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Anti-Aging, Retinoids, Retinol

Along with sunscreen, retinoids like retinol are the skin-care ingredients that have the best actual evidence for antiaging benefits. All retinoids are forms of vitamin A that occur naturally. But when you eat foods that contain vitamin A (like milk, eggs, carrots, and broccoli), your body needs to convert those preforms and provitamins of vitamin A into an active form that you can actually use.

Retinol is the first step on that pathway. And, as John G. Zampella, M.D., assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman department of dermatology at NYU Langone Health, says topical retinoids (including retinol) causes your skin to speed up its' normal cell-turnover process, meaning that it will shed skin cells more quickly. That helps tackle issues like fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots and acne. Researchers also think retinol can help increase collagen production which reduces signs of aging.

The other major bonus of using retinol is that it’s basically everywhere. You can find retinol over-the-counter in drugstore and luxury products, so you don’t need a prescription for it. Beware.

However, because these products are regulated like cosmetics rather than drugs, you can’t necessarily be sure of what you’re getting. Although research shows that retinol is effective, there’s no way to guarantee that what you’re using in an over-the-counter product is as potent or effective as the retinol in those studies.

The other drawback of using retinol (or any retinoid, really) is that these ingredients are notorious for causing irritation, at least when you first start using them. That usually includes symptoms like dryness, itching, redness and increased sensitivity. Not everyone experiences these symptoms, though.

If you do experience irritation with retinol, you can try products containing retinal (also called retinaldehyde), which is another form of retinol, or bakuchiol, a newer ingredient often touted as a natural retinol alternative. Both of these appear to cause less irritation than retinol.

It is best to seek a professional for skincare products best suited for your skin type, estheticians or dermatologists.

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