6 Essential Things to Know Before Using Retinol and Retinoids

Ah, retinol. When it comes to defense against fine lines and maintaining a healthy glow, there’s no ingredient in skincare more lauded. The irony? Even though the revolutionary youth-enhancing active is a mainstay of drugstores, department store counters, and dermatologist offices alike, it still manages to mystify. And thus, it’s often underutilized or misused.

What is retinol?

To bring it back to the basics, retinol—alongside other retinoids, such as retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate—is essentially a derivative of vitamin A, which is one of the body’s key nutrients for boosting cell turnover. “It’s added to topical skincare products to promote skin renewal, brighten skin tone, reduce acne, and boost the collagen production,” explains New York City dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD. “It also functions like an antioxidant to help address free radical damage, which leads to visible signs of aging.” The way dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD, sees it, it’s the ingredient that does it all in dermatology, both cosmetically and medically. “I consider it a gold standard in skincare and often explain it to my patients as something that sweeps away dead skin cells, clogged pores, and dull skin,” she explains.

Here, experts break down how to carefully incorporate the powerhouse ingredient into your regimen to achieve a supernaturally fresh-faced complexion, now and for decades to come.

Begin in Your Mid 20s or Early 30s

Thirty has long been the banner year for introducing retinol into one’s routine, but  many women are starting before then, motivated by early signs of aging, such as sun spots or crows feet, or simply eager to get a head start and utilize the latest technologies—under the careful watch of their dermatologist. “Your mid-twenties are a great time to start using retinol,” says Ellen Marmur, M.D. “Many patients who have used it for years swear by it.”

Integrate Retinol Slowly and Gently

“Balance is critical,” cautions Bowe. “Retinol can be very irritating if used too frequently or if the formulation is too strong for your skin.” She recommends starting off with a pea-sized amount of a low percentage over-the-counter formula (.01% to 0.03%), and using it “two times per week, slowly increasing the usage to give the skin a chance to acclimate.” Moreover, you should skip your retinol product on the day before you exfoliate (Bowe recommends exfoliating two to three times per week). “Exfoliating is abrasive and irritating, and you do not want to compound the skin irritation by heightening your skin’s sensitivity,” she says, adding that if you’re getting certain in-office treatments like lasers, microneedling, microdermabrasion, you will want to take a break from your retinol. In the spirit of not overdoing it, there’s a spate of new time-release formulas fit for skin types prone to redness or breakouts. “They’re a good option for people who have sensitive skin,” explains Fusco. “It releases the active ingredient over time and may offer less irritation.” In terms of prescription retinol versus something over the counter, the former is much more potent with a higher percentage of retinol and one may graduate to it over time, says Bowe.

Watch Out for Harsh Side Effects

While certain side effects, such as mild irritation, dryness, and sun sensitivity are normal as your skin adjusts to the active ingredient, intense flaking, redness, and burning are not—and those with especially sensitive skin, or who struggle with conditions like rosacea or eczema, should be wary of retinol or shy away from it all together. “If you cannot tolerate retinol, don’t worry,” says Marmur. “It’s not the only anti-ager! There are plenty of amazing anti-aging ingredients, such as wild indigo, that work beautifully without any irritation or sun sensitivity.”

Use Retinol Only at Night and Wear SPF Every Day

“Retinol makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays and sunlight decreases the efficacy of the product,” explains Bowe, who instructs patients to only use retinoids at night and be diligent about applying a daily broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher during the day. Moreover, with retinol use, one should always be conscious of the weather forecast and trips to hot locales. “It should not be used during seasons or vacations when individuals will be spending extended time in direct sunlight,” warns Fusco.

Don’t Stop at Your Face

When applying a retinol-infused elixir, don’t neglect your neck or décolletage, which are areas notorious for showing the signs of aging, yet often overlooked. “If those zones seem too sensitive for your current formula, add a squirt of ceramide-enriched moisturizer before smoothing it on, or pick up a separate retinoid made specifically for the area in question,” says Bowe. “They typically contain a lower dose of vitamin A, zero fragrance, and loads of soothers.”

VOGUE article

Why The Internet Can’t Stop Raving About Tranexmic Acid

The brightening skincare ingredient can tackle hyperpigmentation.

As far as brightening skincare ingredients go, vitamin C is an A-list star. However, there are other effective ingredients that can treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne, sun damage, or melasma that deserve some time in the spotlight, too. 

