The Difference Between Retinoids, AHAs And Antioxidants

So many skincare products claim to treat wrinkles, it’s downright mind-boggling. And, in your quest to find the best physician-grade products for you, you’re likely to encounter three anti-aging super-powers over and over again: retinoids, alpha-hydroxy acids and antioxidants.

Let’s get better acquainted with them, shall we?

What Are Retinoids?

Retinoids, like Renova and Retin-A (tretinoin), are vitamin A derivatives that work to topically target concerns like wrinkles, sun damage, hyperpigmentation and milia (small white bumps that form like little cysts when dead skin gets trapped below the skin’s surface). Retin-A works by increasing collagen synthesis as well as epidermal thickness. Clinical studies show that Retin-A only yields minor visible improvements on deep wrinkles (think laugh lines or crow’s feet), and that it’s most efficient for smoothing fine lines, reducing age spots, improving skin’s overall surface texture, decreasing pore size and giving the skin a radiant, rosy glow. Careful though. Used in excess, that rosy glow can turn to a stripped, shiny appearance, particularly on the forehead.

Fact: Retin-A can take between two and six months to show results, and during the first few weeks of use can cause itching, dryness, redness, burning or peeling. Kind of annoying but this usually clears up. Additionally, the skin becomes more sensitive to sunlight and easily burns so wearing sunscreen becomes an important part of treatment.

However, Retin-A is no longer your only choice of vitamin A treatment now that retinols have entered the skincare game. Retinol is a natural form of vitamin A that formerly could not be stabilized into cream form because it was too easily broken down by ultraviolet radiation. Manufacturers claim to have solved that problem and many retinol creams are now sold over the counter. On the bright side, they cause fewer side effects than Retin-A and are a suitable alternative for people with sensitivity to retinoids.

Try: SkinMedica Retinol Complex 0.25

What Are Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)?

Add AHA to your list of buzzed-about acronyms right next to LBD and OMG. Alpha-hydroxy acids exfoliate the top layer of skin cells, encouraging new skin to grow while also stimulating elastin and collagen production. Most over-the-counter AHA creams contain glycolic acid, the same ingredient found in superficial chemical peels, but in much lower, gentler concentrations ranging from 2 to 10 percent. Over-the-counter options are meant for daily use while prescription-strength creams (available in 12 percent or more) or doctor-administered peels (about 30 to 70 percent) should be used less frequently. Side-effects can include itching, burning and in rare cases, scarring, but reactions vary based on sensitivity of the skin and most people report no problems. Like retinoids, if you use AHAs you should always wear sunscreen, even if your only exposure involves walking from the car to the grocery store. The sun is gonna getcha.

Try: SkinCeuticals C + AHA

What Are Antioxidants?

The whole story behind antioxidants is they prevent damage to the skin caused by free radicals. The slings and arrows of our environment. Free radicals are unstable atoms or groups of atoms that attempt to stabilize themselves by snatching an electron from a nearby molecule. The molecule is then destabilized and must rob an electron from another molecule, starting a chain reaction. Crazy, right? It’s a little hard to understand at first, but all you really need to know is the process damages cells, including epidermal cells – and that’s what you see in the mirror every day. Antioxidants may protect against free radical damage by putting the smackdown on the chain reaction. Exposure to sunlight reduces antioxidants in the skin, so antioxidant face creams aim to replace them. These creams also reduce wrinkles and thicken the skin.

Try: Jan Marini Antioxidant Recover E Face Cream

Now who’s ready for a skincare trivia quiz?