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What Are Retinoids? Plus, How To Find The Perfect One for Your Skin Type

You've probably heard about the skincare benefits of retinol, which continues to be a buzzy topic in the beauty world. However, when you throw retinoids into the mix, it can all get a bit confusing. It's important to note the two are similar but not the same product. With help from a few dermatologists, we take a closer look at retinoids in particular, plus give you some retinoid product suggestions to consider for your skin type. (Of course, we recommend speaking with a dermatologist or your doctor before introducing a new product to your skincare regimen.)

Retinol vs. Retinoids: What's the Difference?

Although retinol and retinoids are both derivatives of vitamin A, they are not identical. "Retinol is one of the most usable forms of vitamin A because it absorbs quickly and easily into our skin. Retinol is a bit more gentle, while retinoids are stronger, but more effective over time," Joyce Park, a board-certified dermatologist practicing in the Bay Area, tells Lively.

"A retinol is the over-the-counter version of a retinoid. Retinols contain lower concentrations of the retinoid. This means it will not give you the same effect as a prescription version," adds Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist and the assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine.

what are retinoids

How Do Retinoids Work?

In short, retinoids help our skin cells to turnover. "Due to the exfoliation process that your skin goes through when using retinoids, the skin's collagen ... They also unclog pores, therefore reducing blemish outbreaks. Some are over-the-counter and some can only be prescribed," says Jaliman. "Studies have shown that topical application of retinoids results in new collagen formation and increased epidermal thickness, as well as clinical improvement in wrinkling, dark spots, rough skin, and skin texture," adds Park.

Some choose retinoids to treat blemishes, while others use it for wrinkles. "If you are applying retinoids for wrinkles, it'll take about a year or so to really see results worth raving about. For acne, typically good results come within 3-6 months,**” says Jaliman. Park adds that you should gradually introduce retinoids into your regimen and expect to see "some peeling and redness during the first few weeks."


How do you use retinoids?

Our experts have some handy tips to keep in mind when it comes to retinoid application. For one, Jaliman notes there's a greater chance of irritation when using two strong exfoliators at the same time.

"This can leave your skin inflamed and sensitive. You should avoid mixing retinoid products with products that have acids such as alpha-hydroxy (glycolic and lactic), and beta-hydroxy acids, also known as salicylic acid. You can still use the products, but you should apply them at them different times.

"Products with acids can be used during the daytime and retinoids at night," she explains. She also notes that using a sunscreen is key, as the skin is more prone to sunburn when being treated with retinoids.

Park tells Lively retinoids are safe for long-term application, as long as you are not pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive. Different skin types will also be effected differently, so be sure to check with your doctor and stop if any irritation occurs. Park adds that she personally cuts her use to only twice a week in the winter to give her skin a break.

"If I kept using retinoids daily during wintertime, my whole face would be very scaly and red!" It's worthwhile to take a break from retinoids for one week prior to any procedure on your face, "like waxing or cosmetic lasers, for example," says Nava Greenfield of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn, New York. 


what are retinoids

What are good retinoid products to use?

Retinoids aren't one-size-fits-all. What type of retinoid you use depends on your skin type and needs. Here, we break it down with derm suggestions for each skin type.

Lively Note: Many of these products are prescription-only. You should consult with your derm or doctor before switching up your skincare routine and discontinue use of any product that causes irritation.

Normal Skin

"If your skin is normal there are so many to choose from," says Greenfield. (Though it make take some experimenting to find what works for you.) She suggests that a great product to try for normal skin is Replenix Retinol 5X Regenerate Dry Serum.

Dry Skin

"For dry skin, you will need more emollients in the product and perhaps a weaker retinoid such as Differin," says Greenfield. She tells Lively that another option you can try is using products typically suggested for "normal" skin (such as those above) and mix with a heavy emollient before applying.

Oily Skin

When it comes to combating oily skin, both Jaliman and Greenfield mention a stronger retinoid would be ideal, such as prescription-only Retin-a-micro 0.8%. 

Combination Skin

"The great part about retinoids is that they can help give your combination skin a more even complexion. If this is the case, use a retinoid geared toward a normal skin type and apply more moisturizer on the parts that are dry," says Greenfield.

Sensitive Skin

"For sensitive skin, I do recommend a retinol product which is not as drying or irritating. You will not get the same effect as the retinoid, but you may be able to tolerate it much better," explains Greenfield. She suggests Retinol Treatment for Sensitive Skin by PCA Skin.

Jaliman also suggests NeoCutis NOUVELLE + Retinol Correction Cream as a good option. "It is suitable for all skin types, but very good for sensitive skin because it has bisabolol which helps to soothe irritation. It also has a low concentration of retinoid in a special formulation which will lessen skin irritation," she explains.

Vital Note: This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Your licensed healthcare professional can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen. 

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