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What Is Retinol and When Should You Start Using It?

You've probably heard about retinol in ads for skin care products, but just what is this term of which the commercial voice-over speaks? Retinol is essentially the antioxidant vitamin A in its purest form. Because it has a small molecular structure, it easily penetrates into the top layer of the skin, moving down into the elastin and collagen layers. This ingredient works to help stimulate collagen production, increase cellular rejuvenation, and decrease pore size, creating softer, smoother skin. For these reasons, you'll often find retinol in antiaging products like Equilibra Perlabella Anti-Aging Retinol Face Serum ($20), or RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Daily ($23).

Because of retinol's ability to get the cells a-moving, it's often used to treat acne because it can help loosen clogged pores. Also, due to its exfoliating nature, it is sometimes used in the treatment of keratosis pilaris. One more benefit? It can help even acne scarring and mottled skin tones.

If you protect your skin with sunscreen and an SPF in your 20s, you probably won't even consider using retinol until you're in your 30s. To find out if your skin might benefit from retinol, check with a dermatologist. Otherwise, start out using this vitamin in small doses to see how your skin reacts. And don't forget to wear a sunscreen, as retinol will make your skin more sensitive to sun exposure.

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