Ah, yes. This star anti-aging ingredient—a vitamin A derivative—is everywhere these days, and with good reason. It’s a proven wrinkle fighter, and it (and other retinoids) will stimulate the production of collagen and decrease its breakdown, helping to minimize and prevent fine lines. Retinol also speeds up cell turnover so it’s effective for fading dark spots too. But what else should you know?
Start with drugstore products Prescription-strength retinoid acid is stronger and can give you better results, but it can also be more irritating, so it’s usually best to start with retinol. Not only will your skin have a chance to acclimate to the ingredient, but it’s also much less expensive—so you’ll spend less money figuring out if you can tolerate the ingredient. (Many women can’t—it’s strong, especially on sensitive skin—and that’s OK. Other anti-aging ingredients, like peptides and vitamin C, also have wrinkle-fighting benefits.)
Be careful in the sun Retinol makes you more susceptible to burning and irritation from sunlight. That goes for the whole time you’re using a retinol, and for several weeks after you stop—whether you put it on in the morning or at night. This is because speedier cell turnover pushes newer, more delicate skin to the surface. Sunscreen is (as always) a must.
It works best at night The theory is that your skin is repairing itself then, so any anti-aging products you apply will be more effective. And sunlight has been thought to degrade retinol, decreasing its effectiveness. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it during the day, but when you start out, apply your retinol-infused product only at night. That way, if you experience dryness, stinging or redness as your skin adjusts, these flare-ups won’t ruin your day. You can always add a day product once you are sure you don’t see any of these side effects.