New ingredients that promise anti-aging benefits crop up daily, but retinol (or, more accurately, retinoid — more on that later) is still the best ammunition we've got to fight the war on wrinkles.
There is new technology, of course, and products that contain retinol are more sophisticated than ever. You can smooth fine lines faster and with less irritation. But in case you're confused about the best retinol for you (and who wouldn't be? — the names and variations are mind boggling), we're breaking down the need-to-know info on the best anti-aging ingredient on the market. Plus, we're recommending retinol products — from serums to the best wrinkle creams out there.
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Retinol, Retinoid...What's The Diff?
Retinoid: The blanket term for all vitamin A derivatives in skin care.
Retinoic acid: The ingredient you'll find in prescription retinoids.
Retinol: The over-the-counter version. Your skin converts retinol to retinoic acid.
Retinyl palmitate: A combination of retinol and palmitic acid. It's the gentlest ingredient in the retinoid family.
Why Dermatologists Love Retinoids
They differ slightly in formulation, and some are better for older (instead of younger) or drier (instead of oilier) skin types. "With different brands, you get a different vehicle," says New York dermatologist Janet Prytowsky, M.D. "With Renova, for example, it's a nice vehicle. It's moisturizing to help combat some of the dryness, and there's enhanced absorption into the skin." Think of it like drinking Gatorade instead of water when you're dehydrated — it absorbs faster, and you'll feel better (see results) sooner.
What about generic? "You'll still get the chemical at the same concentration, but it may not be absorbed as well," says Prytowsky. "You may get less effect." In this case, brand names may be worth the investment.
When Should You Pick an OTC Retinol?
If you want maximum benefits, concentration is key. "Always look for one percent or higher," says Prytowsky. "If you go lower, you won't see much of a result." Try Skinceuticals Retinol 1.0, $50, and Glow by Dr. Brandt Overnight Resurfacing Serum, $85, with 2-percent time-released retinol. If an OTC retinol is drying out your skin, Prytowsky suggests using it every other day or every third day until you get used to it. And, of course, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.
Retinoids for (Adult) Babies
Retinol derivatives can be applied all over (try Olay Regenerist Advanced Anti-Aging Intensive Repair Treatment, $25.99), but they are especially useful for the fragile skin around the eyes, and many brands have formulated eye creams containing them. Try RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Eye Cream, $22.99, or Vichy LiftActiv Retinol HA Eyes, $42.50.