Tranexamic acid is one such ingredient having a moment, with more and more skincare influencers and beauty brands shining light on its benefits and including it in product formulas. While tranexamic acid can be effective on its own, it works even better as an ensemble with other dark spot-fighting ingredients such as vitamin C, kojic acid, niacinamide, and more.

What Is Tranexamic Acid? 

“Tranexamic acid is a synthetic form of lysine, which is an amino acid needed to make proteins,” says Dr. Shari Marchbein, board-certified dermatologist in NYC. “It works by decreasing the production of melanin and we know that the oral form is much more effective at treating melasma than topical form. That being said, serums and other products that contain this ingredient have a lot of potential to help improve hyperpigmentation.” 

The ingredient originally was used as a hemostatic agent to help blood clots, but recently has been utilized as a brightening ingredient to help minimize hyperpigmentation as well as melasma.

What Are the Benefits of Using Tranexamic Acid? 

One of the major benefits of tranexamic acid is that it plays nice with other brightening ingredients, so you can really zero in on hyperpigmentation. 

“There are many treatments for dark spots and these often work well together including licorice, niacinamide, kojic acid, tranexemic acid, retinoids, chemical exfoliants [such as glycolic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid], and more,” Dr. Marchbein says. The dermatologist often recommends serums with tranexamic acid and other brightening agents be used in the same routine for the ingredients to work synergistically to improve post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma. 

Tranexamic acid is also a safer, effective alternative to hydroquinone, a potentially irritating bleaching ingredient. “There aren’t many options when it comes to safe, effective skin lightening bioactives,” says Krupa Koestline, clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants. “Hydroquinone is banned in the EU and restricted in many countries due to its safety concerns. Tranexamic acid has shown promising evidence as a plasmin inhibitor and therefore an effective treatment for UV induced discoloration, dark spots, and redness.”  

What Are the Side Effects of Tranexamic Acid? 

All skin types can use tranexamic acid, but like adding any other new ingredient to your skincare routine, it’s best to do a patch test to ensure you won’t experience irritation. 

It’s also important to wear SPF when using tranexamic acid, along with other brightening ingredients, because the sun can make hyperpigmentation darker. 

“Remember that before you spend your money on antioxidant serums, brightening ingredients, and retinoids to improve the tone of your skin and hyperpigmentation, the most important and first step is diligent daily sun protection,” Dr. Marchbein says. “It is key to reduce the appearance of brown spots (otherwise you are literally throwing your money away).” The dermatologist recommends a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher should be applied to the face, neck, and ears every day — even in the winter.

How Do You Add Tranexamic Acid to Your Skincare Routine? 

Dr. Marchbein says to use tranexamic acid once or twice a day. “I also layer tranexamic acid containing serums over Vitamin C serums and under SPF in the morning and under retinoids at nighttime, so this can safely and effectively be combined with multiple other actives.”

The active can be found in serums, moisturizers, and toners, so it’s entirely up to you what step of your routine in which you want to incorporate it. 

That being said, Koestline says serums are a popular way to go. “Most people do like using actives in their serum layer since you’re applying it before other products.”

Shop Tranexamic Acid Skincare Products:

SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense

Dr. Marchbein is a fan of this serum by SkinCeuticals, which she often recommends to patients treating post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma. It’s infused with tranexamic acid, along with kojic acid and niacinamide, another two tried-and-true brightening ingredients. 

To shop: $98; skinceuticals.com

Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Niacinamide Discoloration Treatment

In addition to niacinamide, the all-star cast of Peter Thomas Roth’s discoloration treatment includes tranexmic and kojic acids, alpha arbutin, and pentapeptide. The lightweight cream can be applied twice a day on clean skin and is best followed by a moisturizer. 

To shop: $88; sephora.com

Joanna Vargas Bright Eye Hydrating Mask

Puffiness? Dark circles? Dryness? Crow’s feet? This eye mask by celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas checks all the boxes. It’s powered by brightening tranexamic acid, collagen-boosting matrixyl, soothing allantoin, and hydrating licorice root extract. 

To shop: $60/5; dermstore.com

La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 Serum

In this dark spot-fading serum by La Roche-Posay, tranexamic acid is paired with exfoliating glycolic acid to even out skin tone. Use it alone or add a few drops to your favorite moisturizer.

