Are Retinols Getting Too Confusing?


Retinols are getting some serious attention at the moment and more and more products are emerging, which on one hand is great (plenty to choose from) but on the other hand is quite confusing because there are too many to choose from and more importantly there is a hierarchy to follow so you don’t want to go in at the deep end and even when you start off with a mild one, how long should you use it before moving on to a different one and again which one do you choose.

This is fine if you have a regular dermatologist that advises you or if you choose a particular brand (e.g. Medik8) where they have several products with differing strengths of retinol so you start with the lowest and work your way up to the highest. However, most brands don’t have this and so it can be a minefield to figure out what you should be using at any given time.

I only started using retinol about 2.5 years ago. I was late to the party, having already hit 40 when I should have started around the 30 mark. But luckily, thanks to good genes, I wasn’t too bad at all on the ageing process. The few fine lines that had started to appear did indeed disappear a couple of months after starting retinol. So, most definitely, it works. The evidence is out there. Retinol and SPF are the only two products that can claim to be anti-ageing. Anything else is a marketing ploy, and whilst may have many other benefits, they can’t claim to be anti-ageing.

I started getting a bit too obsessed with retinol, despite the fact that in the last 2.5 years I have only used one product. But retinol is everywhere, it’s being talked about all the time and new products are coming to the market at quite a fast pace. So I permanently ask myself am I using the right one - the one I am using is right up there on the pricier side of retinols and I know it is a fantastic one. But I am confused as to whether I should be moving on to the next level, which I have been advised by the brand I am using, would be to go prescription level. I just don’t know if I want to go to this level or not as it involves flaky aggravation and redness of the skin and I need to make sure that I am not attending any events while using it (flaky red skin is not attractive) and that it is not summer (skin is more sensitive to UV rays when using retinol, which is why you always need to use SPF when applying any retinol product). I’ve been allowing all of this to get into my head and confuse the life out of me.

So, from one retinol user to a potential other, my advice would be this:

1) Retinol is definitely a product that you should be using from about 30+ from an anti-ageing point of view - acne sufferers may already be using it prior to this.

2) Do your research before you buy anything. I jotted down lists of products before I settled on the one I choose. (Caroline Hirons is currently making videos on various retinol products based on their strength. It’s a great place to start if you are confused by these products).

3) Start with a low strength and work your way up the scale at your own pace.

4) At the beginning, use your product once a week to allow your skin to get used to it, then up this to twice a week and continue like this until you can tolerate it every night, if you wish to use it every night and the packaging tells you so.

5) Know that it can take up to 3 months to see the visible results. It’s a long term process. You don’t need to jump right in and go full on.

6) I personally haven’t moved onto to prescription retinol yet. Why? Because the one I am using is a perfectly effective and lovely product that has loads of other beautiful ingredients. I use Zelens Power A, £120 (which lasts me about 10 months at 5 times a week which is probably a lot longer than most products so I see it as great value for money, albeit bloody expensive!). I’m also not sure I want to take on the challenge of going through the side effects of prescription retinol. Having said that, if I start to see any wrinkles appear while I am using my current product I can’t say that I wouldn’t be tempted.

The upshot is that I have totally chilled out about retinol and stopped obsessing as to whether I should be moving on the the next level. According to Caroline Hirons videos, mine is in the ‘0.5% (ish)’ group, which is higher than beginners and intermediate level products and before you hit prescription level. Bear in mind this is the product I started with so it can depend on what other ingredients there are in your product as to how your skin will react. As a side note I had no reaction at all to this product at the beginning. I kind of jumped right in but only because this is a very gentle product, despite being very effective.

I am happily going to continue using the only retinol product I have ever used because it is a fabulous product and it delivers on results. I can’t ask for more than that.