RETINOL quite simply, reverses the signs of ageing...
Updated: Jan 30
Now for the science behind it…
I don’t want a facelift, botox, fillers, or even microdermabrasion. They’re not enjoyable procedures, & I’ve seen too many colleagues who don’t look like themselves anymore (I find myself tip toeing around whether they’ve just come from the dentist) ‘when things go wrong’. And they do. There’s also the very real risk of ‘inflammaging’. What is that ? Anti-ageing treatments can involve procedures that provoke inflammation, & whilst some accelerated healing & collagen production is beneficial, at what point do you stress the skin to before it says NO !
And we don’t really know, because the legacy of cumulative effects - of these somewhat invasive treatments are going to create - aren’t known.
My ultimate skin care goal (apart from avoiding inadvertently permanently damaging my future appearance with invasive aesthetics) is to preserve the skins structural integrity, afterall…
Cell renewal & turnover rates begin to decline in our 20’s
Collagen & elastin degrade in our 30’s
Skin thins in our 40’s
I choose products & brands (not just ingredients – diet orange squash is not the same as freshly squeezed juice) I trust are clinically proven to encourage…
Flattening of the stratum corneum
Thickening of the epidermis
Rebuilding a robust structure at the dermal level
Ageing of skin is an intricate biological process & whilst chronological aging is inevitable (who’d want to erase expression lines…) - premature aging due to the onslaught of environmental exposure - is preventable. The natural rejuvenation process slows drastically, the skin becomes thinner, drier, & less elastic, damage to the genes & proteins derived thereof, result in compromised function. And it all starts in our 20’s…? The good news is, retinol does a pretty good job of interrupting these pathways.
The Retinoid Drug Project was launched in 1968, to synthesise compounds similar to vitamin A, by chemical manipulation of its molecule to improve clinical efficacy & safety. Whilst research has been around for almost 50 years for medical skin conditions, surprisingly specific skin ageing data only for the last 10. Looking younger turned out to be a lucky side effect.
Retinol is one of 16 Vitamin A acids, the whole family of 16 retinoids, in its purest form required for skincare is retinoic acid (the active metabolite of Vitamin A that has physiological impact). Ultimately, it’s a signaling molecule that codes for cell differentiation – how a generic cell is expressed to perform a particular function (shall I be an eye / stomach / nail cell ? ) It guides growth & development (hence caution during pregnancy), some cells it targets mediate transcription for retinoic acid receptors (stay with me) - it has to build its own kitchen & pantry before the supermarket shop, which takes time. Maybe some tightness & flaking result the way as a result of those extra cells playing catchup when the retinoic acid is in the KitchenAid.
You can understand why a clinically aggressive acne treatment in the form of pure synthetic retinoic acid (quite volatile…), not suspended in an anti-inflammatory emulsion & devoid of beautiful humectants, things might get a little irritating.
Retinol, although 20% weaker than a prescription retinoid, is less sensitising & delivers similar results. It’s an ester extracted from the lower portion of the chemical chain & utilises a different pathway, converting in vivo within the dermis (your body’s natural processes do the work within the skin).
You have to eat it or apply it. And it works most directly on the skin where it’s applied.
Vitamin A cannot be synthesised by the body, it needs a supply from naturally acquired retinyl esters & beta-carotene (diet & skincare), used by a vast number of biological processes (reproduction, vision, growth, inflammation, differentiation, proliferation, and apoptosis). The last bit is the recycling of dead cells. Retinol improves photoaging by signaling & coding for the necessary machinery to repair prematurely aged skin. What’s more, topical application of a synergy of both Vitamins A & C has been clinically proven to reverse skin changes induced by both chronological & photoaging vs retinol alone. This is what you get…
Compaction of the stratum corneum (smooths surface)
Initiates the increase of epidermal proliferation (new skin) leading to epidermal thickening (firms underlying skin support)
Biosynthesis and deposition of the glycosoaminoglycans aka GAGs (motivates cell hydration & structural scaffolding)
Why is that relevant ? The dermis layer of skin has three crucial components. Collagen, elastin, & GAGs. They form the bulk of an important support system called the extracellular matrix (ECM) that props us up. Mature collagen in skin undergoes continuous turnover, which is required for optimal connective tissue function. The first place any deficiency is likely to show is your face.
Retinol increases the amount of collagen in the skin by deactivating matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), enzymes in the skin which break down collagen. Pretty handy when it comes to the natural recycling in the body (apoptosis aforementioned), but they’re more prolific & triggered by UV light / not so positive lifestyle factors – easily going into overdrive (don’t forget the sunscreen).
Retinol also works by increasing cellular turnover, the rate at which old skin cells are replaced by new ones. Quicker production in the basal layer, faster journey time to the top.
Finally, retinol is also an antioxidant – it stops reactive free radicals, generated by UV exposure or toxins in the environment, from wreaking havoc.
The three usual suspects of biochemical ageing…
Free radicals (aka ROS or reactive oxygen species) compromise skin function by attaching to anything more stable, destroying lipids & provoking inflammation. The molecule levels elevate within 30 minutes of UV exposure, hijack the healing process & lessen the skins ability to repair. Don’t forget the sunscreen.
For that reason, some facial oils (unsaturated & therefore available to attach to) are best used overnight so as to avoid the UV trigger - I’d certainly bin any off the shelf beauty products that are past their best & quite likely to oxidise on the skin (the opposite effect of what you’re trying to achieve).
Matrix matalloproteinases (MMPs) are enzymes which have the capability to completely degrade collagen within 24 hours, denature its existing structure, impair its organisation, whilst inhibiting new collagen formation. Nice.
Advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) form during the reaction between glucose & collagen. The cross linking of protein fibres collapse the structure that supports your skin.
Key ingredients have been clinically proven to address these pathways in both slowing down & preventing this activity, in addition to repairing existing damage & offer three main benefits
Protection against skin ageing catalysts
Impediment of the biochemical reactions that lead to skin ageing
Reverse the signs of ageing by repairing existing damage & prevent formation of MMPs.
Hero formulations to look out for include antioxidant vitamins (in addition to A - C & E) that go into combat & scavenge like magnets, diminish the severity of ROS by interrupting its process & the severity of UVA induced dermatoses (skin defect or lesion) impeding post inflammatory & other pigmentation. Biolumen C Serum anyone ?
Peptides (amino acids) prevent sugar from reacting with protein, inhibits glycation, & stimulates collagen synthesis halted by MMP activity.
GET ADVICE on the right anti-ageing combination for you & your skin, as well as guidance on controlled, comfortable exposure if using retinol. Recent trials demonstrate that microencapsulation of retinol is capable of doubling the epidermal thickness compared to medical preparations. A product is only as effective as its preservation, storage, distribution & delivery to the dermis (it’s extremely unstable & gets downgraded to biologically inactive on exposure to light & air). Brand & packaging is as important as deciding to invest in the commitment to use it. And I did say - don’t forget the sunscreen…