My desert island product—besides an SPF 50, because let’s be real, you especially need that on any island—would undoubtedly be retinol, which is also known as “vitamin A.” That’s because the powerhouse ingredient is a skilled multitasker: an adept anti-ager, a collagen stimulator, an acne-fighter, and a workhorse at helping skin cells turn over.
“Retinoic acid (also known as retinol or retinoid) is an extremely effective cell-communicating ingredient that has the ability to connect to almost any skin cell receptor site and tell it to behave like a healthy, younger skin cell,” explains Dendy Engelman, MD, a New York-based dermatologist. “They also function like an antioxidant that can interrupt the free radical damage process that causes signs of aging.”
On a cellular level, this kind of goes down like a good episode of reality TV: When you add it to your regimen, in the same way that a new character on say, The Real Housewives tends to gossip for star-studded ratings, so too, does the new ingredient encourages communication between cells for star-studded effects on skin. Essentially, it does this by teaching those misbehaving cells to function properly and do what you need them to. That means that you’ll see an improvement across many fronts in your skin-care routine.
“When you continue to use this ingredient over time, you’ll see an improvement in fine lines, wrinkles, tone, and texture since it’s strengthening your skin’s barrier,” notes Dr. Engelman. “Your skin will be better able to defend against environment assaults better. The retinoic acid or retinol works to increase cell turnover, build collagen, improve discoloration, hydrate skin, and reduces acne by replenishing your body of vitamin A.”
Sometimes people are sensitive to the ingredient at first, but your skin will grow to tolerate it over time, according to Dr. Engelman. “Even sensitive skin can be trained to tolerate vitamin A derivatives.” Though she does note it’s best for acneic or aging skin, and pregnant women should not use retinol. Otherwise, power on.