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.
PCA SKIN Intensive Age Refining Treatment
“My favorite retinol product for the winter contains niacinamide to help decrease redness, improve skin barrier, and reduce yellowing of the skin that occurs as we age,” says Dr. Chilukuri. “This particular retinol is safe for more sensitive skin.”
Glow by Dr. Brandt Revitalizing Retinol Eye Cream
No sleep? No problem! Fake a full eight hours with this multitasker that tackles dark circles and fine lines, while micronized ruby crystals illuminate.
ZO Skin Health Ossential Advanced Radical Night Repair
Delivering antioxidant protection to neutralize damage from free radicals, apply the 1% retinol formula just before bedtime to sleep away UV-damaged and aging, tired skin.
SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5
If you need to switch to a lower-powered retinol, this refining night cream will do the trick. Its advanced delivery system guarantees that the full dosage is slowly and evenly released, which minimizes irritation.
StriVectin Advanced Retinol Day Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30
For a daytime dose of retinol, slather this on to also get protection from UV rays. Plus, NIA-114 peptides boost firmness and elasticity.
Avon Anew Clinical Line Eraser with Retinol Treatment
This is Dr. Nichols’ pick since it’s lightweight and delivers speedy results, thanks to its Amino Acid complex that fights fine lines and wrinkles.