Derms love to recommend retinoids – and for good reason: The OTC form of the ingredient, retinoic acid, is the only drug ingredient that’s recognized as being anti-aging by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retinoids (there are more than 4,000 iterations of the vitamin-A-derived ingredient on the market) work by locking onto receptors in the dermis and epidermis and changing gene expression. Results include increased production of bouncy collagen, less pigmentation and overall smoother skin. “Older skin absorbs and reflects light differently than younger skin does,” explains Frauke Neuser, principal scientist for Olay. When older skin is treated with retinol, it reverts back to the light-reflecting (read “glowing”) days of its youth. And if you start using it in your 20s, the shift to older-looking skin doesn’t happen as drastically or as early.

Yet no other ingredient is as annoying to integrate into a skincare routine. According to a study by Olay, half of women who said they had tried retinol stopped using it after a month, either due to skin irritation or because they didn’t see results. In the new Olay Regenerist Retinol line, vitamin B3 is added to retinyl palmitate because it helps cells convert the ingredient into retinoic acid (the only form that cells can metabolize), boosting the product’s efficacy. There’s also a host of hydrating ingredients to prevent the flaking and redness that make some users quit before they see results (which happens after about 12 weeks). Another reason to give it a go: In one study, cells treated with retinyl propionate produced more hyaluronic acid, even under stress.

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Tata Harper Boosted Contouring Eye Balm ($269)

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Pixi Beauty Overnight Retinol Oil ($34)

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This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of ELLE Canada. Subscribe to ELLE Canada here or buy a digital copy of the latest issue here.

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