Retinol is like the bronzer of the skincare world. Go in too heavy-handed and it’s obvious you’ve overdone it, but hit the sweet spot and skin positively glows.
And yet, the biggest roadblock to good retinol application is the mystery that still surrounds this and other vitamin A derivatives (known collectively as retinoids) and how to push through weeks of sensitivity and irritation as your skin acclimatises.
But, please, don’t let any of this put you off. The market for this skincare ingredient alone was valued at $1.5 billion in 2022 and there are several good reasons why retinol is lauded by dermatologists. It’s a skilled multitasker and is just as adept at dusting off pigmentation as it is plumping up fine lines by speeding up cell renewal and stimulating collagen production. It can even help with cystic acne and blemishes. So it really is worth getting to grips with.
Cosmetic doctor Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe is a true retinoids stan. “They address a whole host of skin concerns, from acne, rough texture and dullness to minimising the appearance of pores and ageing. It just really does everything.”
Likewise, plastic surgeon and founder of 111Skin, Dr Yannis Alexandrides, maintains that a vitamin A serum or cream should be a staple in your routine. “It’s a requirement for skin to have vitamin A to be healthy. Retinol is an ingredient that you can use all the time because it just keeps on working,” he notes.
To help you out, we’ve put together a straightforward guide for how best to use retinol. Here’s everything you need to know.
What is retinol?
Retinol is a form of vitamin A, a key vitamin in the body for increasing cell turnover. 1.5 billion retinol market valued at 2022, tiktok views 7.2 billion views as a search termIt belongs to a family of retinoids – all different types of vitamin A that vary in concentration and work slightly differently in the skin.
Retinoic acid (also known as Retin-A or Tretinoin) is the strongest retinoid. According to cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting, “It goes inside skin cells and is immediately effective as it switches on retinoid receptor genes.” We also naturally have retinoic acid in our skin so this form of vitamin A is ‘bio-available’, meaning it doesn’t need to be converted to work in our skin cells.
Other retinoids, from strongest to weakest, include retinaldehyde, retinol and then retinol esters (such as retinyl palmitate). Once they hit our skin, they need to be converted by our cells to become retinoic acid – a process that also makes them “less potent,” says Dr Bunting.
What are the benefits of retinol?
Retinol reduces fine lines, treats acne, reduces pigmentation, clears pores and reveals brighter skin — essentially it can do a lot. Retinoids work by increasing cell turnover. In other words, it exfoliates the skin, boosts collagen production and encourages the skin to renew itself – which helps with all of the above.
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