The Skin Care Ingredient Every Woman Needs to Start Using in Her 20s
Retinol. I first discovered the word when flipping through Jean Godfrey June’s memoir, Free Gift With Purchase. The author (and fellow beauty editor) touted retinol as the ultimate anti-aging miracle worker. Slather it on at night and emerge with glowier, smoother skin in the morning (thanks to its reported ability to prevent dullness, promote plump, firm skin, and minimize lines).
I glossed over this section rather quickly, thinking I would cross the retinol bridge sometime in my mid- to late 30s, when the crow’s-feet and laugh lines would begin to emerge. Cue my 26th birthday several months later, when I noticed a few fine lines around the eye area. Not full-on crow’s-feet so much as the suggestion of them—creases that became even more prominent when I smiled. Was it too much sun and not enough sunscreen? Spotty application of eye cream? Hours spent squinting at my iPhone? Too many nights spent asleep in a full face of makeup? I blame all of the above.
After freaking out and cursing myself for not being more diligent about skin care, I remembered Godfrey June’s mention of retinol and began to stockpile anything containing the ingredient from the Glamour beauty closet. Before I dipped into my stash, however, I wanted to make sure that 26 was a good age to start. After all, retinol’s side effects can include flaking, dryness, and increased sensitivity to the sun, which means impeccable sunscreen application is a must. In other words, the stuff is potent, and it’s not like trying a new lipstick; it’s a commitment. I reached out to Scottsdale, Arizona dermatologist Jennifer Linder, M.D., who gave me the rundown on the right age for retinol: Her advice for me? Start, and start now. She explains:
What Retinol Really Is
“Retinol is vitamin A. When it comes in contact with the skin, it converts to retinoic acid, which increases cell turnover and allows new cells to rise to the surface,” says Dr. Linder. “Retinols do thin the epidermis [the topmost layer of skin], but they thicken the dermis [the deeper layer], which is what makes skin appear full and glowing. It’s truly a powerhouse ingredient that reduces wrinkles, discoloration, and even keeps acne in check. Retinol is my number one anti-aging ingredient I recommend to all my patients. And in your 20s, retinol should really be part of everyone’s nighttime routine.”
How to Find the Right Retinol for Your Skin Type
“Generally, look for 0.5-percent stabilized retinol at first—it’s an optimal percentage to minimize fine lines without irritation,” advises Dr. Linder. “And look for products designed for your issue. For dull, discolored skin, I recommend PCA Skin Intensive Brightening Treatment: 0.5% Pure Retinol Night. The Intensive Clarity Treatment: 0.5% Pure Retinol Night works perfectly for those fighting breakouts, and the brand’s Intensive Age Refining Treatment: 0.5% Pure Retinol Night works on improving fine lines and wrinkles.”
When to Use Retinol
“Retinol should only be used at night and should be applied to clean skin before applying a nighttime moisturizer in order to counteract the drying effects of retinol,” she says. “I recommend people start with only a few nights a week and work up to every evening or however many nights their skin can tolerate. For optimal effects, you should really use it at least three nights a week.”
Since getting the intel from Dr. Linder, I’ve begun using the stuff three times a week, and it’s now as essential to my nighttime routine as a tube of toothpaste (I stick with Shani Darden Retinol Reform, which is a godsend). After layering it on consistently for the past six months, the fine lines around my eyes have diminished, and the pesky acne spots around my cheeks and forehead have almost disappeared.
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