. The only time that you should discontinue use of retinol for health-related reasons is if you’re pregnant or nursing. 

Are vitamins in skincare synthetic?

Yes. If you squeeze an orange into a skincare product, the vitamin C from the orange will oxidize almost immediately, rendering it ineffective. Therefore, vitamins in your skincare have to be synthesized in order to be stable (read on for more about stability).

Myth #4: I’m using Vitamin C, so I can’t use retinol. 

Vitamin C and retinol (Vitamin A) can actually be very complimentary, if used in the right way. If you’re using a vitamin C serum in the evening, there is no harm in layering a nourishing retinol cream on top, to enhance your skin-smoothing and radiance benefits. You can also alternate your vitamins morning and night. Retinol should only be used in the evening, so feel free to use vitamin C in the daytime, under your SPF. Vitamin C can help to enhance your environmental defense, so it’s a perfect daytime companion.

Myth #5: I had a bad reaction to prescription retinol as a teenager, it doesn’t agree with me.

We’ve talked about the normal process of “retinization,” or red, flaky skin while your skin is acclimating to the use of retinol, but let’s take a look at different retinol concentrations and how they might affect the skin.

If you’re prescribed a retinoid cream, such as tretinoin, it’s likely much more potent than over-the-counter retinol. While this prescription-strength retinoid may be great for treating persistent acne in teenagers, its potency leads to drastic and immediate signs of retinization. If your skin was red, irritated, and peeling, that means it was working. If you made it to the other side, your skin may have thanked you for it! If you didn’t, we recommend that you start on a much lower concentration of retinol, found in most OTC formulas.

Our Retinol Renewal Cream No. 1 contains .15% retinol, making it a perfect starting point for anyone who wants to ease into use, to avoid a skin meltdown.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if a product claims to contain retinol but does not list the percentage included, it’s likely a very small amount of retinol- under .1%. Unless you love the formula for other reasons, it may not be worth the investment.

Myth #6: All retinol creams on the market are basically the same!

In reality, not all retinol creams are created equally. When it comes to retinol performance, the concentration and quality of ingredients really counts. How do you know if a retinol will be effective? Here are a few questions to ask yourself: 

  • Is there clinical data? The best way to know if something will work for you is to guarantee that it worked for others. Clinical studies will tell you the scientific results of participants who used the formula for at least 4 weeks, so you know what to expect. 
  • Do they list how much retinol is in the formula? If the concentration of retinol isn’t listed, it’s safe to assume that the concentration is less than .1%, which may not be high enough to deliver the results you want!
  • What are the base materials - do I recognize them? The best retinol formulas have skin-nourishing base materials, to counter the effects of retinization. Look for complementary ingredients like seed oils, squalane, glycerin, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and other skin-loving hydrators. 
  • What type of retinol is used? The best way to guarantee results without irritation is to use a slow-release retinol, called encapsulated retinol. Encapsulated retinol is a newer technology that allows us to put a fishnet-like system around the retinol molecule, which delivers the active benefits slowly overnight (vs. all at once). The skin has more time to acclimate, and tends to be happier and healthier.

Myth #7: My retinol cream comes in a jar, but is shelf-stable for a year in my bathroom.

Retinol, like most actives, is highly unstable when exposed to air, light, and dirty fingers. Be wary of jar packaging, which can lead to fast deterioration of the actives in your formula.

Whenever possible, look for a retinol formula in an airless pump. At Fig.1, we fill our bottles under a nitrogen blanket and have opaque packaging to make sure that air and light never reach the formula, so your product stays active and stable to the last drop.