You hear about a buzzy new skin-care secret every day — charcoal! essential oils! bee venom! — but the stuff that truly does the heavy lifting doesn’t always get the props it deserves. Retinol, also known as retinoids, is an overachieving byproduct of vitamin A that promotes skin cell rejuvenation — and you need to start using it stat.
“Retinoids are probably the second most important antiaging medicine on the market, right behind broad spectrum high SPF sunscreen,” says Dr. Evan A. Rieder, a dermatologist at NYU Langone, an academic medical center in New York City. “Retinoic acid essentially does two things: It prevents blackheads and whiteheads from forming, and it acts as an antioxidant, helping reverse free radical damage.”
With its proven track record, retinol should be the foundation of any daily antiaging regimen, and the good news is how accessible it is, available in both prescription and over-the-counter varieties. While it may cause flaking and redness, and take a few months to really kick in, the results will include fewer fine lines, a more even skin tone, and a creamier complexion. Just start small: With a new product, apply every few days before upping the frequency.
Collagen production begins to slow down when you hit your 30s, so that’s the best time to add retinol to your routine. And when you do, you will see a difference. Says Dr. Derek H. Jones, founder of Skin Care and Laser Physicians of Beverly Hills, “I can usually tell who’s been using a prescription-strength retinoid…and who hasn’t.”