To shop: $40; amazon.com

The Inkey List Tranexamic Acid Night Treatment

If post-breakout dark spots, hyperpigmentation, or dullness are your main skincare concerns, try swapping your usual moisturizer for this overnight treatment. Powered by tranexamic acid, vitamin C, and acai berry extract, it targets areas of discoloration and boosts overall radiance. 

To shop: $15; theinkeylist.com

SkinMedica 2.0 Lytera Pigment Correcting Serum 

Dr. Marchbein says SkinMedica’s Lytera 2.0 serum is another great option for treating discoloration. It combines tranexamic acid with niacinamide, phytic acid, phenylethyl resorcinol, and a marine extract blend to improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation without drying out skin.

To shop: $154; dermstore.com

INSTYLE article

The 13 Best Ceramide-Spiked Skincare Products To Nourish Dry Skin

Dermatologists explain why you should be adding this skin barrier-boosting ingredient to your skincare routine.

As far as skincare ingredients are concerned, ceramides are among the most worthy of opponents when it comes to battling dry skin — which, with winter rearing its head, may be something that you’re all too familiar with. Thankfully, ceramide-based products are not only a favorite among dermatologists, but are widely available at every price point.

“Ceramides are fatty acids in the skin that help to maintain the skin barrier and retain moisture and hydration,” Shereene Idriss, dermatologist of Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, tells Allure. “Extreme cold-weather temperatures, exposure to hot water, and dry heat can all deplete the ceramide stored in your skin,” Idriss explains. “Using products that are fortified with ceramides help to restore your skin’s barrier function and lock in moisture.”

It helps to think of ceramides as the building blocks in your skin; in addition to possessing hydration-boosting properties, they’re especially key for maintaining long-term hydration and strengthening the skin’s surface against environmental stressors. “Ceramides are found in high concentrations within cell membranes,” New York City-based dermatologist Ellen Marmur says. “They hold skin cells together on the top layer of the skin, forming a protective layer that plumps the skin and retains moisture.” With that being said, here are 13 ceramide-infused skincare products — rich moisturizers, whipped body creams, and even a hydrating toner — to treat your skin this season.

Cosrx Honey Ceramide Full Moisture Cream

A one-two punch of manuka honey and ceramides make Cosrx Honey Ceramide Full Moisture Cream a game-changer for boosting skin elasticity and protecting against irritation.

$26 (Shop Now)

Ceramedx Ultra Moisturizing Cream

Slather the emollient, rich Ceramedx Ultra Moisturizing Cream all over your body if you deal with chronic dryness. The plant-based ceramides, essential fatty acids, and hyaluronic acid instantly soothe and relieve everything from chapped elbows to cracked heels.

$18 (Shop Now)

Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid

A moisturizing toner? It almost sounds too good to be true — but leave it to Dr. Jart to gift us with this lightweight, fast-absorbing fluid that balances skin and leaves your complexion feeling supple and hydrated.

$39 (Shop Now)

Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum

Reduce the appearance of fine lines while treating your skin to ultimate moisture, courtesy of Elizabeth Arden’s Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum. Each ampoule features retinol and ceramides as the two hero ingredients.

$84 (Shop Now)

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream

Winter dryness doesn’t stand a chance against the Best of Beauty-winning First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream, infused with soothing colloidal oatmeal, shea butter, and ceramide 3.

$30 (Shop Now)

Mario Badescu A.H.A. & Ceramide Moisturizer

“[Ideal] for those with sensitive skin, as well as dry skin, ceramides keep the skin hydrated and supple for the cold winter months,” says Marmur, who recommends Mario Badescu’s A.H.A. & Ceramide Moisturizer to patients. Its nourishing formula won’t leave you feeling greasy and doesn’t clog pores, making it ideal for those prone to breakouts, too.

$20 (Shop Now)

Orveda Eye Unveiler 422

Looking to brighten and revitalize a tired-looking undereye area? Try a ceramide-infused eye cream, like Orveda’s über-luxe Eye Unveiler 422, which contains a potent blend of bio-identical lipids, marine enzymes, and prebiotics to rejuvenate skin.

$234 (Shop Now)

Paula’s Choice Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturizer

Vitamin C, retinol, and ceramides team up to turn up the glow in your complexion, in addition to providing long-lasting hydrating and firming benefits, with the Paula’s Choice Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturizer.

