If retinol had a Real Housewives tagline, it would be something along the lines of: “I’ll build you up and break you down all at the same time.” The hero ingredient can do pretty much anything when it comes to enhancing your skin, including speeding up cell turnover, promoting collagen production, and evening out skin tone, but in the process of working its bottom-up magic, it also can do a number on the skin barrier.
“While it’s great to build collagen in the skin, it does tend to break down your surface layer, causing a lot of sensitivity and dryness,” explains Jen Sarkozy-Woog, treatments supervisor at Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa in California. That being said, we’re all for keeping the ingredient in your rotation, you just might want to add in some skin-saving sidekicks if you notice that you’re skewing on the drier side or seeing any redness.
To sum it up to simplest terms? You’ve got to protect during the day and prevent at night. “In the daytime think about blocking your skin out from all of the impurities in the air, sun, and pollution, so antioxidants and SPF, and then at nighttime use your thicker products, because that’s when your cells are regenerating,” says Sarkozy-Woogs. Here, she shares the ingredients you should be looking for to keep your retinol routine strong.
Tap these ingredients if you’re using a retinol
Moisture-locking ingredients: Dry skin is pretty much a guaranteed side effect of retinol use, which means you need to supplement your routine with products that will help your skin hold onto moisture. Sarkozy-Woog recommends looking for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, plant stem cells, and beta glucan to help hydrate your skin when it might otherwise feel stripped. “Regardless of what you’re using, just start with the lightest thing first and work up to the heaviest,” she says. So, serums first, then oils, then creams.
Antioxidants: When retinol is a part of your p.m. routine, antioxidants should bookend it as a staple in your a.m. one. “Use your antioxidants in the daytime, because that’s going to help to boost your own SPF that you’re using,” says Sarkozy-Woog. “This will create a protective barrier when you’re out in these environments that have lots of pollution and sun.” She suggests vitamin C and astaxanthin, which will add a layer of protection from the sun
Seaweed: Another unexpected F.O.R. (friend of retinol)? Seaweed. “Seaweeds are amazing to have in skin care. They have a lot of the same minerals and trace elements that are in the building blocks of skin, so your body tends to accept them really well without any allergic reactions or anything like that,” says Sarkozy-Woog, noting that it helps with building collagen and firming up the skin. “And of course essential fatty acids that are in a lot of algae help your cellular membrane store energy—kind of like the glue that holds your cells together. That’s why you need those essential fatty acids, especially if you’re dry from retinols.” A personal favorite product? Osea Sea Minerals ($38), which boasts all of the benefits Sarkozy-Woog mentions.
LED lights: In addition to stacking your routine with products, Sarkozy-Woog recommends leaning into LED light therapy. It’s known to stimulate collagen, which can give your retinol a boost. Use a red light for 20-ish minutes at night (before you put on your retinol, please) for best results.
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