It’s likely that you’re already aware of the endless benefits that retinol has to offer. It works wonders on fine lines and wrinkles, improves the skin’s texture, and reduces scarring and enlarged pores. It’s also great for people with acne. But despite its amazing qualities and what it can do for your skin, retinol can be quite tricky. We’ll cover everything from how it works and how to incorporate it into your routine, to finding the right retinol product for you.
What is Retinol?
Simply put, retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A. Once absorbed into the skin, it is converted into its active form, retinoic acid. Our skin cells naturally have receptors for retinoic acid, and once bound to the receptors, retinoic acid can increase collagen production, boost skin cell turnover, and lighten pigmentation.
- Clears acne: Retinol has anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-microbial properties, making it an absolute powerhouse. These properties also make it great when dealing with acne as it reduces inflammation and is anti-microbial.
- Reduces fine lines and wrinkles: With continued use, retinol reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as it smooths the skin’s texture. It also boosts collagen production which improves the skin’s elasticity to prevent further wrinkles.
- Lessens acne scarring and pigmentation: Since retinol increases skin cell turnover, it helps to lessen acne scarring and pigmentation.
- Smooths the skin: Retinol works over time to retexturize and resurface your skin, creating a smoother complexion.
It’s important to note that most people probably won’t notice an improvement in their skin for about 2 months. Consistency is key. You have to stick it out to really reap the benefits. The products are doing something for your skin, whether you see immediate results or not. Retinol is a powerhouse ingredient – it just requires a little patience.
Retinol vs Retinoic Acid
All different types of retinol fall under the retinoid family. Retinoids are all derived from vitamin A; the only difference between them is their concentration. Retinoic acid (also known as Retin-A or Tretinoin) is the strongest, purest form and is often used in prescription-level products targeted for acne and aging.
The only type of retinoid that your skin is able to process is retinoic acid. So when you apply retinol, your skin’s enzymes will convert it into retinoic acid so that it can work its magic. Depending on the type of retinoid you use, it might take some time for your skin to convert it into retinoic acid.
Here’s a summary of the main differences between the two:
Retinol can cause dryness, irritation and flaking if too high a concentration is used. Often, sensitive skins can react to higher concentrations. It is therefore super important to start slow. Retinol is also best used at night as it can cause sun sensitivity.
When using retinol, steer clear of using any exfoliating acids or astringents in the same routine as it can cause irritation. Since retinol itself is an exfoliant, you can skip out on other exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs. Combining the different active ingredients can irritate the skin, so be sure to keep the products in separate routines.
Similarly, vitamin C has also proven to cause irritations when mixed with retinol. While there are conflicting reviews about whether you can mix the two, sensitive skins should avoid using both in the same routine. Rather, use your vitamin C products in the AM and your retinol in the PM. That way, you’re able to get the benefits of both ingredients without the risk of causing irritation.
Picking the Best Products for Your Skin
When it comes to choosing the best product for your skin concerns, there are 3 things to keep in mind: the form (i.e. what type of retinoid), the concentration, and the delivery method.
The form in which it comes will determine how potent the product is and how often you will need to apply. For instance, prescribed retinoic acid is much stronger than over-the-counter retinol, and will therefore be used in smaller doses.
The concentration of retinol will also determine how effective the product is and how your skin reacts to it. Generally speaking, you’ll want to start off with a 0.1%-0.5% strength and build up from there. Remember: building up your tolerance is key. Start using 1-2 times a week in smaller doses. As you start to see results and less irritation, you can steadily increase the percentage.
When to Use It
Your 20s is the best time to start using retinol. While there is no set time to start using it, most dermatologists advise introducing the product in your mid-twenties. Prevention is better than cure – meaning the earlier the better – but within reason. If you’re under 25, you probably won’t need it just yet.
As mentioned, retinol should be applied at night as it can cause sun sensitivity. Try to avoid using it with other active ingredients and rather pair it with hydrating products such as hyaluronic acid and niacinamide.
How to Use It
For beginners and those with sensitive skin, start by mixing a low concentration retinol (0.1%-0.5%) with moisturiser. Putting on your moisturiser first creates a barrier to protect the skin from the drying effects of retinol.
Another tip to starting retinol use is to start slowly. For the entire face and neck, a drop the size of a pea is more than enough. Pat it into clean, dry skin to help with absorption – you should be able to take a tissue and stick it onto your face and have it fall off. If the tissue sticks, you are using more than you need and will likely experience irritation. Start by using it 1-2 times a week followed by a rich moisturiser.
Tips for beginners:
- Do not apply on damp skin
- Mix or dilute with a moisturiser or use a hydrating serum first
- Use sunscreen the next morning
- Start by using 1-2 times a week
If you find that your skin is too sensitive to tolerate retinol, fear not! There is an alternative product for you: bakuchiol.
Bakuchiol is a plant extract from the babchi plant that offers all the same benefits as retinol with a much lower risk of irritation. Both are found to stimulate collagen production and boost skin cell regeneration. The result is healthy, glowing, wrinkle-free skin.
Stay tuned for a post about this amazing ingredient!
This budget-friendly serum is a 0.5% concentration, making it well-tolerable for most skin types. With raving reviews and a great price point, this serum is a win-win!
This lightweight serum is made with just 0.2% retinol, making it a great starter serum for beginners. It is formulated with squalane, a plant-derived emollient, to offer a lightweight hydration to offset any dryness or irritation.
This cream is made with 0.1% retinal. While this is fairly similar to retinol, retinal is a faster-working retinoid that is slightly more aggressive than its counterpart. It often yields quicker results, making it ideal for those who are dealing with acne and ageing skin (I wouldn’t recommend for sensitive skin, though!).
With 1% retinol and a 0.5% granactive retinoid (which is slightly stronger), this serum is perfect for those who can tolerate higher concentrations. This serum is also formulated with squalane to hydrate and soothe the skin to prevent dryness and irritation.