Vitamin A. How to start? When to start?!

Retinoids (also known as Vitamin A).

Vitamin A is my favourite active ingredient in an anti-ageing skincare routine, but it’s also easy to get wrong. Had a bad experience in the past? Don’t give up, it takes time for your skin to adjust to this powerful ingredient. Take care, go slow, and you will reap the benefits. My guide below will hopefully help you on your journey.

As per my last newsletter, you will understand that retinoids should not be used unless you have committed to using a broad spectrum ‘lightscreen” SPF 30 minimum. Once you have taken care of that, it’s time to start taking advantage of my absolute favourite anti-ageing skincare ingredient. Please note, this ingredient should be avoided if you are pregnant, trying to conceive or breastfeeding.

What does topical Vitamin A do?

It increases cell turnover improving the following:

  • fine lines and wrinkles
  • dullness
  • uneven texture
  • pigmentation
  • it tightens pores
  • improves oily skin
  • prevents breakouts and acne (acne is a topic I’ll come back to another day)

Here is a list of retinoids, you could potentially be using:

  • Retinyl acetate
  • Retinyl linoleate
  • Retinyl Palmitate
  • Retinyl Propionate
  • Retinol
  • Retinaldehyde
  • Retinyl Retinoate
  • Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate
  • Adapalene
  • Tretinoin
  • Tazarotene
  • Trifarotene
  • Isotretinoin



I wouldn’t blame you. Actually some of these are still relatively new versions of Vitamin A, and in time evidence may suggest one is superior to my current favourite, but for now, I have a preference to recommend.

So which would I recommend?

I believe you need to strike a balance between effectiveness and side effects. Some of the stronger retinoids can cause significant irritation making it difficult to use as part of a routine compatible with your lifestyle. So when I take into consideration effectiveness versus side effects, and If I had to pick just one, it would be Retinol. Retinol has long standing evidence for its anti-ageing effects. It reduces fine lines and wrinkles and it also reduces pigmentation. It causes skin to rapidly exfoliate and make new brighter skin while stimulating elastin and collagen. It is also good for those of you who are prone to breakouts, or those who suffer from acne. I addition, it also helps to reduce acne scarring with continuous use.

How long does it take to see results?

With any new skincare regime, it takes three months to see a difference, this is because of the skin cell cycle. Pigmentation and scar reduction will take longer to see results.

When do I start?

From an anti-ageing perspective, I would recommend starting using retinols in your thirties. However, even younger patients can benefit in their teens and twenties if they are suffering from breakouts or acne.

How do I start?

Sensitive and fair skin types need to be the most careful when starting a retinol regime, but everyone should start with a low percentage. Retinol 0.2/0.25 is a good place to start. Darker or thicker skin types may find their skin is more resilient, but I would recommend if you have never used retinol before, to start slow and low, none the less. Ideally, you would like to use a stronger retinol as time goes by, but only gradually once your skin has acclimatised to the lower percentage.

Retinol should only be applied at night, coupled with your broad spectrum SPF 30 minimum the next morning. Your skin will require that protection as it will be more sensitive. I would recommend trying it on just one night on your first week. The following 6 days I would watch and wait for any signs or irritation or skin peeling. If you have no reaction, you can then up your frequency to two nights a week (spread out- not consecutive). Again if you have no reaction you can use it three times a week the next week and so on, potentially up to seven nights a week. However, building up to 7 nights a week should be done over months, rather than weeks. You will want to have nights in between where you take a break. You can also add a moisturising serum or hyaluronic acid to your retinol to reduce its strength further if you are finding it too strong.

Mixing with chemical exfoliants(acids)?

While is it possible to use retinols and AHAs or BHAs. I wouldn’t recommend mixing them while your skin is adjusting to your new retinol regime. As the skin adjusts, It would be possible to use your AHA or BHA in the morning time and your retinol at night to minimise risk of a reaction, or you could also use them on alternate nights.

I’m red, flakey and irritated?

Don’t worry, this is temporary, and will not last. You will need to take a break until the problem has resolved completely. When restarting, reduce the number of nights per week you are using your retinols, or reduce the percentage you were using. Either purchase a lower percentage product or mix it as mentioned above with a moisturising serum or hyaluronic acid. Use a gentle cleanser and avoid other active ingredients during this recovery phase.

What is it actually doing to my skin?

Retinol thins the outer layer of your skin where the dead skin cells are( the glow!), but thickens the deeper layer by increasing the amount of collagen, addressing the fine lines, wrinkles and texture issues.

What is encapsulated retinol?

Encapsulated retinol is a term that you may have heard of. This form retinol is released more slowly than regular retinol, and results in less risk of irritation from a similar percentage. It is worth keeping an eye out for.

I hope you have found the above information helpful in elevating your anti-ageing skincare regime. Just one word of caution; I would recommend purchasing your retinol skincare products from a cosmeceutical brand rather than a cosmetic or make-up brand. In other words; a brand that specialises in skincare only. Retinol has become quite the buzz word lately, and you will see it sprawled across packaging, as it sells. However, there is a lot of very poor, ineffective skincare on sale out there. Please feel free to chat with me as to which products I would recommend for your skin type. I would be delighted to advise you.

Dr Barry

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