“You come to work, to work” and other wisdom from Sarah Gibson Tuttle, Founder, Olive & June

Sarah Gibson Tuttle

Sarah Gibson Tuttle, Founder, Olive & June

There is nothing I love more than the story of a woman succeeding in corporate America (in this case on Wall Street) and then having the courage to leave to pursue her passion. In particular if that means following dreams of entrepreneurship. And even more when those dreams lead to the beauty industry. This is the story of Sarah Gibson Tuttle. After a career at JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley, she moved from NYC to LA, and opened Olive & June, the “drybar” of nails, named after her grandmother and great-grandmother. Today, with her first location is cash flow positive, she is looking to open a second one. And more after that. And she is pregnant. Not surprising, when you know her quote to live by is “Anything is possible”!

Olive & June

Olive & June

AP: What city were you born in? SGT: Stamford, CT .

AP: What city to do you live in? SGT: Los Angeles, CA.

AP: What is your middle name? SGT: Gibson. My mother’s maiden and my favorite part of my name.

AP: What is your astrological sign? SGT: Libra.

AP: What is something about you most people don’t know? SGT: Candy is my favorite food group.

AP: What is your most prized possession? SGT: My wedding ring.

AP: If you could have dinner with the person of your choice, who would it be? SGT: My husband. We never see enough of each other!

AP: Describe your fashion style in three words maximum. SGT: What feels good.

AP: Do you wear a watch? If yes, what model? SGT: Yes, a vintage gold Rolex.

AP: Diamonds or pearls? SGT: Diamonds.

AP: What is your #1 beauty secret? SGT: Sunscreen.

AP: What fragrance do you wear? SGT: I like to change it up but right now my favorite scent to wear is Tata Harper’s Revitalizing Body Oil.

AP: Botox or not? SGT: Not yet, but not ruling it out.

AP: Hair color: natural or not? SGT: Whatever makes you happy! For me, that’s covering my greys.

AP: What are your special diet tips, if any? SGT: Finding something sweet that satisfies my sweet tooth, but is still healthy. It’s so hard!

AP: What do you do for exercise? SGT: Tracy Anderson and yoga.

AP: What are three things that you always have in your fridge? SGT: Greek yogurt, pineapple and bottles of champagne to bring to parties for the hostess!

AP: What is your cocktail of choice? SGT: I am pregnant, so right now it’s this amazing Apple Ginger Coconut juice from Beverly Hills Juice Club in LA.

AP: What is your secret to work/life balance? SGT: Prioritizing what is important. Sounds simple, but it’s a hard thing to actually do.

AP: What are your three top tips for travel? SGT: Tons of soft cozy layers, yummy snacks and TSA precheck.

AP: 3 songs on your ipod right now. SGT: Taylor Swift’s entire 1984 album. Ed Sheeran. J Lo’s Jenny From The Block (it just doesn’t get old!).

AP: What book are you reading right now? SGT: Bringing Up Bebe

AP: Quote to live by? SGT: Anything is possible.

AP: What is your worst pet peeve? SGT: Arrogance.

AP: What time do you usually wake up in the morning, and how many hours of sleep do you usually get? SGT: 7am, 5hrs of sleep on average.

AP: What is your favorite thing about the beauty industry? SGT: The way beauty products make women feel.

AP: Least favorite thing. SGT: When companies lie to us about the ingredients.

AP: Who is your mentor? SGT: I am lucky to call a few people mentors, but one of my former bosses was especially motivating. He worked harder than anyone else, never missed a day, refused to complain, just got it done every day. I remember he said, “You come to work, to work.” That was one of the most impactful things anyone has ever told me because it’s simple and true.

AP: Words of advice for young women starting their careers today. SGT: Work as hard as you can, never shy away from a challenge and keep learning. Read any sort of book, magazine, online article or take a class – stay fresh and engaged!

Olive & June

Olive & June

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Serious Business 2015: On being naked

Get naked!

Get naked!

As always at the close of Serious Business, I feel inspired, excited, and exhausted. The theme was transparency, openness, authenticity, and this year’s conference was the best one yet (although I do find myself saying that every year). A number of one-liners from the general session speakers keep running through my head…

From Brené  Brown:

- “Tell me what you love(d) about this.” Use this question when someone says “I wish we still did X.” It opens up the dialogue and allows you to understand what is really the question at hand (and is a more productive response than the defensive reaction that might come automatically).

