If you’ve noticed an increase in acne breakouts and fine lines since lockdown there’s a hero ingredient you might need on your side. And with more time indoors, low UV levels in winter and dramatic changes to our routine, using retinol could be the push your skin needs during a pandemic. I hadn’t used vitamin A products for almost 20 years (insert courses of oral isotretinoin and tretinoin cream here) but stubborn breakouts over the past few months have had me thinking of a retinoid comeback.
“A derivative of vitamin A, retinol can be found in many formulations such as serums, creams and lotions. Not only is it easy to incorporate into your daily routine, it is also clinically proven,” explains Dermatologist, Dr Philip Tong of this powerful ingredient that can have beneficial effects in acne and improve the visible signs of ageing.
“It helps to unblock pores and prevent the formation of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) in acne whilst also having a positive effect on collagen levels in skin, assisting with fine lines and acne scarring”
Dr Tong suggests that men and women in their late 20s and 30s can consider using an over the counter (OTC) product as most contain retinol and have between 0.5 to 1 per cent strength. However he advises it is also worthwhile looking for those that are ‘encapsulated’, “to facilitate delivery of the retinol to the right location in the skin and controlled release of the product”. A doctor or dermatologist should be consulted for prescription-grade retinoids where skin concerns are not improved with OTC products.
“Prescription grade tretinoin can either be compounded or prescribed ranging between 0.025 to 0.1 per cent here in Australia. It is often best to start on a lower concentration before moving higher. Sometimes, I compound the retinol with other ingredients to tailor the skincare product to the individual,” Dr Tong explains.
Hero ingredient yes, but retinol comes with warnings thanks to its ability to increase cell turnover in the skin. Dr Tong advises those who are prone to sensitive or dry skin consult their doctor before using retinol, that products should be used at night, and stopped a few days before and after procedures such as chemical peels or laser. Importantly, retinol causes photosensitivity in the skin so while it can easily become part of an overall skincare routine, use of a SPF50+ sunscreen is paramount.
Dr Philip Tong is Deputy Director of Research, The Skin Hospital, and Consultant Dermatologist, St Vincents Hospital