The Most Common Retinoid Myths: Debunked

We’re positive you’ve all been subject to the odd beauty myth in your time. You know, when the realization hits you that chocolate does NOT give you acne, or that cutting your hair really DOESN’T make it grow faster…

We’re all smart women, but when you hear these ‘facts’ enough times and you read the same thing time and time again in the glossies, it’s hard not to believe them. We get that – and apologies on behalf of our beauty editor counterparts who may have unknowingly deceived you over the years…

So, let’s talk retinoids. Backed by over 25 years of clinical research, and proven – hands down – to improve skin concerns such as scarring, acne, fine lines, wrinkles and discoloration, when it comes to the ins and outs of the ‘r’ word, frankly there’s a whole lotta guff out there.

Here, we try to dispel a few of the myths in order for you to make the most of this skin-loving ingredient. Because, frankly it should be a must in practically everyone’s treatment plan

Myth #1: Tretinoin Is Better Than Retinol

Yes and no. But first, let’s get back to basics so we understand the difference. Tretinoin is the topical form of retinoic acid (the active form of vitamin A) and has the ability to activate specific genes to stimulate the skin to turnover more efficiently. Yes, it’s seen as the gold standard of retinoids, but some patients simply cannot tolerate it… which is where retinol comes into the equation. Retinol is a precursor of retinoic acid and has to go through two steps within the skin before it becomes retinoic acid. As a result of this processing, retinol doesn’t create as many side effects as tretinoin, making it gentler on the skin and the darling of many anti-aging products. If your skin is strong and tolerant to active ingredients, then yes tretinoin will be more effective. If you’re of a sensitive persuasion, retinol is a far better choice.

Myth #2: Sensitive Skin Should Avoid Retinoids Like The Plague

Absolutely not (see above), anyone can use a retinoid treatment –­ it’s simply a case of speaking to your doctor or derm to find the right one…

“Knowing what your skin will tolerate is not easy,” explains Walnut Creek-based facial plastic surgeon, Dr. Haena Kim.

“This is why you should always get advice from a board-certified physician before diving in head first and potentially doing more harm than good.”

Speak to your dermatologist if you’re worried, because there are plenty of low-concentration retinols out there that offer proven, visible results with little or no irritation. Don’t believe us? Then try PCA Skin R-OH Retinol Solutions Intensive Age Refining Treatment: 0.5% Pure Retinol Night which contains a patented delivery system called Omnisome. This system reduces irritation by allowing the active ingredients to slowly penetrate through the layers of the skin rather than forcing it to sit on the top for hours where it can cause sensitivity, redness and peeling.

Myth #3: Never Apply Retinoids Around The Eyes

Fact: most retinoids can be applied sparingly under the eyes with very little concern. The problem is that because the skin around the eyes is thin, fragile and prone to dryness, retinoids can make all of these things worse before they get better – especially if you have sensitive skin. Our advice? Always speak to your derm about whether the skin around your eyes can tolerate it. And if so, apply a hyaluronic acid-rich eye cream in the morning to replace lost moisture. Try Jan Marini C-ESTA Eye Repair Concentrate.

Myth #4: Retinoids Do Not Make Your Skin Sun-Sensitive

This is nonsense and any derm trying to convince you otherwise should be ashamed of themselves (ps: you won’t find them on HintMD). Retinoids are proven to maximize cell turnover, therefore replacing old skin cells with fresh, new ones. New skin that’s never been exposed to sunlight is surely more prone to sunburn, right? Right.

“Even though retinoids are generally applied at night, people should be very cautious about their length of sun exposure because sun sensitivity can be a real issue if sunblock isn’t worn regularly,” warns Dr. Kim.

Stay skin-safe by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily (yes, even in winter) and if you’re planning to spend long periods of time in the sun, ensure you reapply regularly and protect the skin on your face with a broad-rimmed hat. We love SkinCeuticals Physical Matte UV Defense Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50.

Myth #5: Retinoids Should Never Be Applied To Damp Skin

Contrary to popular opinion there is no evidence to prove that if you apply a retinoid to damp skin it exacerbates irritation or renders the active ingredient more or less effective. Experts at ZO Skin Health, however, do recommend applying retinoids to dry skin, simply to ensure an even coverage.

“With any post-cleansing treatment, it’s typically recommended that each layer you apply to the skin should dry before the next layer is applied. Therefore the skin is mostly dry prior to application. Otherwise there is no data on wet vs. dry,” they explain.

Myth #6: If Your Skin Flares Up, You Should Stop Using Retinoids Immediately

A bit of skin irritation is all part of the process, so don’t worry if your skin becomes slightly dry, flaky or red when you first introduce a retinoid into your beauty plan.

“Just remember to start with a slow, step-wise introduction,” advises Dr. Kim.

“I advise my patients to apply their retinoid treatment every other night for a week or two, and if there are no signs of serious irritation or concerning side effects, only then should they increase to nightly usage,” she adds.

However, if your skin is really uncomfortable and super-dry, speak to your aesthetic physician about switching to a weaker, less concentrated retinol product. Pain is never a good thing.

Written by: Georgia Gould