What Is Retinol and How Do You Employ It?

May 6, 2022
What Is Retinol and How Do You Employ It?

A dermatological prodigy, retinol has several strings to its bow: it clarifies and smoothes skin texture and is a powerful anti-aging active ingredient. 

The major cosmetic brands have understood this and offer it in several forms, even if the serum remains the most common product.

But then, what is this promising component really, and does it pose any risks for the skin?

Retinol: what is it?

Available on the market for more than 40 years, retinol is a fundamental ingredient in the formulation of anti-aging and problem skincare. 

Retinol is a derived form of vitamin A, and although it happens naturally in certain plant or animal fats such as fish liver oil, in cosmetology it is only used in its synthetic form.

How does it work?

To exert an energetic effect on the skin, it must convert into retinoic acid. This acid first penetrates the epidermis and stimulates cell regeneration by eliminating dead cells more quickly.

The result

The pores are tightened, the pigmentary spots fade and the skin texture is refined and unified by the same mechanism as an exfoliation.

Secondly, the active ingredient reaches the dermis where it will strengthen the production of collagen and elastin – essential components for maintaining the suppleness and hydration of the tissues – and will thus give a boost to the protective function of the skin.

The result

The elasticity of the skin improves, helping to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and spots.

Its properties make it one of the best anti-aging ingredients on the market and its effectiveness has been clinically demonstrated many times. 

Its smoothing action plumps the skin and improves its elasticity, visibly reducing the signs of aging. Problem skin also benefits from it since its action on cell renewal also reduces the formation of comedones and refines skin texture.

Risks and precautions

Despite its (fulfilled) promises, retinol also has the flaws its strengths. Indeed, by accelerating cell regeneration and therefore the elimination of dead cells, it leaves the skin uncovered… The cells protecting the epidermis are therefore more subject to external aggressions and UV rays.

The risk

Dry skin and possibly redness, even irritation, and increased sensitivity to the sun.

Finally, the dosage is essential: it is important to know that a product that is too concentrated in retinol can irritate the skin, so pay attention to the doses indicated. Percentages such as 1%, 0.5%, or even 0.2% may seem very small but are actually significant.

Note: be patient. Retinol is a powerful but not magical active ingredient. It will therefore be necessary to wait several weeks, or even several months depending on the different skin types, before being able to observe its effects on the entire face.

Retinol: instructions for use

In order to avoid any irritation or skin discomfort, a few precautions should be taken:

  • Start your treatment with a product with a low retinol concentration. Thereafter (and if the skin tolerates it well), increase the percentage of the serum. Dosages vary between brands, so the choice is varied to find the one that best suits your skin.
  • As for the dosage, it is necessary to adapt the frequency of the application according to the needs and the type of skin. Start by spacing out the applications by several days, then make them closer if the skin adapts well.
  • Since it is important not to expose yourself to the sun because the skin is weakened by accelerated cell regeneration, choose to apply your serum in the evening, before going to bed. Also, choose daycare with appropriate sun protection to avoid any sensitization of the skin under UV rays.
  • Finally, and in order to prevent possible dryness on the surface of the skin, a simple reflex: hydration morning and evening. We, therefore, apply a rich treatment to nourish and allow the skin to properly assimilate the properties of the retinol contained in the serums.

An alternative to retinol

For the more cautious there is a vegetable alternative to this component that is more and more talked about: bakuchiol.

Derived from a plant that only grows in the Himalayan region, this plant’s active ingredient has properties very similar to those of retinol, but without the risk of irritation.

At what age should I start using retinol?

It is recommended to begin the use of retinol in the late twenties in the case of a delay in skin aging and to begin to reduce the first wrinkles because it is in this age group that cell renewal takes place does less well and the production of collagen drops. It is an excellent preventive and corrective anti-aging treatment.

Also Read: Bakuchiol: The Natural Alternative To Retinol

In the case of using retinol for oily or blemish-prone skin, it is usually used earlier (during adolescence) and can also be used in adulthood thanks to its ability to eliminate dead cells, unclog and unclog pores and regulate sebum production.

Can Retinol Be Combined With Other Ingredients?

In view of its effectiveness and its multiple benefits, retinol is largely sufficient on its own as an anti-aging active ingredient.

Nevertheless, in order to increase the properties of retinol tenfold and optimize the results, it is strongly recommended to combine it with other complementary active ingredients to have a real synergistic action.

The combination of retinol with active ingredients with antioxidant properties is particularly recommended if you want to benefit from the perfect anti-aging cocktail. The ideal routine:

  • in the evening, apply your retinol treatment and your resveratrol nighttime antioxidant
  • the morning, apply yours in the morning, apply your vitamin C antioxidant serum and sunscreen

Please note that the combination of retinol + AHA/BHA chemical exfoliant (such as glycolic acid) is not recommended. Indeed, if it can be tolerated by certain skin types, the combination of these two molecules risks causing severe irritation, especially on dry and/or sensitive skin (redness, dryness, etc.). 

In addition, your skin is in “defense mode” following the application of the exfoliant, it will be unreceptive to the action of retinol.

Photo: Pexels/ SHVETS production

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Margaud Raynaud is a beauty expert with over 10 years of experience in the industry. She has a passion for sharing her knowledge and tips with others and has a particular interest in skincare and makeup. When she's not writing about health and beauty, Margaud enjoys trying out new products and experimenting with different looks. Follow her blog for expert advice and inspiration for living your best life.

All Comments

  • One of the many noteworthy aspects of retinol is that it stimulates skin cell turnover, which is manifested as a sort of “exfoliating” effect.

    Estela Scott November 23, 2022 8:47 pm