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What doesn’t it do? The vitamin A derivative addresses every skin concern from fine lines to acne, pigmentation to sun damage. It works by accelerating cellular turnover, triggering collagen production, and evening out your complexion. Bingo: younger-looking skin. “Retinol can strengthen your skin and regenerate collagen, as well as assist with breakouts,” says Melbourne dermatologist Dr. Alice Rudd. It clears out blocked pores and blackheads, making it a godsend if you’re dealing with breakouts.
Though countless beauty fans are tapping into anti-ageing products earlier, inspired by factors including the yen for glass skin and our selfie-obsessed culture, the general consensus is that your late 20s or early 30s is the moment to embrace retinol. “Our collagen stores start to rapidly break down from 30 onwards, so this is a good time to incorporate retinols and lactic acids that encourage cellular turnover to keep the skin firm,” says skin care pro Melanie Grant, who has offices in Sydney and Melbourne. Undoing the damage to your skin in later decades is that much harder.
“A general rule of thumb is to apply your products in the order of lightest to heaviest,” says Grant, who is all about “prevention and protection” during the daytime and “correction and restoration” in the evenings. Retinol is an integral part of the latter approach. “Retinols are best applied after cleansing and before a targeting night cream every consecutive or alternative day, depending on your tolerance levels,” she says. Those with sensitive skin should tread carefully. Buffering retinol products between layers of moisturiser is one way to mitigate the irritation that can occur. Even if you’re not sensitive, layering on a rich hydrator will help prevent flaking skin, especially in winter.
Leading the charge for daytime-ready retinol are Drunk Elephant, Dr. Dennis Gross and Verso, which offer encapsulated formulas that resist breaking down in sunlight. Drunk Elephant founder Tiffany Masterson told us that her A-Passioni Retinol Cream can be applied during your waking hours. “Retinol is safe to use during the day, it’s a myth that it’s not,” she says , “As long as you are diligent about wearing SPF, retinol, combined with vitamin C and worn underneath broad-spectrum sunscreen, helps defend skin against environmental damage.” No matter whether you’re using it AM or PM, SPF is a non-negotiable.
Some experts argue that these heavyweights counteract each other when applied simultaneously, reserving vitamin C for the morning and retinol for the evening, but there are several potent formulas that combine both ingredients. Los Angeles facialist Kate Somerville recently launched Retinol Vita C Power Serum, which marries the two dynamos in a radiance-boosting treatment with a subtle lemony scent. Chantecaille and Kat Burki also fuse the two actives together for double the benefits. Kat Burki uses rovisome, a stabilised form of the active that is gentler on skin. Ingredients you really shouldn’t mix with retinol: acne treatments including salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Blending them can cause irritation or even cancel each other out—they’re beauty frenemies.
Kate Somerville advises applying it the tops of your hands and on your chest. “This is where the most visible signs of sun damage and ageing tend to show up first,” she says. Meanwhile, in his lineup of retinol-fuelled rejuvenators, Dr. Dennis Gross has a targeted treatment for your neck. Turns out the delicate skin under the chin is even thinner than that on your face, and this serum is designed to firm, smooth and reduce crepiness. Verso even offers a retinol-enhanced hand serum to banish dark spots and wrinkles, as well as a plumping lip serum. As with all retinol wonders, introduce them gradually into your routine until your skin has adjusted.
Words by George EpaminondasPhotography by Nick DaleFebruary 2020
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