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Retinol: Over-the-Counter Smoothness
Soak up the facts of one of the world’s most reliable skincare secrets with Groupon’s guide to retinol.
Able to smooth wrinkles, prevent breakouts, and fade hyperpigmentation, the vitamin-A derivative known as retinol has long been lauded as an all-purpose refresher for aging skin. For many years, however, it was considered too unstable to be effective in a topical cream—upon exposure to light and air, the molecule would degrade almost immediately, before it could penetrate the epidermis. (Its derivative retinoic acid, sold under the name Retin-A, didn’t have this problem, but its greater strength and consequent potential for side effects meant that it could only be obtained via prescription.) Today, a new generation of retinol-based products is designed to stay potent until the moment they touch the skin via technology that encases each molecule in a little polymer straightjacket. Accordingly, the product has made a big comeback in spa facials and other skin treatments.
Dr. Debra Jaliman, author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist, notes that these over-the-counter products can be as effective as prescription-strength retinoids such as Retin-A, which was formulated as an acne treatment before dermatologists also noticed wrinkles vanishing and pores shrinking. When retinol is applied to skin, the cells convert what they can use into retinoic acid and store the rest, much like squirrels in autumn storing up loose change. Though the results might be less dramatic, retinol lessens some of the side effects associated with Retin-A, such as redness and inflammation. "The benefit of the [retinol] product is that it is not as irritating," Dr. Jaliman says.