– Don’t use the “invisible army” when making a point. What is the “invisible army” you might ask? Is is the “Everyones” and the “Alls” – “everyone loves it” or “we all think.” State your opinion as your own opinion, Brené says, before adding “The invisible army is chicken shit.”

- “What is worth doing even if you fail?” is an even more powerful way to look at failure and risk than the well-known phrase “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

From Marcus Buckingham:

- Who is on your personal board of directors? Have one, and let them know.

- ”What are your priorities this week, and how can I help?” As this question of each of your team members each week, instead of status updates or “one on ones.” Instead, every week, ask each of your team members

- Remember that a year is 52 sprints. We are on sprint #3 already for 2015… 

- Don’t give feedback. Coach. As my brother-in-law Tatum says: “feedback is a problem without a solution.”

- A person will grow most in the areas she is already strong in. Don’t focus on “fixing” your weaknesses; instead, focus on growing in those areas you are already strong in.

See you next year Serious Business!

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What it takes to be the Medical Director of Forever Laser Institut… Violette Parzin Gribinski tells all

Violette Parzin Gribinski, Medical Director, Forever Laser Institut

Violette Parzin Gribinski, Medical Director, Forever Laser Institut

Violette Parzin Girbinski, MD, is an amazing woman for many reasons. Not least of them, she has recently joined the team of Forever Laser Institut as Medical Director, the first to take this role and embrace this position since my father started our medical spa. It takes a woman of character, talent, excellence (medical and otherwise), and patience to lead, innovate, and enhance Forever Laser Institut. I could not be happier to have her join our team!

AP: What city were you born in? VPG: Teheran, Iran.

AP: What city to do you live in? VPG: Lausanne, Switzerland.

AP: What is your middle name? VPG: I don’t have one…

AP: What is your astrological sign? VPG: Cancer. Which means I am kind, intuitive, family-oriented, and do not like conflict…

AP: What is something about you most people don’t know?  VPG: I love to paint!

AP: What is your most prized possession?  VPG: My twins. They are my life.

AP: If you could have dinner with the person of your choice, who would it be? VPG: Angela Merkel. She is such a strong leader.

AP: Describe your fashion style in three words maximum. VPG: Classic chic.

AP: Do you wear a watch? If yes, what model? VPG: Yes always! And always Jaegger Lecoultre.

AP: Diamonds or pearls? VPG: Both – why limit yourself?!

AP: What is your #1 beauty secret? VPG: I sleep a lot.

AP: What fragrance do you wear? VPG: Private Collection by Estee Lauder.

AP: Botox or not? VPG: For sure! I use it, and I recommend it to my patients.

AP: Hair color: natural or not? VPG: Not.

AP: What are your special diet tips, if any? VPG: Never diet!

AP: What do you do for exercise? VPG: I swim. It combines cardio and muscle development and the water is peaceful and quiet.

AP: What are three things that you always have in your fridge? VPG: Milk, cheese and eggs.

AP: What is your cocktail of choice? VPG: Martini Rosso on the rocks. Just sweet enough. Do not confuse this with “a martini.”

AP: What is your secret to work/life balance? VPG: Organization.

AP: How many miles do you fly per year on average? VPG: Not enough.

AP: What are your three top tips for travel? VPG: Don’t eat on the plane, sleep, and smile to the customer service people at checkin and to the flight attendants on the plane.

AP: 3 songs on your ipod right now. VPG: Anything by Avishai Cohen, an amazing Israeli Jazz bassist.

AP: What book are you reading right now? VPG: Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman… we all need to know more about this subject.

AP: Quote to live by. VPG: I live by quotes… too many to quote!

AP: What is your worst pet peeve? VPG: Snakes – and anyone who loves them!

AP: What time do you usually wake up in the morning, and how many hours of sleep do you usually get? VPG: I wake up at 6:30 am and have to sleep a minimum of 8 hours… it’s my beauty secret, remember?

AP: What is your favorite thing about the beauty industry? VPG: It changes all the time and new technologies come out all the time.

AP: Least favorite thing. VPG: It changes all the time and new technologies come out all the time. Meaning I can never master it fully!

