A woman applying skincare to prevent visible signs of aging

5 Reasons Retinol Needs to Be in Your Nightly Routine

Retinol is one of the most studied, clinically proven, and dermatologist-recommended skincare ingredients available. While you’ve probably heard about some of the benefits of this vitamin A derivative, here are 5 reasons why it needs to be a regular part of your nightly routine.


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Out of the seemingly countless number of skincare ingredients out there, only a handful are backed by both dermatologists and clinical studies alike. At the top of that prestigious list? Retinol.

Maybe you’re already using it — or maybe you haven’t started yet (what are you waiting for?). While you’ve probably heard about some of the benefits of this lauded vitamin A derivative, here are 5 reasons why it needs to be a regular part of your nightly routine — no excuses.

#1 Stimulates collagen production

Studies show that retinol affects connective tissue cells called fibroblasts. These cells produce a number of substances vital to skin structure and healing, including:

  • Collagen: the protein that gives skin structure
  • Tropoelastin: the building block of elastin, which gives skin resilience

It’s estimated that sometime around age 20, your skin starts producing about one percent less collagen each year. Since fibroblast function diminishes over time — especially in sun-damaged skin, retinol can provide a much-needed boost.

#2 Increases blood flow

When you apply retinol to your skin, it undergoes a two-step oxidation process. While the chemistry is a little complex, the net net is retinoic acid: a substance that promotes angiogenesis — the scientific term for blood vessel production.

Here’s what’s so great about more blood vessels:

  • Oxygen + nutrients IN: more blood means more vital nourishment for healthy skin function — including new cell and collagen production.
  • Waste products OUT: blood also carries away harmful substances like DNA-damaging free radicals.

Ever wonder why your skin gets that extra glow after exercise (and certain other activities, wink)? That’s the extra circulation working for you.

#3 Speeds up cell turnover

Many people equate retinol with alpha and beta hydroxy acids — exfoliants that weaken the bonds between dead skin cells, encouraging them to slough off. But technically speaking, retinol isn’t an exfoliant at all: it’s a fat-soluble antioxidant that stimulates your skin cycle.

Here’s how it happens: retinol penetrates through the stratum corneum (skin’s tough outer layer), all the way down into the dermis a bit. There it enters the keratinocytes (the most common kind of skin cells), binding to special receptors, which in turn promotes cell reproduction. Making more skin cells accelerates your skin cycle (which slows down as you age). This has quite a few benefits for your youthful complexion, including:

  • Supporting the skin’s barrier function
  • Fading age spots/UV damage
  • Softening rough patches
  • Keeping pores clear of dead skin

That last one is what makes retinol so effective for treating acne: clearer pores means less chance of blackheads and whiteheads, which are the building blocks of inflammatory acne.

#4 Decreases sebum production (maybe)

Recent in vitro (meaning “in glass” — i.e., in the test tube) studies suggest that retinol may also reduce oil production, though more research is needed to confirm this phenomenon in vivo (meaning “within the living” — in actual humans). This is also significant for those with acne-prone skin, since elevated sebum levels are a major factor behind breakouts.

#5 Better tolerated than prescription strength retinoids

Retinol belongs to a class of Vitamin A derivatives called retinoids, which includes both over-the-counter and prescription-strength topicals. While stronger, prescription tretinoin may have more impact, it also more commonly causes irritation. OTC retinol is not as strong, which means it tends to be better tolerated by various skin types.

When retinol is combined with nourishing ingredients, your skin is less likely to experience redness and flaking that can sometimes accompany this potent active. SLMD Retinol Resurfacing Serum also contains hydrating hyaluronic acid and moisturizing allantoin, along with protective vitamin C. Its gentle-yet-effective formula means you’re more likely to stay consistent with your application, which is important with something like retinol, since the results only get better over time.

Remember: when you’re using retinol, it’s especially important that you use sunscreen everyday (even in the winter, even if you’re spending most of your time inside). SLMD Dual Defender is a lightweight option that’s formulated for all skin types.

Dr. Lee’s last word

Retinol is one of my all-time favorite dermatological skincare ingredients. It’s backed by countless studies, and it’s been trusted by dermatologists for decades to address some of our patients' most common concerns. It’s effective for treating acne, and also for addressing many of the signs of visible aging — what’s not to love about an ingredient that does double-duty?

—Dr. Sandra Lee


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