Anti-Aging Retinoids: Pros and Cons
For years, prescription retinoids (face medications like Retin-A, Renova, and Tazorac that contain the vitamin A derivative) have been assumed to be the best antiaging products. Indeed, decades of clinical research show that they speed cell turnover to smooth wrinkles, fade sunspots, and build collagen. But now there are claims that they can also thin the skin and cause chronic inflammation (peeling, lobster-red faces), actually leading to premature aging. The issue is dividing the beauty world. Who's right? Read on and make up your own mind.
By Courtney Dunlop
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Westbrook/Studio D
Most skin gurus who dislike retinoids are not dermatologists and see skin research in a different light. According to New York City facial plastic surgeon Dr. Michelle Yagoda, "The key is looking at the retinol studies and understanding how much collagen can really be built," she says. "It doesn't matter if it gives you 10 percent less of a wrinklethat's so microscopic, our eyes can't distinguish it." Says Yagoda, retinoids are easy to prescribe, so patients are rarely offered an alternative. (In her experience, glycolic acids are just as effective and better-tolerated.) While most experts agree that retinoids do produce quick results, many claim they might not be worth it. "Sure, your discolorations and lines might be getting a little better," says Simon Erani, lead researcher for the skincare company Somme Institute, "but you're not noticing how your skin looks papery and thin." Erani believes any inflammation (detected in his subsurface skin photos of people who'd been using retinoids for at least eight weeks) will damage skin in the long run, which is why he's excluded it from Somme's formulations. New York City aesthetician Susan Ciminelli says she can spot retinoid users right away: "Their skin looks brittle because it has lost its cushion." She believes that retinoids strip the skin, while the path to a youthful glow involves adding natural moisture and emollients. (For her own product line, she favors the hydrating power of seaweed and algae.) "What you want is thick, juicy skin," she says. "Juicy skin is young skin."
NOT CONVINCED? READ THE ARGUMENT IN FAVOR OF RETINOIDS
The bottome line: There's one thing everyone agrees on: Excessive inflammation should be avoided to slow down damage and aging. So if using retinoids makes your skin uncomfortably flaky, red, or irritated, seek out gentler measures. The point is to soften, not deepen, those worry lines, after all.
NOT READY TO ASK FOR A PRESCRIPTION? TRY THESE OVER-THE-COUNTER ALTERNATIVES.