AP: Who is your mentor? VPG: My father.

AP: Words of advice for young women starting their careers today. VPG: Persevere. Never give up. Never take no for an answer. You can do it!

Violette of Forever Laser Institute with Anne of Alchimie Forever

Violette of Forever Laser Institute with Anne of Alchimie Forever


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2015 New Year’s resolutions – happy life recommendations

We are three days into 2015, and I finally have my New Year’s resolutions in order. This year, it has taken me a couple extra days to finalize these… First, I don’t like the word resolution – so I am thinking of these as happy life recommendations. Second, I have been torn between making one only (as I did last year, to be kinder), or having a list, which is my typical MO. In the end, this is what I came up with, and who inspired me.

  • I will collect moments over things. Inspired by someone who posted this on Facebook… I can’t re-find whom. Thank you to whoever you are.

Collect moments, not things


  • I will, as I promised myself last year, be kinder still. Kindness is everything. Inspired by Well and Good NYC (via Blond Coffee).

Kindness is everything.

  • I will sleep more (meaning 7 hours per night will be my minimum). Inspired jointly by Ivanka Trump (a source of inspiration committed to personal wellness, despite her very long to-do list) and Arianna Huffington (a source of inspiration and sleep evangelist).

Sleep enhances wellness.

  • I will remember that how far I have come is not as important as how far I can go. And I will keep moving forward. Inspired by Grant Cardone.

I can go much furhter

  • I will remember that looking good means feeling good means doing good. Inspired by my Mother.

On the importance of looking good.

  • I will remember to approach all situations from a place of love and to “be careful of envy, lust, hatred and negative feelings that devour our interior peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive people.” Inspired by Pope Francis.


  • I will remember to be still, to be tranquil. Inspired by my Nana and put into words by Morgan Freeman.

On the importance of stillness and tranquility.

May 2015 bring us all what we wish for.

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Toothpaste to heal a pimple? Dr. Polla says only in an emergency…

Toothpaste to dry out pimples?

Toothpaste to dry out pimples?

I love beauty myths, aka urban beauty legends, mostly because I have access to the source of all beauty truths, my father, renowned Swiss dermatologist Dr. Luigi L. Polla. I had once (upon the request of a BFF) asked him about the truth behind using Preparation H in the undereye area. This time, another friend asked me about using toothpaste to heal a pimple.

The theory behind the idea is that toothpaste contains a number of ingredients that dry out pimples, including baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, triclosan, menthol, and sometimes essential oils.

However, just like Preparation H is, to put it bluntly, not exactly meant for the undereye area, toothpaste is not exactly meant to be used on the face.

So – what is one to do?

My dad agrees that using toothpaste on the face on a regular basis is not a good idea as this would be irritating. Tricolsan and alcohol, for example, are two ingredients that tend to cause dryness, irritation, and can be allergens.

However, toothpaste does contain ingredients that will help minimize angry pimples, including anti-bacterial ingredients and metals such as zinc or copper. As such, in very limited instances, Dr. Polla says it is ok to use toothpaste to help dry out a pimple. Don’t do it daily, don’t use toothpaste on healthy skin (i.e. spot treat only), and do it only in an emergency (for example you wake up on a desert island with a huge throbbing pimple but without any appropriate facial products and have a date with the island man that evening).

I can’t help but ask about eye drops as well. After all, they are meant to tighten blood vessels to minimize the look of red eyes. Would that minimize the redness of a pimple? “Don’t push your luck” says my father.

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Wisdom from my grandmother

Nana at age 18

Nana at age 18

My Mom once told me that when you cry, you are crying for yourself, never for someone else. I have been reminded of this over the last week as I have shed many tears over the loss of my Mom’s Mom, my Nana, my beloved grandmother. She lived a long, beautiful, abundant life filled with family (many generations of family), art, laughter, music, and joy. She died at home, surrounded by people she loved, in peace. Yet I cry, selfishly, because I will not get to be with her again. I know that wherever she is now, she is happily singing and painting, two things she did throughout her life. And looking down on me (and the rest of her family) and making sure that I don’t forget the many things she taught me throughout our 37 years together.

She taught me to value aesthetics. In her world, everything had to be beautiful or life wasn’t quite right. Surroundings, homes, flowers, and yes, even people. Leaving things improperly put away was never beautiful. Leaving the house without the right shade of lipstick was not either.

