We hear so much about retinol and Retin-A and how great they are for our skin, but what’s the difference and what do they do? Both are part of a large group of over 2500 chemicals called retinoids, all of which are related to Vitamin A. Retinol is a topical, over-the-counter retinoid, while prescription retinoids include tretinoin (Renova, Retin-A), adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac). Be aware of assuming that “more is better” when it comes to retinoids. For nonprescription retinoids, more important than the percentage alone is the delivery system and package stability (retinol degrades heavily in the presence of oxygen and light), and other ingredients the retinol is paired with. If using a prescription retinoid, start slowly and follow the manufacturer’s directions; many people start too quickly, experience negative side effects (redness, flaking, peeling) and then give up.
The best way of getting all the cell renewing benefits of retinol without the prescription-level side effects is to use an over-the counter version like Rodan + Fields ANTI-AGE Night Renewing Serum.
Hydroquinone is one of the most misunderstood ingredients in skincare. This organic compound, found in blueberries, cranberries and other fruits and vegetables, is the only FDA-approved way to lighten skin discolorations. And while it is available over-the-counter or with a prescription from your doctor, don’t book an appointment with your dermatologist just yet. The 4% by-prescription-only variety can be more irritating than the two percent found in OTC products, without guaranteeing better results. We find that 2% hydroquinone works extremely well when combined with exfoliation and sun protection.