A Brief Guide to Retinoids: What They Are and Why to Use Them

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Whether you’re practically a skincare aficionado or just really like browsing the aisle in Ulta, you’ve probably come across all sorts of creams, gels, and gadgets that promise to make your skin look like you’re 20 again, even if you’re 50. Oftentimes treated as a sort of cure-all, it’s hard to fully trust the hype: and rightfully so. None of them are the magic we all wish them to be. However, there are some products that can actually make a big difference on your skin. The products that really work are called retinoids, although there is a lot of confusion surrounding what exactly they are and what they’re meant to do. Luckily, we’re here to help. Here is a brief rundown of everything you need to know.


What are Retinoids?

Making heads or tails of the different products on the market today can be rather confusing This is especially true when looking at the term “retinoid.” A retinoid is an umbrella term for topical products that act or are derivatives of Vitamin A and are meant to have a wide array of effects on the skin. The most prominent of these effects includes reducing the appearance of age lines. Don’t confuse this with the term “retinol” or “Retin-a,” though. They may sound the same, but they are actually different products. In simple terms, a retinol is vitamin A while Retin-A is a specific brand of potent retinoid. If you’re confused, don’t worry. The important thing to remember is that retinoids are an entire class of vitamin A derivatives. They include everything from serums to lotions to gels and cover both OTC products and prescription drugs alike.


Skin Benefits and Potential Side Effects

So, now that you have a basic understanding of what retinoids are (and what they’re not), what exactly are the pros and cons? Well, some of the major benefits include:

  • Prevent and reduce the appearance of wrinkles – Wrinkles are known for being an incredibly stubborn feature of the skin. They’re deep, resistant to treatment, and overall are just difficult to remove. However, retinoids can help due to their ability to increase collagen production (i.e. the stuff that makes skin plump and elastic). With consistent use and the proper formula, a good retinoid can help fill in lines or prevent them from happening in the first place.
  • Brighten skin – As we get older, skin often starts to look dull thanks to everything from a decrease in blood vessels to sun damage. Retinoids can reverse this too by encouraging new blood vessel growth and skin cell turnover, both of which brings color back into the face.
  • Fade age spots and even pigmentation – As we get older, uneven coloring, hyperpigmentation, and age spots inevitably start making their appearance. Keeping these at bay doesn’t have to be super difficult, though. Most retinoid products are great at reducing these issues and evening out your skin tone beautifully. The result is significantly younger-looking skin, even with mild improvements rather than extensive.
  • Soften rough skin patches – Problematic patches got you down? Luckily, retinoids even help in this department due to the collagen stimulation and increased rate of skin repair that follows their use. While particularly rough skin might still stick around some, your rough patches should show remarkable improvement by smoothing out and blending in with the surrounding areas healthy skin.
  • Regulate your skin’s natural oils – Sometimes, no matter how well you take care of your face, excess oil than become a slight issue. Vitamin A products like retinoids can restore some of the balance your skin is missing and discourage oil overproduction.
  • Reduce acne – Related to the previous point, reduced acne is also a major plus for this skincare class. Taking care of excess oil can always go a long way to ridding yourself of those pesky breakouts. Acne still a problem even after this oil is curbed? Your retinoid might be drying out your skin, thus contributing to the issue. Switch to a different product for a few weeks to verify.


Common Alternatives (and Why to Avoid Them)

Retinoids are great products than can go a long way to getting the skin you want back, but some folks ultimately decide to try more involved measures worrying that they need something more heavy-duty to get good results. Some of these alternative treatments commonly include:

  • Retinols – While some retinols are perfectly okay to use for age-related skin concerns, many people go a little overboard. They will then often opt for extremely concentrated formulas and clinical strengths, hoping that a higher concentration of retinol will directly translate to better results. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Like with many other kinds of skincare products, using retinols that are too strong will often cause more harm than good, producing tons of skin irritation rather than decreased wrinkles, acne, or pigmentation spots.
  • Botox – There’s nothing wrong with some Botox if it makes you feel good about your skin, but people with wrinkle issues will often go straight to this very involved step prior to trying much else. Too much Botox can leave skin looking unnatural or stiff, so it’s always best to spread out procedures and use it as a later step rather than initial.
  • Dermal fillers – Less intense than full Botox, dermal fillers still aren’t the best first step should you find a few lines or sagging here and there. Not only is it a little painful, they also wear off over time, making it more expensive and temporary than retinoids that change your skin from the inside out.
  • Microneedling – Most people are generally scared or resistant to the thought of needles, but that’s exactly what some will do to achieve youthful skin. Microneedling consists of rolling a tiny needle-covered roller across your skin to inflict little micro cuts. These will then heal up, stimulating new collagen growth and increased blood flow that will help remove fine lines, wrinkles, and such. While this can work for small surface issues, it also comes with a lot of risks, especially infection that can cause far bigger problems than a couple signs of age.

Despite being understandable measures for those who are very serious about reversing the signs of aging, they’re also actions that can have serious side effects and pain along the way. It’s always best to leave these as last resorts. Instead, opting for more conservative measures is the way to go. This can include retinoids, but it can also include something called “astaxanthin.” Astaxanthin is a carotenoid antioxidant that comes with a huge range of skin benefits like:

  • Improved skin smoothness
  • Increased skin elasticity and plumpness
  • A reduction of age spots, wrinkles, fine lines, and other common complaints
  • Dramatically increase skin moisture, making it healthier, more youthful looking, and brighter
  • Improved circulation

On top of this, astaxanthin can also have incredible effects on the rest of your health like decreasing blood pressure, decreasing oxidative stress, improving cholesterol numbers, and potentially even helping heart health.


The Bottom Line

Retinoids are a remarkably popular and effective class of skincare products. Most often used to combat typical signs of aging like fine lines, hyperpigmentation, skin texture changes, and more, it is a great first-line of defense in the war for clear, beautiful, young-looking skin. Daily dedication and proper product use go a long way in addressing these concerns, but sometimes people choose instead to go a more invasive route with fillers, microneedling, laser treatments, and more. While these are perfectly okay should you choose to opt for them, they should be used after trying retinoids, astaxanthin, and other less invasive options.

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