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The retinol revival

Re-exploring the tried-and-true skincare hero, plus three tips to get the most out of it

Published On: 11/04/18

Don’t worry — this isn’t an acid flashback.

Beauty trends like feathered hair, pastel eyeshadow, tanning oil and retinol defined the 1970s. We know now that fads tend to work in cycles, rising from the ashes every few decades like a fashionable phoenix. Retinol is one of those trends that has climbed its way back up from a long slump. If you’re not into the scraggy mullets and burnt-orange tans of the 70s, we totally understand, but retinol has a better case for reemergence.

“Retinol is really one of the gold standards in anti-aging,” says Philip Ludwig, Technical Service Specialist at BASF.

“Everyone is familiar with retinol. It’s known to be very good for reducing wrinkles on the skin.”

Though retinol had its heyday in the 1970s, Ludwig says there has lately been renewed interest in the gold standard. “People are starting to recognize again that it’s a very good anti-aging product,” he explains.

As a vitamin A derivative, retinol works in two primary ways: by promoting collagen production and increasing cell turnover.

“Collagen production tends to decrease with age — basically, the less collagen you have, the more wrinkles you have,” Ludwig says. “Retinol has been shown to increase collagen production, so you can fill those lines and wrinkles.”

The product also increases cell turnover, which helps gets rid of older skin cells. Think of it as a more intense form of exfoliation, almost like a chemical peel.

“As you get older, your cells become sluggish and they don’t want to replicate as quickly as they used to,” Ludwig explains. “If you increase cell turnover, you have these younger cells coming to the surface of the skin, giving your skin a better look of radiance and luminosity.”

Sounds great, so why did it go out of style? It’s possible that retinol lost some of its initial popularity because of potential side-effects, like irritation and redness. What many people don’t know is that you can avoid or counteract these side effects with proper usage of the product.

Now that the brand is back in vogue, it’s time for a little bit of myth-busting. Here’s what you need to learn in your retinol reeducation.

Use it at any age

One of the common misconceptions about retinol is that it is used almost exclusively for anti-aging. While it’s often targeted towards people in middle age and older, some beauty authorities insist you should start using it in your twenties as a preventive measure.

If you’re a 31-year-old sitting there thinking you’ve wasted precious time, don’t worry. Retinol increases cell turnover and exfoliates the skin, so it’s beneficial for a wide range of skin concerns at any age — whether that’s acne in your teens or wrinkles in middle age. In other words, you can use it whenever you damn well please, and you’ll still see results.

Build up your tolerance

If skin sensitivity is one of your concerns and you’re using retinol for the first time, you might consider starting off with lower concentrations. Retinol is available in a variety of different concentrations, including 10 and 15 percent as well as 50, 60 and 70 percent.

The lower concentrations are still effective and may be better suited to sensitive skin. Try starting yourself off with a pea-sized amount of a 10 percent formula for a few months, and then gradually increase the dose over time for better results.

From old hat to gold standard

With those misconceptions out of the way, there’s no time like the present to revisit this super-effective skincare blast from the past. You may still think of retinol as your grandma’s skin cream, and that’s totally valid — but it’s also your mom’s, your aunt’s, your little sister’s, probably not your dog’s, and maybe cousin Trevor’s because he’s always had fabulous skin.

I mean, it’s been around this long for a reason, right?

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