Vitamin A–derived retinoids are the gold standard for smoothing, firming and evening out skin — that’s why finding the best retinoid cream for your skin can be a game-changer. But that’s not all this anti-aging ingredient can do!
“It turns out the formerly prescription-only ingredient can also clear acne, moisturize skin, and reduce sensitivity,” says Beverly Hills dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D. But with so many strengths and formulas available, the key to reaping all the beauty benefits is choosing the best retinoid cream based on your skin type. The caveat: It takes about a month for side effects like redness and flaking to subside, so starting now will ensure you’re looking flawless for the holiday season.
Whether your skin is sensitive, oily, or dry, there’s a retinoid cream that will work for you. Just be sure to follow these three tips from Dr. Shamban in order to maximize this age-defier’s beautiful results without causing skin irritation:
Avoid these: When using a vitamin A–infused product, steer clear of chemical and physical exfoliants (they can cause skin irritation) as well as benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C, which can “cancel out” retinoids’ age-reversing abilities.
Use SPF every day: Retinoids can make skin more sensitive to the sun, so you make sure you protect yourself with a good sunscreen.
Start slow: Apply a pea-size amount twice a week before bed (sunlight can interfere with retinoids’ efficacy), and gradually work up to three times a week — eventually applying the cream nightly. This allows skin to adjust to this potent ingredient.
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Oil-producing hormones ramp up again in our 40s and on, bringing the breakouts of years past back with a vengeance. To the rescue: adapalene! Originally used to treat acne, this form of retinoid packs a one-two punch for those who struggle with hormonal blemishes as well as aging skin, says Dr. Shamban. That’s because it helps slow down the process of hyperkeratinization, which is when skin-shedding goes into overdrive and clogs pores with pimple-causing oil, dirt, and bacteria. “Regulating this abnormal cell turnover is key to keeping pores clear, stopping new pimples from forming and restoring balance to skin,” says Dr. Shamban. What’s more, adapalene is more powerful than other forms of vitamin A because it’s already active when slathered onto skin (as opposed to going through a conversion process once applied), so it increases collagen production quickly for a more youthful complexion in no time.
While all forms of retinoids are drying, already-parched skin can benefit from them, says Dr. Shamban. Simply opt for a cream with both retinol (the most common form of retinoid) and hyaluronic acid. As retinol forces skin cells to turn over fast (which is what causes dryness and flaking), ultra-hydrating hyaluronic acid draws moisture back into skin, counteracting retinol’s drying effects without reducing its potency and increasing skin’s moisture levels over time.
Prone to rosacea or redness? You may have heard that you should steer clear of retinoids, but you can use them — just opt for retinyl palmitate. “It’s the gentlest option because it has to be converted three times by enzymes in our skin in order to become retinoic acid, the active ingredient that triggers new cell growth and collagen production,” says Dr. Shamban. “The slower process makes it more tolerable for sensitive skin.” And a cream that’s also infused with soothing chamomile and aloe calms any redness and inflammation.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.