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What is Retinol & Should You Be Using It?


Remember the good old days when the media made it seem like you didn't have to worry about aging until at least your forties? If you've been following the latest beauty trends and advice columns, it seems that that golden age is officially over. Beauty brands and magazines alike are trying to steer us into starting anti-aging beauty regimens extra early, but how do we know it's not just another marketing scam? 

While we still aren't thinking of wrinkles as our number one priority right nowthere's a way of reaping some exceptional beauty benefits while secretly testing out an anti-wrinkle regimen. How? The beauty world's obsession—retinol. 

What is retinol?

Retinol is simply a molecule derived from Vitamin A. It works to unclog pores and rejuvenate skin through speedy cell turnover.

Why is it a must-have for twentysomethings?

While retinol is advertised primarily as an anti-aging, wrinkle-reducing super ingredient, that doesn't mean there aren't benefits for younger skin (and don't discount the anti-aging properties either, as retinol is one of the few anti-aging products actually proven to help younger women). First and foremost, the best way to fight wrinkles is to prevent them from occurring, so if you're aiming to maintain that dewy glow long after your twenties are over, starting to use retinol in your daily skin routine now can really help.

Even better, retinol doesn't just slow aging—it stimulates collagen production, seriously fights acne (which is why you may remember reading "retinol" on some of your teen products), and greatly improves skin discoloration from acne scars and the like.

Are there any precautions to keep in mind?

Unfortunately, retinol's superpowers come with a cost—extra photosensitivity that may increase damage from sun exposure. While the verdict's still out on whether these sun exposure warnings are actually true or simply myths, we still recommend that you don't apply retinol products and sunscreen simultaneously, as retinol may reduce the protective efficacy of SPF. Additionally, sunlight may also reduce the effects of the retinol!

Over-the-counter retinol may not be as strong as its prescription (retinoid) counterparts, but your skin is still prone to irritation or dryness when you first start. The key? Incorporate retinol into your routine gradually. Don't immediately buy only retinol-infused products—start with one, such as a night cream, and use it every other day (or even just once a week) so that your skin has time to adapt. Once you've graduated from the trial period, you can begin a daily regimen. And no matter how often you're using it, never apply more than a pea-sized amount at a time.

Because retinol is constantly removing old skin cells, it may thin out your skin. Thin skin ages faster and looks way less supple, meaning retinol's positive effects may actually be erased. If you're worried about this or already have thin skin, it might be good to hold off on retinol products until you're older—after all, you want to maintain those bouncy cheeks as long as possible! Always ask a dermatologist about the positives and negatives of using retinol in your twenties before you start. They'll know what's best for your specific skin type and can really talk the decision through with you so that you end up doing what's best for you.

If it turns out that you're retinol-approved, make sure you aren't relying solely on this product for results. The best way to prevent aging and maintain the healthiest skin possible is to begin complying to all of the best beauty habits, including frequent hydration, the use of antioxidants, and tons of sun protection whenever you're exposed to rays. There's no better time than your twenties to start, because preventative measures are always easier to manage than reversal. Your skin is at its peak, so let's keep it that way!

So, what products are best for twentysomethings?

Stick to over-the-counter products and save the prescriptions for later in life when you need more strength. Right now, your skin is extremely healthy, and overdoing it on retinol will only hurt it. Over-the-counter formulas are weaker, so they'll help with maintenance without over-irritating.

While there are day products out there, they should be used with caution. While they promise to be totally safe, they may still cause photosensitivity. Instead, we recommend sticking solely to night creams, which can be applied after you've cleansed and removed all of your makeup. We like the deliciously sweet and soothing smells of retinol-rich 40 Carrots products, such as the luxuriously hydrating Carrot + Mango Moisture Splurge moisturizer ($15, Drugstore.com), gentle Carrot + Creme Cleanser ($15, Drugstore.com), and Carrot + Cucumber Eye Gel ($15, Drugstore.com).

Eye creams may also be beneficial, as droopy eyes can be the first signs of aging. Keep those lids supple by either just using a retinol eye cream or working your regular retinol night cream right up under those eyes. Of course, you can always just stick to a acne-fighting retinol, such as Neutrogena's Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Anti-Blemish Cleanser ($7.79, Walgreens). 

Just be sure to keep in mind that if you don't see results, that doesn't mean it's not working. First of all, twentysomethings have pretty great skin to begin with, so retinol's effects may not be visually noticeable at such a young age. Second of all, because over-the-counter methods work slower (and almost all products take longer to work than their boxes boast) you shouldn't be discouraged. Stick it out and don't stop just because you don't notice a difference—it's probably just on its way to working.

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