Creams of the Crop: Vitamin A to the rescue

Next time you’re shopping for anti-aging and acne products take a closer look at the ingredients. Far too many products brag about results, yet don’t have much research backing up the claims. These days, it’s important to shop smartly. Take a moment and learn a thing or two about retinoids a.k.a. miracle creams.

Retinoids belong to a group of medicines derived from Vitamin A. Each variation is available in different strengths. For example retinol, retinaldehyde and retinyl palmitate are available over the counter, while tretinoin is by prescription only.

It’s a good idea to start with over the counter products that contain retinol, like Murad Essential-C Daily Renewal Complex and Philosophy Retinol Clarifying Lotion. These gentler formulas will acclimate and prepare your skin for concentrated prescription formulas with tretinoin, which often leave patients frustrated, at first, from irritation and dryness.

Murad’s almost powdery formula helps fade pigmentation, and promises to reduce the effects of photo damage by 46 percent in four weeks. You won’t find your skin irritated, instead, retinyl palmitate works to unveil newer, younger skin through exfoliation. Once applied, Renewal Complex feels light and barely noticeable, leaving only a pleasant citrus scent behind. Come nighttime, try Philosophy Retinol. It works to promote skin clarity without over drying, thanks to hyaluronic acid, which provides hydration benefits. The formula is designed to release retinol gradually, so you won’t be stuck with a red, peeling face.

Another round-the-clock product is Olay ProX Deep Wrinkle Treatment with retynil propionate. Have fun playing plastic surgeon while going over creases and crows feet with this pen-like tube. Once in place, retynil propionate gets to work by renewing skin cells. Olay ProX Deep Wrinkle Treatment contains the highest concentration of Pro-retinol in the entire Olay collection. Since the purpose of the product is to revive skin’s layer, you want to keep up with UV protection.

The skin around the eye area is manipulated frequently because it is used during numerous facial expressions, like smiling and frowning. Combine that with environmental factors which contribute to about 80 percent of skin damage and you’re staring at a beauty pitfall. If you’re particularly concerned about the delicate eye area, invest in Cosmedicine Eye Specialist that’s armed with skin tightening retynil palmitate – it works by maintaining collagen. Retynil Palmitate also plays a role as a powerful antioxidant. Other cream benefits include hydration and reduction in dark circles.

Retinol has the ability to penetrate deep into the skin because it is vitamin A in its purest and most active form. It works by increasing skin exfoliation, smoothing out wrinkles and increasing skin elasticity. Because serums enhance absorption and, in turn, access deeper layers of the skin, they work great on problem areas such as profound laugh lines and the crinkle between the eyebrows. En Pointe Precision A Serum uses a stabilized form of retinol to combat annoying lines and wrinkles and improves the appearance of hyper-pigmentation. This paraben-free, antioxidant formula also includes a high does of green tea.

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More powerful over the counter products like La Roche-Posay Biomedic Retinol Cream, should be used at night. The formula comes in three concentrations, 15, 30 and 60. Anyone with very fair skin should start with 15, if you rarely burn, speak to a dermatologist about using Retinol Cream 60 (you’ll have to make an appointment anyway to purchase the cream). Think of La Roche-Posay Retinol Cream as preventative medicine for even the teeniest lines. (I’m talking to you, 20-something vixens who think you’re invisible). The cream will help maintain a smoother complexion and ensure that even the smallest lines don’t start putting down a foundation for wrinkles.

If sun damage, pollution and, well, the years, have started to take toll give SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 a try. Once you’ve adjusted, step it up to Retinol 1.0, which contains 1 percent of pure retinol, the highest concentration currently available. It works to stimulate cell regeneration that actually wages war on age spots (i.e. those not so cute freckles). You’ll also get a two-for-one deal as this formula helps with problematic skin and blotchiness.

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The downside of over the counter products is that the repair process takes longer, often up to 12 weeks to see some difference. On the other hand, prescription retinoids show results between four to eight weeks. “You’ll experience less irritability with over the counter products, but the result will not be the same as from prescription medication,” says Dr. Ladan Shahabi of Park Avenue Medical Professionals. “Retinol is 20 times less potent than retinoic acid.”

Make an appointment with your derm and ask about Retin-A Micro and Renova, both of which contain retinoic acid – a product of retinol and one of the few chemical compounds that penetrate deep into skin layers. “Retinoic acid promotes rejuvenation at the molecular level to improve collagen synthesis, says Dr. Shahabi. “It is one of the very few ingredients with actual science behind it.”

The magic ingredient in Retin-A Micro and Renova is tretinoin (retinoic acid), which boosts cell turnover and promotes dirt removal in pores. Research shows that tretinoin actually improves wrinkles, but it may take up to six months to see a noticeable difference. Typically, you should invest in Retin-A Micro or Renova for a year to see its full effect. Retin-A Micro is often prescribed as an anti-acne medication because the gel absorbs facial oil and cleans out pores. On the other hand, Renova studies show that 60 percent of patients show fine line improvement after 24 weeks. But it will cost you, about $167 for a six-month supply.

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The good news is that you will see positive changed and those with sensitive skin, even rosacea, can start treatment. One hurdle, however, is adjusting to these prescriptions. “The first six weeks are the hardest,” says Dr. Shahabi. “Typically, it takes four to six week for the skin to adjust.” Side effects include irritation, peeling, and excessive dryness. Some give up on the treatment before anything happens; it’s important to remember that patience is a virtue.

Regardless of whether you use over the counter or prescription medication, retinoic acid and retinol are not stable ingredients and lose its potency in biological sunlight — it’s best to keep everything in the darkness of your medicine cabinet. Also, apply the products at night on a cleansed face, and skip the moisturizer so it doesn’t dilute the formula. Instead, be sure to moisturize and add SPF in the morning. Sun protection is especially important since you’re thinning the skin barrier. Speak to a dermatologist if you’re currently using products with alpha hydroxy acid or benzoyl peroxide.

Although there are a lot of excellent products, you don’t want to overload. It’s best to use one at a time. Still unsure which route to take? There is always Sephora and their free samples…

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