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10 Common Retinoid Myths You Can Clear Up for Your Clients

Retinoids are a gold standard for the skin — and for good reason! They’ve been proven in study after study to encourage cellular turnover, help treat acne, soften wrinkles, fade pigmentation, and give the skin an overall youthful glow. They are skincare royalty. However, even given the availability of the science, there are still many myths concerning the efficacy of retinoids and how to use them. Educate your clients on the benefits of this star ingredient – and clear up any confusion.

1. All retinoids are the same. Retinoids are a huge family of compounds derived from vitamin A. There are several forms available ranging from over the counter to prescription strength in both topical and oral medication form. Over the counter (OTC) retinoids are most often found in serums, eye creams, and night moisturizers.

2. Retinoids thin the skin. This is a common misconception due to one of the side effects of retinoid use which is skin peeling. The assumption is that the skin is thinning, but it’s actually the opposite. Since retinoids stimulate collagen production, they can help thicken the skin.

3. Retinoids make skin more sensitive to the sun. Many people worry that retinoid use will make their skin more sensitive to sun. Get ready — not true. Retinoids break down in the sun, making it unstable and less effective. That’s why they’re sold in metal or opaque containers and are recommended for use at night. Extensive studies show that they don’t increase the risk of sunburn. But that doesn’t mean your client should forgo proper sun protection! That is totally counterproductive since so much of extrinsic aging is due to photo damage.

4. You’ll see results in 4 to 6 weeks. Don’t you wish that were true! With over the counter retinol, it can take up to six months and prescription strength tretinoin takes up to three months for marked results to be visible.

5. If you have peeling or redness, you should stop using the product. With retinoids, it can be a looks worse before it looks better scenario. Typical side effects can include dryness, tightness, peeling, and redness — especially at the beginning. They usually subside after two to four weeks as the skin acclimates.

6. It must be used daily to see results. Daily use is the goal, but your client can still reap the benefits with a few times per week use. Results also depend on the strength and type of retinoid used.

7. The more applied, the better the results. Using too much of the product may cause excessive peeling and dryness. The recommended amount is about a pea-sized drop for the entire face.

8. Stronger percentages of retinoids will give better/faster results.

With retinoids, building a tolerance is a better course of action for your clients. If you were just beginning to exercise you wouldn’t decide to run 20 miles your first week. With OTC and prescription strength products, there are a variety of delivery methods. What works well for one client many not for another.

9. Retinoids exfoliate the skin. This is a very common misconception. Since retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A, they’re considered antioxidants and a cell communicating ingredient. In lay terms they “talk” to skin cells and encourage healthier, younger cells to make their way to the surface of the skin. The flakiness and peeling that occurs can be assumed to be exfoliation. Those effects are the result of the skin acclimating (dryness and irritation). Retinoids can’t clear or dissolve dead skin cells on their own.

10. Sensitive skin can’t tolerate retinoids. The reputation of retinoids is that they’re a “harsh” ingredient. Sure, they can be a little aggressive, but people with sensitive skin can still happily use them with just a little modification. It’s best to start off cautiously with once or twice a week application. It’s often recommended that you either layer it on top of your moisturizer or mix with your moisturizer.


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