A-plus skin

TRACEY STRANGE
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2013
Retinol A

L-R: Shiseido Benefiance Wrinkle Lifting Concentrate, $121; Bernard Cassiere Anti-Ageing Red Berries Care, $93.80; Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Eye Cream, $39.99; Chantecaille Retinol Intense, $206. Top: Murad Time Release Concentrate for Deep Wrinkles, $125 (L) abd Environ Hydrating Oil Capsules, $130.

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Makeup & Skincare

Beauty trend: Marvellous matte Splurge or steal? CC Creams Get your glitz on all night long An honest makeup tutorial Lost in translation Pencil-case beauty tools Budget beauty tips of the stars All eyes on you: eyes to envy Great or gimmick? Spray-on moisturiser Power up your shower

There are women out there who know what adenosine is. They can talk as knowledgeably about alkyloamides as they can aloe vera. But they don't come to dinner at my place.

My friends are more likely to think of "Eureka!" moments than exfoliants if they see the letters AHA. And this is the way it should be. You want your moisturiser to be effective; gaining a BSc in order to understand how it works is above and beyond the call of beauty.

Science-based skincare rarely comes cheap. You can expect to pay $100-plus for an anti-ageing serum from a brand
that considers itself to be entry-level prestige. True prestige can cost upwards of $300.

Price is certainly not the only indicator of efficacy - great products exist at both ends of the price spectrum. But, generally, cost is influenced by the quality of ingredients, access to the latest technological advances and the feel-good factor luxury brands promote so well.

It is also determined by the wonder-workers, those glittering ingredients Their worth can, and always will, Photographs: 123RF, supplied that promise to make old skin new again.

Potent antioxidants, peptides, real pearls - the list of expensive miracle ingredients is extensive. be debated. But there is an antioxidant that can seriously claim gold-standard status.

It isn't new, it isn't sexy, but it's still a superstar. It's called retinol, or vitamin A.

First introduced into skincare 40 or so years ago under the brand name Retin-A, retinol is the name of the type of vitamin A commonly used in over-the-counter anti-ageing products.

Gentler than retinoic acid (found in prescription skincare) but gruntier than the pro-retinols (retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate and retinyl linoleate), retinol is one of the world's best-researched skincare ingredients.

Why? Because it works.

When retinol is applied to the skin, it breaks down into retinoic acid, a compound that can interrupt the free-radical chain of events that causes skin to wrinkle. Known as a cell-communicating ingredient, it will join up with almost any skin cell and start instructing it to behave like a healthy, young one.

This bossy behaviour is exactly what we want; healthy cells don't give in to wrinkles, blotches and sagginess.

BUT WON'T RETINOIDS MAKE MY SKIN MORE SENSITIVE TO THE SUN?

For years, topical retinoids were thought to increase the skin's vulnerability to UVs. But while the ingredient itself is sensitive to sunlight - it degrades when exposed to light - it won't make you more prone to burn.

The redness experienced by some when out in the sun is likely to be related to heat exposure. And, in fact, newish
research shows that when combined with UV exposure, retinoids may actually prevent the rise of collagenase
(the enzyme that breaks down collagen), stopping photo-ageing before it starts.

Regardless, always wear a sunscreen with an SPF30 or greater when out in the sun.

WILL RETINOL MAKE ME ALL RED AND FLUSHED?

Those familiar with vitamin A products know that they can make your skin slightly flushed and drier than usual.

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This usually goes away after two to three weeks. If you are worried you can ease into it, applying a retinol cream every second or third night for three weeks.

This should calm any symptoms and allow your skin cells to adapt to the retinoic acid. If it's still irritated after three weeks, either discontinue or switch to a gentler product. Most people can tolerate retinol but a few can't - those with super sensitive or rosacea-prone skin, for example. It is also unwise to use vitamin A if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE UNTIL I SEE RESULTS?

Months. As much as we might like immediate gratification when it comes to wrinkles, few skin care products deliver instantly. What you are looking for are benefits that start deep within the skin - at a cellular level - and it takes time for those benefits to show.

You may notice a difference sooner - and many off-the-shelf products do claim noticeable results in weeks - but you will be one of the lucky ones.

CAN I USE A RETINOID TWICE A DAY AND AROUND MY EYES?

It does depend a little on how your skin tolerates the amount, or strength, of retinol in your product. Generally, apply retinol once a day, and it can be used on the neck and around the eye area. (If retinol gets in your eyes it will sting but won't cause damage.) It's also often recommended that retinoids be applied to dry skin to maximise potency, but
efficacy is related to how your skin responds to it.

It mainly comes down to your own personal chemistry and how good you are at converting retinol into retinoic acid.

CAN'T I JUST USE AN EXFOLIATOR?

You can - and some of the results will be the same. An exfoliant will polish the skin and make it glow. Over time, retinol will also make the skin look fresher and younger and will help control blemishes. But they aren't exactly the same thing. A good exfoliator will remove dead skin cells and stimulate skin turnover, whereas retinol actually affects or regulates the healthy behaviour of living cells.

There is also evidence that combining retinol with an AHA exfoliant significantly improves its effectiveness.

IS RETINOL THE BEST ANTI-AGEING INGREDIENT?

It isn't all you need. When it comes to skincare, there's no one all-encompassing uber agent. But combined with a good cleanser, a gentle exfoliant and a moisturising serum or cream loaded with antioxidants, it certainly is one
of your best shots at making your skin look younger.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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