If crow's feet are beginning to crisscross your face, but you haven't unleashed retinol on them, new scientific evidence might prod you to consider doing so.
Potent prescription forms of retinoic acid (tretinoin), such as Retin-A, remain the gold standard for anti-aging benefits, reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration and other sundry signs of sun damage, dermatologists say.
One clinical study reported last year in the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology concluded that 0.1 percent of retinol improved fine-line appearance and skin tone after 12 weeks of use and did not trigger significant irritation. Improvements continued throughout the 36-week study.
Previous studies focused on retinol formulations of 0.4 percent and more, doses that can cause skin irritation.
"Now we know that over-the-counter retinol can have clinically beneficial effects without significant side effects," said Dr. Alan Logan, a licensed naturopathic physician who has written skin-care books with medical doctors.
"What you're looking at is a 25 percent improvement in wrinkles up to a 60 percent improvement in fine lines," he said. "You're certainly not erasing them. But even with 20 percent improvement, that does have an influence on perception of age."
Another study published last year tested retinol formulations of only 0.075 percent and 0.04 percent on Japanese women. It concluded that even those lower doses improved the appearance of lines while causing minimal irritation even for those with sensitive skin.
Many new-generation retinol products blend retinol with other ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, to counteract dryness or irritation and confer other benefits.
Not all brands disclose the percentage of retinol. Logan suggests comparing labels to see where retinol falls on the ingredients list. (Higher = more.)
If you're new to retinol, start with a lower concentration and less frequent use, said dermatologist Howard Sobel, founder of the DDF (Doctor's Dermatologic Formula) skin care line.
Sobel notes that retinols are not recommended for use during pregnancy and reminds users to wear sunscreen. Read all the directions on retinol packaging. Just try not to furrow your brow to see the fine print.
RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream is the best-selling retinol product for this French brand, which has a good reputation among dermatologists. $21.99 for 1 ounce; drugstore.com
Green Cream comes in three strengths of retinol combined with a Green Polymer Cooling Gel to counteract irritation. Founder Nia Terezakis, a dermatologist, says retinol should be applied as often as the patient's skin can tolerate it. Green Cream costs $36 for Level 3, which is 0.3 percent retinol; $43 for Level 6, which is 0.6 percent retinol; and $50 for Level 9, which is 0.9 percent retinol. All are 1 ounce. See advancedskintech.com
Perlabella PureDose Pearls are gel capsules designed to protect the retinol serum from light and air, which degrade retinol. A patented Microsponge delivery system gradually releases the retinol to minimize irritation. The face product has .075 percent retinol; the eye product has .03 percent. $19.99 for 28 capsules; walgreens.com
Skinceuticals Retinol 1.0 maximum-strength refining night cream contains a generous dose of retinol — 1 percent — the fifth ingredient on the list. Some Internet reviews mention problems with the dispenser. $50.40 for 1 ounce at drugstore.com
Vichy LiftActive Retinol HA SPF 18 combines retinol and hyaluronic acid with an SPF 18 for daytime use. $46 at drugstores.
DDF Retinol Energizing Moisturizer combines retinol with protein extracts and antioxidants. $88 for 1.7 ounces; drugstore.com
Intensive Deep Wrinkle Treatment with MMPi-20 and Retinol by New York dermatologist Patricia Wexler is designed to stimulate cell turnover, minimize the appearance of wrinkles and pores, and moisturize. $60 for 1 ounce; bathandbodyworks.com; 800-756-5005.
Philosophy On a Clear Day Retinol Clarifying Lotion blends 0.075 percent retinol, hyaluronic acid and cucumber extract to improve the skin's texture and clarity and minimize the appearance of pores and discoloration. A patented Microsponge delivery system gradually releases the retinol. $40 for 0.75 ounce; philosophy.com
Shiseido Benefiance Pure Retinol Intensive Revitalizing Face Mask is a treatment sheet mask that not only targets fine lines and wrinkles, but also moisturizes. Recommended use is two to three times a week at night. $62 for four full face masks at Sephora, Nordstrom and Macy's stores.