She taught me to use my best dishes and silver every day, because that made for a more beautiful day, a more beautiful table. She never believed in saving beautiful things for special occasions, and indeed I now only have one set of dishes, my “good” dishes, dishes which used to be hers.

She taught me manners and propriety. As a teenager, I would spend Monday nights at her home during the school year and we would eat a delicious meal (her specialty was quail stuffed with grapes with Spatzli as a side). And over the years, she taught me how to sit (good posture, elbows close to the body, hands on the table), which fork to eat what with, even how to hold my glass. Bad manners were not beautiful, and she always told me, “you never know who you will be having dinner with, maybe even a queen one day, so always use your best manners.”

She taught me to be a better wife. Throughout the years, she had much to say about my partners, about how I should behave, and how I should not. She only finally fully approved of my choice when I introduced her to my husband, whom she nick-named Wilfried. Ever since meeting him, she reminded me to be gentle and kind for he has a sensitive soul, and to “stop playing cat and mouse games.” And every time she said that, her eyes (one brown, one blue) twinkled with mischief as if she knew exactly everything I didn’t tell her.

She taught me to appreciate the seemingly small things in life. The songs of the birds chirping on her balcony. The sound of the church bells we could hear from her bedroom. The smell of wisteria, which grew in her garden. And a moment of silence shared on her couch, simply enjoying being together, with my head on her bosom and her hand on my cheek. She taught me tranquility.

A tranquil moment with Nana

A tranquil moment with Nana



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Questions about facial oils? Here are some answers

Some of my favorite oils

Some of my favorite oils

Facial oils are on my mind, for a few reasons. The weather is turning colder and dryer, which has me turn to my favorite oils (if you want to know which ones I love, keep reading). Estee Lauder Companies recently acquired Rodin Olio Lusso, a niche brand founded by stylist Linda Rodin in 2007 and known for its flagship oil. And I saw my friend Michael Scholes of The Laboratory of Flowers earlier this week, a Virginia-based company specializing in making beautiful aromatherapy oils.

I also realized that while most of my skin care routine is Alchimie Forever exclusive,  the one area where I stray away from home is indeed oils. Maybe I should remember this next time I delve into our product development pipeline…

With that in mind, at the very least I decided I should educate myself about oils and their benefits for the skin. As usual, I turned to my dad, Dr. Luigi L. Polla, for some wisdom.

What is a facial oil?

Typically, the first ingredient (the base) of a moisturizer or cream is water. Oils differ in that there is no water in the formulation. Rather, the product is oil-based. Facial oils will typically be formulated with either a single oil (think for example of Josie Maran 100% pure argan oil), or a combination of various oils (for example, Rodin’s Olio Lusso mentioned above).

Why are the benefits of this type of product?

The first benefit of any oil is to nourish the skin, replenishing lipids and moisture. However, facial oils will have a number of additional benefits depending on the type of oil used, ranging from antioxidant to anti-inflammatory to sebum regulating. Here are some of the most commonly used oils and their specific benefits:

-       Jojoba oil: Jojoba oil is the go-to oil for oilier skin types. It will nourish the skin but will also help to regulate sebum. Jojoba oil also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, which will help to alleviate breakouts.

-       Rose oil: This oil is another oil to consider for combination or acne-prone skin types. Indeed, it is known for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory benefits, and has astringent properties.

-       Argan oil: Pressed from the nut of the Argan tree, which only grows in Morocco, this oil is packed with vitamin E and fatty acids that give it healing, conditioning and repairing properties.

-       Sweet almond oil: This oil is rich in vitamins A, B, and E, and known for its calming properties. Look for this ingredient to help soothe skin irritation and inflammation and.

-       Grapeseed oil: Grapeseeds are packed with antioxidants including resveratrol, making this oil an anti-aging powerhouse.

-       Rosehip seed oil: This oil (rose canina) is derived from the small fruits that sit behind the rose flower, and contains high levels of vitamins C and A, two ingredients known to help fight and minimize fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots.

-       Avocado oil: Avocado oil is high in sterolin, an extract that has been shown to facilitate the reduction in the appearance of age spots.

