According to the Experts, Now Is the Perfect Time to Start Using Retinol

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New York aesthetician Vicki Morav is currently closed for business, staying at home and spending her days doing consultations via FaceTime with clients.

She’s also looking at the social-distancing situation as a unique opportunity to recommend the ramping up of more resurfacing agents—exfoliators, retinol and prescription-strength retinoids—to her loyal skin-care supporters. 

“I personally have been using Retin-A, kojic acid and alpha beta hydroxy acids for 30 years now. I started in my 20s to help treat acne and it’s played an important role in the anti-aging factor of the skin,” she says, adding that, as with everything, it’s all about balance. 

“When we remove layers by using exfoliating agents like retinol, we must pace ourselves and listen and notice the behavior of our skin, as it is a very individual experience for every single one of us—especially if you’re just getting started. As long as you follow directions, retinol is an extremely regenerating agent and I highly recommend it to clients of all ages for different reasons.”

Likewise, New York dermatologist Sapna Palep, MD is singing the praises of starting retinol and alpha hydroxy acids right now—mainly because the mix of sheltering at home and seclusion make for a good setting to do so, since some people experience minor flaking from introducing the gold-standard, anti-aging ingredient to their skin.

It’s the “flake factor” that Palo Alto, CA facial plastic surgeon Jill L. Hessler, MD sees most often as the reason her patients shy away from the skin-perfecting ingredient.

“I see many patients delay starting retinol because they can’t find the social downtime for redness and the appearance of irritated skin, which can initially occur with a topical vitamin A product,” she says, explaining that, in addition to the exfoliating effect, retinol works by helping to stabilize collagen in the skin—just one of the many reasons she’s a big fan. 

“In order to minimize the irritation—which is temporary and using an additional moisturizer can help—we often encourage patients to start slowly with their products, but this takes longer to experience the full benefits.”

Brookline, MA dermatologist Papri Sarkar, MD is also telling everyone she knows that now is a good time to introduce a gentle retinoid to their routines, pointing to the long list of pros of it being able to stimulate collagen, even out dark spots and help with skin texture. “The con is that it can cause redness and dry patches at first,” she says. “So, start slow at twice a week, use a tiny amount, moisturize before and after, and let the redness and flakiness go to town while you’re staying at home.”

“You’ll come out the other side with fresh, smooth skin.”

While you may not have to worry as much about the “social aspect” of the redness or flaking factor at the moment, Dr. Hessler also says you most likely have lessened another element of your typically day-to-day routine: the sun.

“Although it is good to get exercise and be out for some activity, there is less chance to spend an extended period of time outside right now,” she says. “Retinols make your skin more sensitive to the sun and minimizing your exposure to direct sunlight is always recommended with these products.”

If you do go out for a walk, Dr. Hessler says, make sure you wear a broad-spectrum SPF and that you wear a hat.

“It is not an easy time and it is a very uncertain time,” Morav says. “But taking good care of our skin matters for more than just vanity.”

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