$58 (Shop Now)

SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2

SkinCeuticals’ Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 won a coveted Breakthrough Award back in 2016, and it’s easy to see why: The nourishing cream moisturizes, repairs skin, and gives a plumping effect thanks to its formula, which includes 2 percent ceramides, 4 percent cholesterol, and 2 percent fatty acids. (2:4:2.)

$128 (Shop Now)

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

The classic white tub (which took home a 2018 Best of Beauty award) is many a derm’s forever favorite for good reason. When it comes to offering lasting hydration to even the driest of skin, nothing beats the thick, hyaluronic acid-, ceramide-, and glycerin-laced cream.

$17 (Shop Now)

SkinMedica TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream

SkinMedica’s TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream is a go-to for Idriss, thanks to its peptide- and ceramide-rich formula. (Bonus: It’s a great option for treating post-procedure skin, too.)

$69 (Shop Now)

Tonymoly Master Lab Ceramide Sheet Mask

Get a quick hydration fix with Tonymoly’s Master Lab Ceramide Sheet Mask, which will leave your skin looking off-the-charts level of glow-y in 20 minutes flat.

$4 (Shop Now)

MDNA Skin The Finishing Cream

“MDNA Skin’s The Finishing Cream can be used alone or under makeup to nourish, hydrate, and impart a look of flawless illumination,” says New York City dermatologist Paul Jarrod Frank. “It moisturizes, firms, and tones skin.”

$250 (Shop Now)

ALLURE article

The Best Retinol Creams You Can Buy Without a Prescription

Dermatologists consider retinol the holy grail of noninvasive wrinkle-prevention. When applied topically, this vitamin A derivative stimulates collagen production and cell turnover, which reduces the appearance of fine lines, evens out complexion, and unclogs pores.

That said, retinol does have its drawbacks. Side effects can include dryness, peeling, and skin irritation, and some people may see their acne flare up. So before you start slathering these products on your face and neck, you’ll want to keep a few tips in mind.

“To reduce irritation, start every other night with the product and move up to every night only when tolerated,” says Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, founder director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and assistant clinical professor at the George Washington University Medical Center. “Add extra moisturizer when using, and use only a very mild, creamy cleanser to compensate for the extra dryness.” You’ll also want to guard your skin with SPF 30—retinol may make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Though you can ask your doc for a prescription-strength retinoid—which is a much stronger version of what you can buy over the counter—the derms we spoke to said drugstore and beauty counter brands do the same thing, and that it just may take longer to see results. Read on for the retinol recommendations from Dr. Tanzi and other top skin doctors.

Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Deep Wrinkle Moisture, Night

“I recommend this product to my patients all the time because Neutrogena is a reliable company and the products are easy to find in any drugstore. The ingredients are of good quality and I have never had anyone complain about any skin reaction or difficulty managing this retinol.” —Jessica Krant MD, board-certified dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of NY and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate

Buy on Amazon $16

CosMedix Serum 16

“This is a great intro-to-retinol product because if features microencapsulated retinol complex, which delivers results without the irritation and drying.” —Francesca Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City

Buy at Dermstore $80

Neocutis Nouvelle Plus Retinol Correction Intensive Anti-Aging Cream

“One of my favorite retinols utilizes only 0.6% retinol in a special microbead formulation that helps penetrate the skin deeper with less skin irritation and less flaking. As an added bonus, it contains melaplex, a hydroquinone-free skin-brightening complex, that diminishes the appearance of dark spots and evens out skin tone. We recommend our patients start applying retinol two to three times a week, just before bedtime and slowly progress to nightly as tolerated.” ––Ulysses ScarpidisNew York City plastic surgeon, Scarpidis Aesthetics

Buy at Dermstore $150

Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream

“The highest strength of retinol you can get before a trip to the dermatologist’s office.” –– Dr. Tanzi

Buy on Amazon $17

Amarte Wonder Cream

“A key goal within any retinol skin care program is maximum retinol effectiveness with minimized potential for irritation. Because of this, high potency nano-encapsulated retinol formulations such as Amarte Wonder Cream (which also contains multiple potent natural antioxidant ingredients) are ideal. They will ensure maximized retinol efficacy with a virtually non-existent potential for irritation.” ––Craig Kraffert, MD, Redding Derm

