Retinol is one of the best ingredients you can use on your skin for resurfacing, collagen synthesis, and protein development. I have been a fan of retinol for many years.
I admit, great retinol treatments are something in which I have indulged, spending serious money. I have found that over the counter "retinol" products are usually not as hyped, using ingredients other than pure retinol or using concentrations so low as to allow for a label claim without actually providing enough active ingredient to yield any significant effects. Retinol is an exfoliant, skin densifying treatment, regeneration stimulant, and brightener. Anyone wanting the skin to be smooth, strong, bright, and even in colour, should seek out retinol-based products.
The best retinol products I have found are in dermatology centres, rather than mass retailers. Usually, they are very expensive. I have seen quality retinol products retail for as much a $250 per 30mL.
So, what makes a retinol product effective?
1. Concentration of retinol
2. Carrier agents
3. Balanced hydration
Without all three of these elements in place, the retinol product will not perform as well as it could.
1. Concentration: This is crucial. If the concentration is too low, the retinol will only exfoliate the skin, but will not stimulate the protein development or collagen synthesis, which provide dramatic, long-lasting, visible change. Too high and it will irritate the skin. The ideal concentration is 2% pure retinol. Make sure the product is pure retinol. Retinol esthers (which most over-the-counter brands use) will not work the same. Easy way to know—look for the word "retinol" in the ingredient list. If it does not appear, then it is not a pure retinol formula.
2. Carriers: Retinol can make the skin photo sensitive and should not be left on the surface of the skin too long. The carriers need to deliver the retinol deep into the skin (preventing it from sitting on the surface) as quickly as possible. Most formulas use some form of alcohol to achieve this. The wrong alcohol will cause skin to become dry on the surface, however, so while the retinol is absorbed, the surface becomes dry and irritated. Seems counter productive. Not all alcohols are drying, however. Selecting the correct carrier is key. Avoid any alcohol listing that says: Alcohol Denat., SD Alcohol, Alcohol, or Isopropyl Alcohol.
3. Hydration: Most retinol products require the application of a separate moisturizer. I am not a fan of using two products when you can use one. For me, a great retinol product is also a moisturizer.
So what is all this leading to?
Well, you can imagine my delight when I recently discovered this great product: Glow by Dr. Brandt ($85 for 50mL).
At first I was skeptical, because this product is available in mass retailers and I have never found a great retinol product in a mass retail store.
Here's what makes it great:
1. This is a 2% pure retinol formulation—as potent as formulas found in doctors' offices.
2. Non-drying carriers—this product will penetrate the skin without causing surface dehydration. In fact, there are no drying compounds in the formula at all.
3. Complete moisturizer—no need to use a separate moisture product. Contains 8 lipid identical compounds to prevent water evaporation from the skin, anti-inflammatory agents, vitamin C compounds, and all without paraben preservatives.
For the price point, this is a superior product. When compared to formulations with the same sophistication, this is truly well worth the purchase!