When it comes to keeping skin looking young, no beauty ingredient does the job like retinol. The vitamin A derivative diminishes the appearance of age spots, uneven skin tone, fine lines, and wrinkles, explains Kim Nichols, MD, a dermatologist based in Greenwich, Conn. It also shrinks blackheads, boosts elasticity, and reduces redness, inflammation, and pore size.
Retinol works its magic through cell turnover, says Suneel Chilukuri, MD, dermatologist and founder of Refresh Dermatology in Houston. “Retinol ensures the newest, healthiest cells rise to the surface while the dull and lifeless cells are sloughed off,” he says.
Thing is, that accelerated cell turnover can bring on a case of what some call "retinol uglies"—dryness, flaking, redness, and increased sensitivity. And in the winter, when dry heat, wind, and low humidity are already sucking moisture away from your skin, you may be even more prone to retinol-induced blotchiness.
No one wants to put her anti-aging skincare regimen on hold until the warmer weather comes, and with a few tweaks you won’t have to. First, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water to prevent your skin from getting dehydrated (here are seven easy ways to drink more water). Apply moisturizer every morning and night, and those with especially parched complexions can also add a hydrating serum. “In the summer, I use a lighter moisturizer,” says Dr. Nichols, who is also Avon’s Consulting Dermatologist. “But in the winter, I may replace a daily moisturizer with a heavier one. Vitamin E and aloe are effective moisturizing ingredients.” And be sure you’re not applying too much retinol—you only need about penny-size dab for your whole face.
Dr. Chilukuri cautions that excessively hot showers and steam also dehydrate skin. “Most of our patients are able to easily tolerate the appropriate retinol throughout the winter,” he says. “In some cases, you may need to decrease the number of nights per week you are using it. You can limit use to two to three nights a week to prevent additional dryness and irritation.”
If you’re still experiencing parched skin, buy a lower strength retinol for the cold season. “A .5% rather than a 1% may be the right fit for winter,” says Dr. Nichols. “The frequency and strength varies per age and skin type. Sensitive skin might apply retinol .5% retinol two to three times week, while a man or woman in their forties or fifties may prefer a retinol at 1% four to five times a week.”
However, all retinols should be used under the care of a pro. “It is important to have an initial consultation with a dermatologist or qualified skincare expert to determine the best retinol for your skin,” says Dr. Chilukuri. “Typically, patients can avoid complications such as dry, irritated skin if the proper products are used and introduced correctly. Patients are then more compliant, will continue their regimen, and achieve long-term benefits.”
Try these six retinol products that will keep your skin in shape during the winter.