If a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, a glug of oil makes retinol a whole lot kinder. That this derivative of vitamin A has a significant effect on wrinkles, uneven texture, acne and slackness is beyond dispute; but it’s not the gentlest, which is why I exclusively use formulations with additional ingredients to cushion the blow to my skin.
Medik8’s excellent retinols (£33, 15ml) come in an easy-to-understand ladder of strengths, 0.3% (for new users), 0.6, 0.9 and 1.0% retinol for the experienced. Their newer “intense” versions are no more potent, but contain skin-comforting, ungreasy, cruelty-free squalane, and the difference is tangible (The Ordinary’s 0.5% retinol serum in squalane, £4.90, 30ml, is a decent dupe, though not for newbies).
It seems unbelievable that Estée Lauder has only this year released a retinol but, oh my, it was worth the wait. I love Perfectionist Pro Rapid Renewal Retinol Treatment, (£63, 30ml), primarily because the texture is velvety and the formula is rich and comforting (combination skins could probably skip night cream), thanks to the addition of hyaluronic acid, shea butter, glycerin, peptides, jojoba oil and more. From the first morning after use, my skin looked brighter and better.
Another wolf in sheep’s clothing comes from the matriarchal heritage house, Elizabeth Arden. I’m a longtime fan of its unctuous ceramide capsules, and now there’s a retinol version too. Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum (£42 for 30) comes sealed in single-application pink biodegradable bubbles. These deliver the proven efficacy of retinol in a pleasingly fatty-feeling serum that cushions and comforts in the short term, noticeably brightens and smooths over the long term.
Retinols are not for everyone, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about overuse and abuse. So, whichever you choose, if any, please take precautions. Seasoned retinol users may use any of the above, nightly, but novices: please start by alternating days, or even using only twice a week. Apply only at night, wearing sun protection by day. If you are using AHA or BHA during a retinol course, save it until morning – layering acids under retinol is both ineffective and begging skin to lose its temper.
That said, even the kindest retinols can be expected to cause a little soreness and flakiness in the first week. Even with the most careful use, there’s a strong case for beginning your retinol journey when your social diary is dormant.
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