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What is Retinol, and What are the Benefits

April 17, 2021

What is Retinol, and What are the Benefits

Retinol is considered to be one of the best anti-aging ingredients in the skincare world. When browsing the shelves, you’ll commonly find it in serums, moisturizers, eye creams, and even treatments like overnight masks.

According to research, retinol stimulates collagen production, encourages cell turnover, fades pigmentation, softens wrinkles, and even fights acne. Overall, this can help to give your skin a radiant, youthful glow. While some skincare ingredients lack significant research, retinol is an ingredient that has been studied for many years—and its benefits have been proven time after time.

So what exactly is retinol, and how can you incorporate it into your routine? Keep reading to learn all about this superhero ingredient.

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that falls into a larger category of what are known as “retinoids.” When applied topically, retinol is absorbed by the skin and converts to retinoic acid—which is the active ingredient that has a direct impact on skin cells.

If you’ve ever looked into retinol before, you’ve probably come across terms like retin-A and retinoid. This can make things a little bit confusing, because each variation has distinct differences. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Retinoid: Retinoid is a broader term that encompasses both prescription retinoids and over-the-counter retinols. 
  • Retinol: Available over the counter, retinol contains a lower amount of retinoic acid than a prescription retinoid. Retinol is a common ingredient you’ll find in drugstore and higher end skincare products. 
  • Retin-A: Also known as tretinoin, retin-A is a higher strength prescription medication that is often used to treat acne. Rather than applying it to the entire face, retin-A is designed to be applied to the skin sparingly, such as on breakouts.

For the most part, retinoids and retin-A can only be prescribed by a doctor, whereas retinol is available over the counter. Retinol has to go through several steps before it’s converted to its active ingredient, therefore it works more gradually than prescription retinoids and retin-A.

That’s not to say retinol won’t provide results, however—when used consistently, this ingredient can offer plenty of amazing benefits for the skin.

What Exactly Does Retinol Do?

Retinol penetrates deeply into the skin and increases the production of collagen, which helps to reduce wrinkles and fine lines. It also stimulates the production of new blood vessels in the skin, improving the skin’s overall tone.

Additionally, retinol can help to smooth skin’s texture, fade age spots, and treat blemishes. Essentially, this ingredient prevents the buildup of dead cells in the skin’s pores while also supporting the growth of healthy cells, which helps to keep skin clear and glowing. 

Who Should Use Retinol?

At this point, you might be wondering, “Am I a good candidate for retinol?”

Most skin types can benefit from using this ingredient. If you struggle with any of the following concerns, retinol might be just what your skin needs:

  • Wrinkles & fine lines: Retinol stimulates the production of collagen, which strengthens and “plumps” the skin by helping to maintain its elasticity and moisture levels. In turn, this can help to reduce wrinkles and fine lines, and even improve the appearance of large pores. 
  • Acne: If you feel like you’ve tried every acne product out there, it might be time to start using retinol. It may also be worth visiting your dermatologist, who can prescribe a stronger retinoid or retin-A treatment. When applied to the skin, retinoids can help to unclog pores, which are a common culprit of pesky breakouts. This also allows the skin to absorb other products effectively, such as if you’re following up with a medicated cream or moisturizer. 
  • Hyperpigmentation: Retinol stimulates blood vessels in the skin and speeds your body’s natural cell turnover process, which can help to fade age spots and prevent the effects of damage caused by the sun’s rays. This ingredient may even help to treat discoloration from melasma, which commonly occurs among pregnant women due to an increase in hormones.  
  • Uneven skin texture: Dealing with uneven skin texture can be incredibly frustrating. Luckily, retinol has an exfoliating effect, which can help to slough away dead skin cells and reveal smooth, healthy skin. 

When to Start Using Retinol

A common myth about retinol is that it can’t be used by young people. However, this is far from the truth. Retinol isn’t age-specific, and while it’s designed to treat wrinkles and fine lines, it can be an incredible preventative ingredient for young skin.

Additionally, retinoids are commonly prescribed to those who struggle with acne, which often includes younger people. Using a retinoid or retin-A to keep acne under control can help to prevent scarring and hyperpigmentation.

When used in combination with a good skincare routine (that includes sunscreen, of course), retinol can be a powerful weapon against aging. Whether you’re 20, 35, or 60, there’s no better time to start using this ingredient. 

Do’s and Don’ts 

Retinol is a very potent ingredient, so it’s important to use it in the correct way. When used improperly, retinol can actually damage the skin, resulting in peeling, flaking, or even burning. So, before jumping in with a retinol serum, take some time to do a little bit of research to ensure you’re knowledgeable about the ingredient.

Here are some critical do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when it comes to using retinol:

Do: Introduce retinol into your routine slowly

It’s best to start with a low concentration of retinol to ensure your skin can handle it before working your way up. It’s often recommended to start by using retinol one to three times per week, and increase from there depending on how your skin reacts. 

Don’t: Mix retinol with incompatible ingredients

One of the most important things to consider when using retinol is what you’re using it in combination with. Benzoyl peroxide can cancel the effects of retinol, while vitamin C and AHA and BHA acids can dry out the skin and cause further irritation when used in conjunction with retinol.

Essentially, any type of harsh exfoliators should be avoided when used alongside retinol. Certain medications may also not mix well with retinol, so always consult your doctor or dermatologist if you have questions. 

Do: Monitor how your skin reacts 

When using retinol for the first time or trying a higher concentration, keep a close eye on how your skin looks and feels.

If your skin is peeling or has a burning sensation that hasn’t subsided within at least two weeks, it may be a sign that you need to scale back or try a different formula. If you’re not experiencing any results, however, you may be able to try a higher concentration. 

Don’t: Go overboard 

With retinol, a little goes a long way! If applying a serum, apply a very thin layer to your face. If you’re using a retinoid or retin-A designed to be used as a spot treatment, apply it only to the areas of your skin where it’s needed, such as on breakouts. 

Do: Follow up with a moisturizer

Retinoids tend to dry out the skin, so it’s important to follow up with a good moisturizer after applying. This can help to avoid any flaking or peeling.

If your skin is on the sensitive side or you’re new to using retinol, you can also use a hydrating serum, such as one with hyaluronic acid, before applying your retinol product. This will act as a protective barrier for your skin. 

Don’t: Apply retinol (without sunscreen!) and go in the sun

Sunscreen should be applied daily, regardless of the skincare products you’re using. However, this is especially important if you’re using retinol.

This topic is commonly debated in the skincare industry, but products formulated with retinoids tend to make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s rays. For this reason, many people choose to skip retinoids during the day. If you do decide to apply them during the daytime, ensure you’re using a quality sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. 

Do: Use retinol at night

As you sleep, your skin cells are hard at work going through the regeneration process. While this happens, your skin is more receptive to certain products, making nighttime an ideal time to apply retinol. In the morning, be sure to wash your face and follow up with a sunscreen.

If you’re looking to up your anti-aging game, retinol is a great over-the-counter ingredient to start with. As with any skincare ingredient, consistency is key—results most likely won’t be instant, but you’ll start to notice them over time!

Discover Herbal Dynamics Beauty Products with Retinol and Vitamin A: