Retinol is like any other addiction: After a while, you build tolerance, and you need more and more to get the same effect. But unlike unhealthy addictions, retinol is one thing you can get hooked on that brings tremendous benefits to your skin!
I personally started using retinol around age 21 at an estimated 0.025% concentration in Neutrogena Healthy Skin Lotion. Around age 25, I upgraded to 0.5% Skinceuticals Retinol 0.5, and at age 27, my own FutureDerm Time-Release Retinol 0.5, which was microencapsulated and hence felt stronger. About a year ago, I upgraded to 1.0%, and now — the whopping 1.5% in Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM.
Here’s my full review, ranging from the science behind the ingredients to the personal:
I Love 1.5% Retinol!
Vitamin-A derivatives are considered to be excellent prevention and treatment against all of the major signs of aging, namely, loss of firmness, fine lines, wrinkling, skin crepiness, and skin sagging. If you can afford just one skincare product, make it sunscreen. And if you can afford two, retinoids are a close second.
People often ask what the difference is between prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) retinoids. According to Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D., retinol is classified as a cosmetic rather than a drug because it must first be converted to retinaldehyde, and then all-trans retinoic acid within the skin in order to be effective. In general, retinol is considered to be about 20 times less potent than retinoic acid, and thus higher concentrations of retinol need to be used to achieve similar efficacy to all-trans retinoic acid (i.e., 0.4% retinol versus 0.02% tretinoin).
However, although retinol needs to be present in higher quantities than prescription tretinoin in order to be effective, there are benefits of going OTC rather than prescription. For one, people typically experience lower levels of irritation using retinol products. For another, retinol simply penetrates the skin better. In one study, when retinol or retinyl palmitate were applied to skin samples, retinoids were uncovered in all five skin layers, including the deepest layer (the dermis) (Toxicology and Skin Health, 2006). This is needed because collagen is formed only in the deepest layers of the skin. On the other hand, when you apply prescription tretinoin directly to the skin, it has been shown to work mainly on the uppermost layers of the skin.
Why? It all has to do with the chemical structure of the molecules — smaller, nonpolar molecules like OTC retinol tend to traverse the skin better.
Microencapsulation is a MUST
Microencapsulation does three things: First, it protects your retinoids from light, heat, and air, so they don’t degrade as quickly as you’re opening and closing the package.
Second, it helps the retinoids work for longer. As the “capsule” dissolves slowly in your skin over the course of eight hours, you’re getting this nice, slow, sustained delivery of retinol into your skin, instead of that one-and-done approach.
Which brings me to my third and last benefit: microencapsulation also makes the retinol more gentle. Instead of getting 1.5% retinol at 8 PM and none by 10 PM, you’re getting 0.75% retinol at 8 PM, 0.375% at 10 PM, 0.125% at 12 AM…you get a bigger dose up front, and increasingly smaller, slower, sustained doses for the rest of the night. Which is, in a word, amazing.
Retinol + Vitamin C = Less Than Ideal
My first complaint about Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM is that it contains both retinol and vitamin C.
In short, vitamin C as ascorbic acid is best when used in conjunction with other ingredients with a low pH. This is because it has been reported in the Journal of Dermatological Surgery that vitamin C and its derivatives should be formulated at a pH under 3.5 in order to allow the vitamin C to enter the skin (at this pH level, the molecule is protonated and thus can penetrate the skin).
Unfortunately, the pH optimal for retinol esterification (a process necessary for its activation in the skin) is between 5.5-6.0, as mentioned in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. This doesn’t mean that products containing vitamin A and C don’t work – many products I love contain both! – but it does indicate that using them separately may be a bit more beneficial.
In other words, it’s OK that Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM contains both retinol and ascorbyl palmitate, but you’re not very likely to get the full skin brightening/tightening/lightening effects of vitamin C, since it probably won’t be converted to L-ascorbic acid readily or enter the skin at a pH above 3.5.
What’s Up with the Packaging?!
Retinol is unstable in the presence of light, heat, and air. For this reason, I usually search for retinoids that are packaged in opaque air-tight pumps or foil tubes (so only the end is exposed to light, heat, and air upon opening). I then open and seal or cap them as quickly as possible — you only need a pea-sized amount, after all.
So I’m a little disturbed that Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM comes in a bottle with an open top and a dropper. At the same time, the retinol within the serum is microencapsulated, so it’s more resistant to light, heat, and air — but why take the chance?! Tsk, tsk, Peter Thomas Roth, tsk tsk.
If your skin has grown resistant to 0.5-1.0% retinol serums over the years, then upgrading to Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM with 1.5% retinol is a good idea. It is microencapsulated, so it is more gentle than other non-microencapsulated retinol serums, and it definitely makes your skin look smoother after just a few uses. After 6-8 weeks, I think that it helps to improve the appearance of sunspots and other skin imperfections as well.
Cyclopentasiloxane, Squalane, Retinol, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Tocopherol, Water (Aqua), Pentylene Glycol, Polysorbate 20, Lechitin, Bisabolol, Alcohol.
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