Q—CHARLOTTE’S BOOK READER
Sometimes I read that I am too young to start using retinol and other times I read that retinol is the end-all, be-all anti-aging product and you can’t start too young. What’s the right answer? I am age 28.
A—DR. JOSHUA ZEICHNER, DERMATOLOGIST
Your mid 20s is certainly a reasonable time to start using topical retinol. Retinol stimulates collagen and increases skin thickness and elasticity. For a young person such as yourself, using retinol is like making sure the skin’s foundation is as strong as possible, so it can resist wrinkling as much as possible as you age. Over the counter retinol is an excellent place to start. It is less potent than prescription strength retinoids, and also less irritating. Over the counter retinoids come in different forms: retinol, retinaldehyde, and the retinyl esters, such as retinyl palmitate. Retinol is the most potent form, but also the most unstable; so, it is challenging to use in cosmetic products.
Retinyl esters are more mild and appropriate for people with the most sensitive skin. The most common prescription strength options are tretinoin (Retin-A, Atralin, Renova, Refissa, Tretin-X), adapalene (Differin), or tazaortene (Tazorac). When applying a retinol cream, remember that less is more, especially for the prescription strength formulas. Use only a pea sized amount for the whole face. Apply the product every other night to start, then slowly work your way up to every night, over the first few weeks. If your face gets red, itchy, peels or burns, skip a day or two. You can also apply a moisturizer first to keep the skin barrier well hydrated, reducing the risk of irritation.
If you are new to using retinol, start with an over the counter version. Once your skin gets used to it, then talk to your dermatologist about getting a prescription. Some good kick-starter retinols: REN Clean Skincare Bio Retinoid Anti-Aging Concentrate, $60, SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5, $57, and Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer, $72.
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