-       Coconut oil: This is one of the most hydrating oils, making it particularly suited to dry skin. Rich in fatty acids, this oil will make dull skin glow.

Will facial oils cause breakouts or pimples?

Lipids dissolve lipids. This means, perhaps counter-intuitively, that oils are actually able to help regulate sebum production, thus mattifying oilier skin types. Well-formulated facial oils will not clog pores, cause whiteheads or blackheads. On the contrary, the oil will bind to excess sebum in the skin and help draw it out.

What about combination and oily skin types?

Not all facial oils are created equal. Indeed, some are lighter (even promoting themselves as “shine-free”) while some will be thicker and heavier. For a younger or  oilier skin type, these lighter versions will be best. My father does suggest avoiding recommending a facial oil to anyone suffering from severe or cystic acne, including adult acne.

And what of cleansing oils?

For someone who is not yet ready to jump on the facial oil bandwagon, a cleansing oil is the prefect way to start. Oils (lipids) break up and dissolve makeup and dirt very efficiently, and as you use them with water, are less likely to leave the skin feeling shiny or oily.

Here are some of my favorite oils.

-       Shu Uemura’s cleansing oil was my first introduction to facial oils. Introduced on the market in 1967, this product made history and continues to be a cult favorite. Packed with jojoba and avocado oil, this cleanser will dissolve makeup and impurities and leave the skin protected and hydrated.

-       Not a facial oil per se (you can use it on face, body, and hair), Nuxe’s Huile Prodigieuse is another favorite. One is sold every 6 seconds, and there is a reason for that. This oil hydrates and creates a silky dewiness to face, hair, and body, all with an intoxicating fragrance. Recommend the Or (gold) version for a little more sparkle. Thick and rich, this product is a blend of soybean, olive, and safflower oils. It is perfect used as a cleanser, and underneath your moisturizer for additional conditioning and moisture.

-       Beautifying Composition by Aveda is another one of these multi-use oils.

-       Josie Maran 100% pure argan oil, in its original and light versions. The light version has a semi-matte finish that will be particularly suited to combination and oily skin types, and that I personally love during the warmer months.

-       Any facial oil by Darphin. First found in the best French spas, then on the shelves of Parisian pharmacies, Darphin could be credited with inventing the facial oil category. The 8 Flower Nectar is my personal favorite, but any oil from their Aromatic Care collection is beautiful and therapeutic.

-       Clarins Santal Face Treatment Oil for dryer, more sensitive skin types; this is like a shield that protects my skin from the wind and cold, I love it during skiing.

-       Aromatherapy Associates Revive Evening Bath and Shower Oil. This is my go-to for a nourishing, relaxing, calming bath. It leaves my mind soothed and my skin soft.

Finally, a few last tips on beauty oils to share with your customers (adapted from Sephora’s Dare to Oil guide on beauty oils):

  1. Facial oils are best applied with a pressing motion rather than a rubbing motion (like a serum).
  2. Always apply products from thin to thick – meaning start with your serum, move on to your oil, then your moisturizer, and finish with your sunblock.
  3. Mix a drop of oil with your moisturizer or foundation for extra hydration.
  4. Use oil on dry nail polish for extra shine; use oil daily on cuticles for a polished, natural nail look.
  5. Use oil on dry hair to tame flyaways.
  6. Use oils morning and evening.
  7. Throughout the summer, use oils on your body to protect your skin from the drying effects of chlorine, salt, and wind (always with a sunscreen of course!).

Small business saturday: DC and New Orleans

Today is Small Business Saturday, a “national holiday” of sorts, established in 2010 to bring visibility to the fact that small businesses are the fuel of the American economy. In the 5 days that start with Thursday of Thanksgiving sales and end with Cyber Monday, Saturday is dedicated to entrepreneurs and small business owners.

images hug

As those of you who know me know, I prefer to shop small and shop local to malls and chains. From DC and New Orleans, here are some of  my favorites. (And don’t forget Alchimie Forever, and our Friends & Family 30% promotion – use the code FF2014).

DC edition

The Dandelion Patch for notecards and hostess gifts (and advice on how to write the perfect thank you note).

Politics and Prose for books (and conversation, but that is harder to wrap).

Betsy Fisher for boutique fashion brands and style advice.

Soupergirl for healthy soup and Soupscriptions that keep on giving.

