Why You Should Start Using Retinol in Your 20s (Really!)
Like most beauty enthusiasts, I’m a firm believer that everyone should be using retinol in their skin-care routine. Why, you ask? Let me count the ways. Retinol boasts a long list of skin-care benefits, from promoting cellular turnover on skin’s surface to helping with the appearance of acne and improving some of the early signs of aging on skin’s surface, to name a few.
When I was first prescribed retinol at the dermatologist’s office, it was because I was suddenly experiencing hormonal acne. My dermatologist prescribed me a retinoid product to start using as part of my evening skin-care routine to help clear up the breakouts. Fast forward a few months, and to no one’s surprise except mine, the severity of my breakouts and my skin’s appearance were starting to look really, really good again. You could consider me converted right then and there — I was convinced everyone should be using retinol.
But a quick poll of my social circle — and basically anyone else who would listen — revealed that most people thought of retinol as a product you should use when you’re older to help fight the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, not as a preventative measure or to help fight adult acne. According to my friends, the thought of using retinol in their 20s was practically unheard of.
To dig a little deeper on this topic and find out why, from a professional’s opinion, I reached out to board-certified New York City-based dermatologist and Skincare.com consultant, Dendy Engelman, MD.
Determining exactly what age you should start using retinol is a tricky question, says Dr. Engelman. “Some patients start using retinol earlier to combat some acne issues, others I advise to start later to address some of the signs of aging,” she says. “Timing depends on what skin concern we are targeting. By and large, most people notice that the appearance of their skin improves on a retinol type product. I would say mid to late 20s is perfectly reasonable to start a retinol product.”
The reason retinol is regarded as such a superstar in the skin-care world is because of its ability to improve the skin’s appearance in numerous ways. “Retinoic acid (retinol/retinoid) is an extremely effective cell-communicating ingredient that has the ability to connect to almost any skin cell receptor site and tell it to behave like a healthy, younger skin cell,” says Dr. Engelman. “As we age, our body naturally loses vitamin A, which acts as a hormone in the body. Retinol, the active form of vitamin A in the body, and especially retinoic acid work to increase surface cell turnover, improve the appearance of discoloration on skin’s surface, hydrate skin and reduce the appearance of acne.
The main benefit that younger retinol users could experience is increased surface cell turnover to help address clogged pores, isolated incidents of redness on the skin's surface and the appearance of acne. “Retinol works to control cell turnover on the skin's surface, allowing older, dead cells to shed and normalizing the turnover rate for new surface cells to help prevent them from clogging pores,” says Dr. Engelman. “The active ingredient adapalene, a vitamin A derivative, helps with the treatment of acne.”
As you start to notice the early onset of fine lines on your forehead and around your eyes in your mid to late 20s, retinol can help reduce their appearance over time with continued use.
“Retinol functions like an antioxidant, which have been shown to help interrupt the free-radical damage process that causes wrinkling and other signs of aging,” continues Dr. Engelman. “With continued usage of this ingredient over time, you could see an improvement in the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, tone and texture, as it helps to strengthen the skin barrier.”
If you’re nervous that your skin won’t be able to tolerate retinol, there are plenty of variations to choose from, such as eye creams and night creams made with the ingredient to prescription-strength that you get through a dermatologist.
“Skin does become tolerant to the initial effects of retinols and retinoids over time, so even sensitive skin can be ‘trained’ to tolerate these vitamin A derivatives,” says Dr. Engelman.
For someone who is new to retinol, the key to incorporating it into your daily skin-care routine is to start slow. “Start with once a week and increase frequency if no skin issues arise,” Dr. Engelman advises. It’s also important to note that the use of retinol can increase your skin’s sensitivity to sun. Be sure to apply it only at night and apply SPF every day.