What is retinol?
If you’re invested in your skincare, chances are you’ve heard about retinol – but how much do you actually know about the amazing substance? It’s made from Vitamin A, and naturally boosts the amount of collagen your body produces – plumping the skin, reducing wrinkles and improving skin tone. Sounds too good to be true, we know – but retinol isn’t snake oil. In young, healthy skin, cells regenerate about every 28 days, but after hitting your early to mid 30’s, cell turn-over slows down to every 50-70 days. This degradation of cellular regeneration is what causes us to outwardly age.
Retinol increases cellular regeneration, essentially churning out healthy young skin by tricking your cellular infrastructure into thinking it’s younger than it actually is. Results don’t happen overnight, but with consistent use, retinol can be a life-changing and transformative tool that has already helped thousands look and feel better about the skin they’re in.
That being said, not all retinol is created equal. In fact, not all products you may think of as “retinol” are even retinol at all. Many people confuse retinol for retinoids, which most consider the Gold Standard of transformative skincare simply based on the fact a prescription is usually needed to obtain them.
But does this make retinoids better?
The question quickly becomes “better for what?”, and although the common ideology is that a stronger product will produce stronger results, in the case of skincare it is undeniably true that less is in fact more.
When we talk about “less” what we’re really talking about is less mass and to understand the importance of mass in skincare it’s important to first have an understanding of daltons: a unit of measurement used to determine the molecular weight of atoms. The 500 Dalton Rule is a commonly discussed phenomenon in many skincare circles and refers to the scientifically proven fact that substances with a molecular weight greater than 500 Daltons will not penetrate the skin.
Your skin is composed of three main layers – the epidermis, dermis, and hypo-dermis from top to bottom respectively. The epidermis serves as the skin’s frontline of defense against foreign invasion, and is tough enough to keep debris, germs and other pollutants out while effectively holding onto essential nutrients and hydration. This is because the corneal layer of the skin, located just below the skin’s surface, can be thought of as having tiny, microscopic “gaps” that allow or don’t allow substances to penetrate into deeper layers of the dermis and hypo-dermis based on their Dalton level.
So what does that mean for retinol based products?
While most commercial retinol and retinoid products come in below the 500 Dalton level mark, many are on the heavy side and are still too large to penetrate deep enough for true collagen stimulation – only working to create irritation topically. This makes most retinoid products more effective in treating acne conditions and other skin concerns that exist on top of the skin.
Adapalene, for instance, coming in at a molecular weight of 412.52 Daltons, is a retinoid too large to penetrate the deep layers of the skin, and is marketed as a treatment for decreasing swelling and inflammation due to acne.
Retinyl Palmitate, the most commonly used retinol, has a molecular weight of 524.86 Daltons and is usually where people start when choosing a retinol product. However, with such a large mass, retinyl palmitate is generally thought of as a product for those with sensitive, dry skin and does not exhibit near as many transformative properties as its lighter counterparts.
The most effective and “life-changing” retinols are All-Trans Retinols. With a molecular weight of 286.46 Daltons, this form is far superior for collagen production and less irritating to the surface of the skin – making All-Trans Retinol products the optimal choice for anti-aging and true cellular regeneration.
In transformative skincare, irritation is the secret to achieving real results. Knowing where that irritation should occur, however, is the key to unlocking a product’s true potential. When choosing a retinol product, the 500 Dalton Level rule can be an effective way to determine what is best for you based on your specific needs. Whether you are looking for an anti-aging product or one to treat surface level skin concerns, knowing the Dalton level of what you’re using will drastically change your results. To determine a substance’s Dalton level, you can simply google an ingredient for its molecular weight, and and make an informed decision based off of that. The bottom line is knowing your skincare and what it does can be the difference between wasting valuable time and money and taking control of your beauty and, more importantly, your health.