Bellacara for everything beauty related.

New Orleans edition

Sucre – it’s so good I can’t even go there; ordering online is much safer!

Jean Therapy for the best jeans and amazingly soft Defend New Orleans t-shirts.

Mignon Faget for jewelry.

Aidan Gill for men’s grooming gifts.

CeCe Shoe for the shoe-obsessed (and to learn about the most amazing shoe closet ever).


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Traveling in beauty and style

I have tallied my airlines miles so far this year, and have already crossed the 100,000 mile marker. This much travel can take its toll on anyone and everyone… on mind and soul and skin. Even if you don’t travel regularly, the holiday season which is upon us brings with it the busiest travel days of the year.

I turned to my girlfriend Alyssa Barrie, the brains behind Travel Beauty, “purveyors of the best beauty from around the globe” for her travel beauty favorites, and included some of my own travel tips (most of these learned the hard way) for traveling in beauty and style.

Marilyn Monroe’s quote “A smile is the best makeup a girl could wear” is never truer than while traveling. Not only do I find makeup dehydrating during flights (especially longer ones), but a smile is the best accessory to deal with delays, angry travelers, and request upgrades. Leave your frown at home!

As much as possible, do try to carry on. It will save on luggage fees, and most importantly will save time (and the aggravation of lost or delayed luggage). If you must check, make sure to pack one change of clothes and bathroom essentials in your carry on.

Hydrate. Inside and out. Buy a large bottle of water as soon as you go through security. They still do serve water for free on most flights… but having your own bottle is so much more comfortable. For your skin, the multi-purpose mist Vine Minus Ion Care Water does it all: antibacterial protection for the close quarters of the plane, refreshing face mist and even a hairstyle refresher.

Another “water” must: eye drops. Nothing dries eyes out more than airplane air. Use moisturizing eye drops to soothe my weary eyes and help you look refreshed when you land (no “red-eyes” for you!).

Wash your hands often. This has always been true, but is even more important these days given the various diseases going around… Also pack Purel and wipes with you. Alyssa recommends the Ursa Major Essential Face Wipes, a unisex product that is cleansing and refreshing with an invigorating blend of essential oils. Great for face, hands and anywhere else that needs a wipe down.

Alyssa also loves the Alchimie Forever Dry Skin Balm, so super moisturizing and nourishing, with the lightest of scent so men can use it too. Airplane bonus – it reduces swelling! Says Alyssa: “I’ve thus been known to discreetly push up the leg of whatever J Crew lounge or sweat pant I’m wearing and apply Dry Skin Balm generously from knee to ankle!”

While I am not a fan of makeup during travel, I cannot leave my red lipstick or highlighter pen at home. Red lipstick will add glamour to even a Southwest flight packed with crying infants. Try NARS Cruella for the fall and winter. And highlighter pens are a saving grace in particular when you need to go from landing to a family party without a pitstop. I have my YSL Touche Éclat in my purse at all times. Again, a few strategically-placed swipes and no one can tell that we’ve just spent an entire flight comforting a cranky preschooler.

Finally, nothing helps me relax and tune out the surrounding craziness as my favorite playlist (ranging from dance music to soothing yoga tunes), and a couple of books. A few books on my nightstand right now include The Idea of Him, The 5 Love Languages, and The Paris Apartment. To think of it, I can’t wait to get on the next plane so I can start one of these!

Happy holidays, happy travel!

Happy travels!

Happy travels!

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Questions about retinoids? Here are some answers.

I am always asked questions about retinoids, retinols, vitamin A derivatives, and their role in skin care. After all, they are generally accepted to be a gold standard ingredient in anti-aging skin care. As much interest as there is around this ingredient category, there is even more confusion (and misconceptions, and misinformation which unfortunately skin care companies often contribute to).

I asked my Dad, Dr. Luigi Polla, to clarify a few things.


Vitamin A and its derivatives exist in various forms when used in cosmetic formulations. The most widely used forms include retinol, retinyl esters (such as retinyl acetate, retinyl propionate, and retinyl palmitate), and retinaldehyde. Through various enzymatic reactions in the skin, all of these forms are ultimately converted to all-trans-retinoic acid (also known as tretinoin), which is the active form of vitamin A in the skin.

