Retinol: The Ultimate Team Player

January 08 2021

We all know retinol gets a bad rap sometimes. It’s definitely one of those slightly intimidating ingredients to work into your daily skincare routine if you’ve never used it before. What does it play well with? And what does it absolutely hate to be combined with? How do we use it without flaking our face off? Phew, so many questions. Good thing our Global Director of Education, Ryan Nelson, is here to answer them:

Ryan, you are our Ingredient King with your wealth of skincare knowledge here at Peace Out. So it’s only appropriate for us to start by asking what exactly is retinol? 

To put it simply, retinol is a derivative of vitamin A and is basically the gold standard when it comes to helping with aging concerns - and “aging” means something a little different to everyone, right? Fine lines/wrinkles, adult acne, discolorations, texture concerns and so on - retinol will help address all of it! Since our bodies can’t naturally produce vitamin A itself, we absorb it in our diet through certain proteins and veggies (like sweet potatoes and kale!) and while that can definitely help keep your skin looking and feeling great, applying it topically with something like retinol is a game changer. 

So is a retinoid different from retinol?

Yes and no! Retinoids are more of the overarching classification of vitamin A derivatives, retinol being one of them. It’s kind of like when you look at your family tree, right? There’s a commonality in having the same last name (like Nelson for example) but there’s different familial groups, different personalities, looks, characteristics etc. At the end of the day, it’s about the conversion into retinoic acid - which is what helps with those skin concerns I mentioned above. Most associate the word retinoid with prescriptions that are all-trans retinoic acid and tend to be irritating with side effects because they begin to work ASAP - retinol on the other hand has to convert, so while it may take a little longer to see the desired results, you’re avoiding a lot of the negative side effects.

What are the best ingredients or products to combine retinol with?

This comes down to the individual and what their skin needs really but in my opinion you can never go wrong with some gentle hydrators like hyaluronic acid and antioxidants like vitamin C - they can be super complimentary to retinol. Vitamin C and Vitamin A really like each other, it’s just about starting slow - work your way up to both if you’re new to using active ingredients or look for gentle derivatives. Slow and steady wins the race! As for products, you’ll find a lot of serums and treatments with these ingredients specifically but even starting with a moisturizer that contains one can be a great start - most tend to find them a little easier to begin with because they’re partnered with a lot of moisturizing, and often soothing, agents.

What ingredients or products, under any circumstances, are absolutely NOT OKAY to mix retinol with?

We tend to get a little excitable with anti-aging or even anti-acne ingredients and put our skin through the ringer - I’ve been there too, BELIEVE ME. I think it’s the expectation of instant gratification that has us piling on retinol, acids, astringents, etc. all at once and then wondering why we’re bright red, peeling or can’t touch our face without wincing. Again, some have a better tolerance than others and can combine a lot of these successfully but for most, I’d alternate your actives and find a happy median. For example, alpha hydroxy acids and retinol at the same time can be irritating and disruptive to skin for some, so maybe using one a couple days a week, take a break and then the other for the remaining could be a good option. I never want to say “never” but many derms and medical professionals will tell you that benzoyl peroxide and retinol have been shown to cancel eachother out so that’s one combo I’d recommend steering clear from. For those who are acne prone, salicylic acid is a great option to rotate in, and found in our healing dots AND serum.

What’s the easiest way to incorporate retinol into our skincare routine -  especially if we’ve never used it before? (Eek! So scared.) 

Start slow and look to see what type it is and other ingredients it’s partnered with! A treatment step is a great start because it’s a bit more targeted and specific. Retinol vs a prescription retinoid is going to be your friend because it’s gentler -  especially encapsulated retinol which is what we use in our Retinol Eye Stick. Encapsulating helps control the amount of the ingredient that’s released into your skin at once, like a carrier system wrapped in a hug lol.  If you’re on the dryer side, look for hydrators and moisturizing agents like hyaluronic acid, squalane and oils (if you’re a fan of them) etc. 

How can we apply it for the best results?

Evening use on clean, dry skin is a great bet whether it’s in the form of a treatment or infused into your moisturizer. With our Retinol Eye Stick (RES) for example, I like to cleanse my face, go in with RES and allow it to absorb for a bit while I brush my teeth, then go in with facial serums and moisturizer. Easy. Just remember that not everyone’s skin or routine is 100% identical, so it’s ok to customize - for example, if you’re using a retinol serum and want to buffer it a bit with something like a hyaluronic acid serum or moisturizing oil, that’s ok too - it’s about finding what feels good on your skin and works for your needs specifically.

What I love most about retinol is it’s versatility. If you’re looking to prevent the signs of aging from coming on quicker: it will help. If you’re looking to maintain smooth, youthful-looking skin: it will help. And if you’re looking to refine the concerns I keep mentioning like wrinkles, texture etc. guess what: it will help.

Any other helpful tips?

  • Be patient and consistent! While retinol (vs. prescription) may take a little longer to achieve the results you’re looking for, it also means you’re avoiding some of the not-so-nice side effects of something stronger and more aggressive.
  • Always, I repeat ALWAYS, wear SPF! Yes, we recommend using retinol at night before you go to sleep but when you wake up in the morning, ensure you’re adding SPF as the last step in your skincare routine. After all, you’re probably using a retinol to prevent or help treat some of the effects caused by the sun so let’s not start it all over again!
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