Buy at Dermstore $120

HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish & Plump Peel

“I love recommending the HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish & Plump Peel to clients as it’s an extremely effective over-the-counter option for brightening skin and tightening pores. Instead of retinol, which can be irritating to sensitive skin types, it actually utilizes Retinyl Palmitate—an ester of Vitamin A that’s converted to retinoic acid once absorbed by the skin. I use it weekly, on Sundays, (which is my pampering day!), to ensure my skin always has a healthy glow.” –– Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD, MPhil, Vibrant Dermatology

Buy at Dermstore $78

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer SPF 30

“One of my favorite OTC retinoids is Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer SPF 30. It works against fine lines during the day with a unique sunscreen and moisturizer hybrid. A glucose derivative is combined with this retinol formula to help brighten discoloration. I especially like that it contains hyaluronic acid which holds up to 1,000 times its weight in water.” ––Jeanette Jacknin M.D. and Brand Ambassador for ZSS Skincare Solutions

Buy on Amazon $18

SkinMedica Retinol Complex .25

“When patients want a particularly gentle formulation, I like SkinMedica Retinol Complex .25. It is one of the mildest non-prescription retinols available and is in an elegant moisturizing formulation.” —Dr. Krant

Buy at Dermstore $62

Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream

“I wear this gentle cream—a brand-new release from Drunk Elephant that’s made with vegan retinol—during the day with sunscreen on top. It doesn’t irritate at all and is lightweight.”

Buy at Sephora $98

HEALTH article

The 7 Best Hyaluronic Acid Serums Dermatologists Love for Hydrated Skin

When it comes to moisturizing your skin, it can be challenging to achieve the perfect balance between hydrated and greasy, especially on hot, humid summer days. To the rescue: hyaluronic acid serums. Hyaluronic acid is a powerful skincare ingredient that can help retain moisture. “It’s a humectant that attracts water, hydrating the skin without making it oily,” explains William Kwan, MD, a San Francisco-based dermatologist. For this reason, serums that contain hyaluronic acid are ideal for those with oily skin. “Many moisturizers are too heavy or can cause acne [for people with oily skin], which is why I love hyaluronic acid gels,” he says.

What’s more, hyaluronic acid can deliver serious anti-aging benefits—whether or not your skin shows signs of aging. “Millennials should consider including hyaluronic acid to ensure their skin is adequately moisturized and stave off dryness and irritation,” says Ted Lain, MD, a dermatologist from Austin, Texas. “Older people need hyaluronic acid not only to help moisturize, but also to delay skin thinning, itching, and the overall aging process.”

La Roche-Posay Redermic C Anti-Wrinkle Firming Moisturizing Filler for Sensitive Skin

Ted Lain, MD, a dermatologist from Austin, Texas, loves this hydrating serum, which he says delivers both short- and long-term benefits. “I look for products that can give an immediate plumping due to short chain hyaluronic acid, and a longer term moisturizing ability with the longer chain hyaluronic acid and other humectants,” he explains.

Buy at Dermstore $50

SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator

It’s not cheap, but this product is “the most consistent” over-the-counter hyaluronic acid serum New Jersey-based dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD, has found. “It has five different types of hyaluronic acid in it,” she says. “And it hydrates the skin without making it sticky.”

Buy at Dermstore $178

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum

New York City-based dermatologistDebra Jaliman, MD, recommends this Neutrogena serum. “It contains hyaluronic acid, it’s non-comedogenic, and it’s incredibly hydrating,” she says. Plus, it’s wallet-friendly.

Buy on Amazon $15

Skinceuticals Hyaluronic Acid Intensifier

Dr. Kwan’s top pick is this Skinceuticals serum, which he says is perfect for aging skin, since hyaluronic acid can help revive the skin’s natural elasticity. “It also has 2% licorice extract, which can help lighten and brighten the skin,” he adds.

Buy at Dermstore $100

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

It’s tough to beat the price (or user reviews) of The Ordinary’s hyaluronic acid serum, but you won’t be sacrificing quality either.

Buy on Amazon $14

CeraVe Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum

Dermatologists love this brand, which is formulated with ultra gentle ingredients that won’t irritate even the most sensitive skin. And of course, their hyaluronic acid serum is no different. We love that the formula layers beautifully under their classic Moisturizing Cream.

Buy on Amazon $16

Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum

A whopping 75% hyaluronic acid, along with other top ingredients like silk proteins and good-for-skin minerals, help make this serum a bestseller. Plus: It’s free of sulfates and phthalates.

Buy at Sephora $86

HEALTH article