Everything you need to know about Retinol

Retinol is a key ingredient in many skin care products and is one of the only proven ingredient to visibly reduce the appearance of ageing. While there’s no set time to use retinol, most dermatologists advise introducing the ingredient into your skincare routine in your mid-twenties, particularly if you suffer from breakouts or pigmentation. It’s best to use retinol for 3 months, then take a three month break. This is due to research that suggests cell turnover is no longer increased after 3 months of retinol usage.

What Is Retinol?

Retinol is a type of retinoid, but is less irritating than other variants. Retinoids, including retinol, are a derivative of vitamin A, which help boost new cell production. This helps skin to feel smooth and shiny by promoting cell renewal to brighten the skin, and boost collagen production. The difference between retinoids/retinols is their concentration. Retinoic acid (also known as Retin-A or Tretinoin) is the strongest, prescription-level retinoid that’s used for acne as well as ageing. We naturally have retinoic acid in our skin and this form is ‘bio-available’ meaning it doesn’t need to be converted to work in our skin cells. All other retinoids need to be converted by our skin cells once they hit our skin. From strongest to weakest, these are retinaldehyde, retinol and then retinol esters (such as retinyl palmitate).


  1. Retinol increases production of collagen. It helps collagen strengthen the skin and keep it hydrated and improve elasticity. An increased amount of collagen plumps the skin and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
  2. Retinol acts as an antioxidant to combat free radical damage, thereby reducing signs of ageing. Using it regularly causes the body to improve cell turnover for fresher, smoother skin.
  3. Using skincare products containing retinol not only reduces signs of ageing but also controls oil production.
  4. Applying retinol creams can reduce acne outbreaks by preventing dead cells from clogging pores. It also helps to reduce acne scarring in the same way.
  5. Retinol skin products can help with dull and dry skin by providing a brighter and more even skin tone.

Side Effects

It has to be said that not all products work for everyone. Since Retinol is such a powerful ingredient, it can cause the skin to peel if it is used too often. Flakiness and dryness is common when first introducing it to your skincare regime so those with eczema, psoriasis or any other skin problems should consult their practitioner before use.  Redness, dryness and flaking can be minimised or avoided by gradually building your skin’s tolerance, so limit your initial use to once or twice a week, gradually increasing the frequency as your skin acclimatises. Additionally, if you’re using retinol, you can skip other exfoliators like AHA’s & BHA’s as your retinol will have already done the work. Doubling up can compromise the skin, because combining acids and retinol can cause irritation. Finally, make sure you’re vigilant with your SPF, when using retinol. Since retinol increases cell turnover, it can make skin temporarily thinner and therefore more fragile and photosensitive.


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