Our resident beauty columnist, Ava Welsing-Kitcher, is ready to answer all your questions
I asked myself this very question when I embarked on my own before Christmas. Despite being a beauty expert, all the types and percentages confused me, so for this, I’ve enlisted the amazing Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe (aka Skndoctor) to share her skincare gems on what she calls “the ultimate anti-ageing elixir” for all skin tones. Its multifaceted skills for skin include fading hyperpigmentation, smoothing texture, balancing oil production and rebuilding collagen, but your skin needs time and patience to adjust to it and all its potencies. We commonly call it retinol, which is actually just one type of many retinoids. Retinaldehyde is very potent, much more so than just retinol, while retinyl palmitate is the weakest. “Retinoids all come from vitamin A, but some, like tretinoin, are so strong, they’re over-the-counter only,” explains Dr Ewoma. “Granactive retinoid is another option which has all the wrinkle-reducing benefits but is less likely to irritate skin.” There’s so much more detail we could go into, but we don’t want to get too lost in the science. Scroll on for everything you’ll ever need to know, and our expert-approved options for wherever you may be in your journey.
“The earliest age to introduce retinol into your routine is in your late twenties,” advises Dr Ewoma. “Start with a low percentage at 0.1%, gradually work your way up to 1%, and don’t stop if a little sensitivity occurs – your skin cells can take a couple of weeks to adapt.” I started with Medik8’s gentlest retinaldehyde formula 1 (0.1% retinol) once a week for a month, then twice, before graduating up to formula 3 once I’d finished the tube. Dr Ewoma’s pick is the powerful r-Retinoate Intense, but I’m not quite there yet.
This powerhouse serum from one of the beauty industry’s most loved dermatologists is a must for anyone prone to breakouts, who also wants to support and conserve their skin. With granactive retinoid, azelaic acid (my favourite exfoliator for brown skin – glycolic’s gentler cousin), bakuchiol (to stabilise and calm retinol’s effect on the skin, while making it work for longer), and niacinamide (to smooth out unwanted texture and work on post-acne marks), its cocktail of actives is perfectly balanced to avoid irritation.
I have sensitive skin, so was expecting my first round of retinol to wreak havoc. “It’s a common misconception that all retinoids will irritate your skin – if yours does, then switch to the weakest formula and use only once a week,” says Dr Ewoma. Her pick for a gentler option has just 0.3% – ideal for when skin’s ready to leave the 0.1% comfort zone but might have some reactive texture, dryness or redness, which is remedied by soothing vitamin B3 and hydrating glycerin.
Allies of Skin
With encapsulated time-release retinaldehyde (read: it lasts longer in the tube and on skin), this supercharged moisturiser/mask also houses a peptide complex to really boost resilience. Retinoids can be used with other ingredients, especially peptides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid and ceramides, which all play their part in upping hydration and strength in the skin – all the support needed during a retinoid transformation process.
“As the skin around the eyes is much thinner, it ages a lot quicker but can also be irritated by retinol,” explains Dr Ewoma. “Find a retinol eye cream your skin can tolerate, and it’ll plump and smooth while minimising fine lines and wrinkles.” This one contains ceramides that mimic those found in our skin – fats that essentially keep our skin cells glued together for suppleness and protection. Ageing and sun damage deplete them, so adding more topically can help replenish your natural store.
Zo Skin Health
One of Dr Ewoma’s favourites, this 1% formula combines vitamins C, E and A to aid skin’s protection, plus plant cell and oil extract to calm skin inflammation while feeding it essential fats. “And no matter what retinol product you use, always follow up with SPF the day after, plus every day,” advises Dr Ewoma. “People often think retinol makes skin more likely to burn, but studies have shown it doesn’t affect the amount of UV rays your skin can take before burning.”
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