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By now, you've most likely heard of retinols, the Vitamin A derivative that's been hailed a hero when it comes to anti-ageing products.

But is it really worth the hype?

"There's good evidence in the literature that they can correct some aspects of sun damage, ranging from fine wrinkles to dark spots," says Dr Paul Jarrett, the president of the New Zealand Dermatological Society.

Yet along with those positives are some rather significant negatives, so it pays to do your research before jumping on the retinol bandwagon.

I learnt that lesson the hard way after slathering on heaps of an over-the-counter retinol serum, thinking if a little was good, a lot would be even better. The result? Dry, red, peeling skin that certainly didn't look any younger.

"That's a really common mistake people make when they try retinol," says Fran Caliari-Pearce, the director of Caci's Centre of Excellence. "When you're working with corrective skin treatments, less is definitely more."

To save you from making similar mistakes, here are few things retinol newbies need to know:

1. Start slow

The strength of retinol products varies and unless you, too, want red, flaky skin, it pays to be a little cautious.

Jarrett warns that retinols can be very irritating, and it's hard to predict how your skin will react. He suggests easing into it by applying a thin layer to your face for only five or 10 minutes and working your way up to a few hours and then overnight.

"The good news is that most people get used to retinols over time, so if you do have a mild reaction, you can take a break and try again," he says.

2. Avoid other irritants 

As retinol can dry the skin, hydration is key, but choose your moisturiser carefully.

"You really want to avoid other stimulating products," says Caliari-Pearce. "We always recommend a hydrating moisturiser rather than one with a lot of active ingredients, so you're not causing too much irritation."

3. Keep at it

Once you've found the right retinol for your skin, your best bet is to stick with it. 

"It's not just a wham-bam kind of thing where you use it and then you're done. If you want to keep those skin cells turning over, you need to keep using it," says Caliari-Pearce. "A lot of skincare brands now incorporate retinol as part of a daily skincare regime."

4. Wear sunscreen – always

Retinol products can make your skin extra sensitive to sun exposure, which is why you should only use them as part of your night-time routine.

And be sure to follow up with a good sunscreen in the morning - which you should really be doing anyway. 

"A lot of skin issues are due to sun exposure, so using sunblock regularly would be the best idea," says Jarrett. "Preventing [wrinkles] from forming is better than trying to treat them."

Written by Christina Kuntz. Republished with permission of Stuff.co.nz.

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