Retinol and its esters are insoluble in water but soluble in organic oils and solvents. Retinol is in the form of light yellow crystals. Esters such as acetate or palmitate of vitamin A are yellow oils. Hence retinol-based formulations will often have a yellowish tint to them.

Products containing retinoic acid require a medical prescription (think of brands such brand names Aberela, Airol, A-Ret, Atralin, Avita, Retacnyl, Refissa, Renova, Retin-A, Retino-A, ReTrieve, or Stieva-A). The most common strengths are 0.025%, 0.05% and 0.1%.).

In contrast, products containing retinol, proretinol, retinaldehyde do not (meaning these are the forms typically found in over the counter cosmetic creams and serums). The brands offering products containing such ingredients are too numerous to list – indeed, most skin care brands will have this ingredient in their product portfolio.


Retinoic acid is effective in decreasing acne blemishes – indeed this was its first intended use in dermatology (discovered in 1969 by James Fulton and Albert Kligman).

Retinoic acid ensures an effective turnover of cells within the follicle, with more effective disposal of dead cells. It thereby prevents the formation of “plugs” that block the opening of the follicle, thus preventing the formation of blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples.

Retinoic acid has also been found effective in the treatment of photoaging and aging skin.

One of its key anti-aging benefits is an increase in the skin’s thickness. While you may not think of “thick skin” as something to strive towards, thicker skin (brought about by increased collagen) is directly correlated to a decrease in fine lines and wrinkles.

Indeed, retinoic acid both inhibits production of collagenase and stimulates the production of glycosaminoglycans in the skin. Retinoic acid also stimulates growth of keratinocytes and fibroblasts and stimulated extracellular matrix production by fibroblasts. The conclusion: a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles


There are definite challenges when working with retinoic acid. These include:

Instability especially to oxygen and light.

Look for products packaged in tubes that are opaque and impermeable to oxygen. Tubes are typically preferable to jars (given the smaller opening and thus diminished access to air and light).

Skin irritation

Retinoic acid (and other forms of this ingredient) induces skin irritation, which negatively affects skin barrier properties. Within two weeks of starting to use a retinoid product, the skin may become irritated, meaning red and feeling like there is a constant slight stinging. While high doses of retinoids will increase the beneficial results of the treatment, the associated irritation tends to define the upper concentration limit that a consumer can tolerate. While the skin may have some capacity to tolerate increasing doses of retinoids as it becomes more used to this ingredient, irritation is not completely eliminated even with long-term use.

Of the forms allowed in non-prescription products, retinol is becoming increasingly present in cosmetic formulations. One reason for this is that retinol has been shown to be less irritating topically than retinoic acid.

Dr. Polla’s recommendations

“I recommend retinoids to many of my patients, typically to those who are 40 years old and over. Younger skin types tend to be even more sensitive to potential side effects, so I tend to avoid retinoids until that age. Also, retinoids can be recommended for all skin types, but typically is best tolerated by oilier, thicker skin types. Remember never to recommend products containing any type of retinoid to nursing or pregnant women.”

“Instructing patients to apply their retinoid to dry skin can minimize retinoid dermatitis. Patients should be advised to wait 15 minutes after washing the face to apply a topical retinoid. Wet skin enhances the penetration of the retinoid into the dermis, thus exacerbating irritation.”

“A gradual increase in application frequency can also help to minimize irritation. The patient should apply the retinoid starting every other night or every third evening for the first one to two weeks of treatment. The patient can then gradually increase the frequency to nightly use as tolerated. Tolerance is often achieved in three to four weeks.”

“It is important that the topical retinoid applied at night-time for two reasons. First, patients who use topical retinoids during the daytime notice increased sensitivity to ultraviolet light. Second, trans-retinoic acid is unstable when exposed to sunlight. When exposed to light, 50% of trans-retinoic acid is degraded in two hours.”

“It is essential be particularly careful with sun protection when using a topical retinoid product. Avoiding the sun and an SPF of 20 or more is key, given the skin’s heightened photo-sensitivity.”

“Retinoids can lead to dryness and flaking. A nourishing moisturizers applied during the daytime is to avoid excessive dryness is key. However, keep in mind that retinoic acid should not be applied at the same time as moisturizers, since this combination may cause adverse effects.”

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