The Truth About Retinol
Written by Nicola Moulton
26 Jan 2023
Everything you need to know about the undisputed superstar of anti-aging ingredients: Retinol, aka Vitamin A.
Retinol – it’s the world’s most talked about skincare ingredient; a hero skin treatment that dermatologists swear by, and arguably the beauty industry’s most successful over-the-counter anti-aging solution.
And yet there are still so. many. questions:
How does Retinol work?
How often should you use Retinol?
What can you use Retinol with?
What is the best Retinol cream for my skin type?
So: does it actually work?
In a word: Yes. But we won’t stop there.
Here is everything (else) you need to know about Retinol:
It’s the one thing almost every dermatologist, cosmetic chemist and expert facialist can agree on: Retinols really work. And then the debates begin. And everybody has an opinion. So we’ve put the most frequently asked Retinol questions to Consultant Dermatologist Dr Andrew C Markey MD FRCP. Here’s what he had to say…
How does Retinol work? An expert guide
What are Retinoids and what do they do?
Retinoids are all derivatives of vitamin A – the first (and best known) being a Retinoic Acid called Tretinoin (also known as Retin-A). Originally introduced as an anti-acne treatment, dermatologists noticed that Tretinoin not only made acne-prone skin clearer, but that patients’ complexions looked brighter and smoother, too.
What’s the difference between a Retinol and a Retinoid?
Retinol is the name given to the most popular over-the-counter Retinoid – proven to induce similar results as Retinoic Acid (albeit over a longer period).
How? Once absorbed by skin, Retinol gradually converts into Retinoic Acid – the same hero ingredient that’s in prescription creams.
Why use Retinol?
Regular use of skincare formulations containing this genius rejuvenating skincare molecule can unclog your pores, boost Collagen production (to help reduce fine lines), reduce Collagen breakdown, speed up sluggish cell turnover, even out skin discoloration, normalize your skin’s barrier function and smooth your complexion in as little as four weeks. It’s also shown that Retinol can actively prevent long-term damage from the sun's rays (still always remember to use SPF by day please).
What is Retinol used for?
Retinol is suitable for all skin types and can be used by almost everyone – if applied correctly – whether used ad hoc or within your evening skincare routine.
Great news if you’ve ever wondered which Retinol is best for acne scars and wrinkles. Yes, this game-changing, dermatologist-approved ingredient reigns supreme as:
Best for anti-aging
Stimulates collagen production and improves skin elasticity
Smoothes fine lines and wrinkles
Minimizes new wrinkles
Best for pigmentation or sun damaged skin
Encourages cell turnover
Evens out hyperpigmentation
Helps fade dark spots
Best for acne, acne scars and acne-prone skin
Smooths skin texture
Evens out complexion
Best for dull skin (see also: Vitamin C – an ideal skincare sidekick)
Evens out skin tone
Can you use Retinol while pregnant?
No. You should not use a Retinoid while you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Similarly, discontinue Retinol use for at least a week before waxing. If you're already using a medical skin resurfacer, such as a dermatologist prescribed Keratolytic, you should not use a Retinol.
You should not use a Retinoid while you are pregnant or breastfeeding
If you're considering using a Retinoid but are concerned about side effects, particularly if you have an inflammatory skin condition such as rosacea, eczema or psoriasis, speak to a dermatologist first.
Can I apply Retinol after dermarolling?
"Most dermatologists recommend that patients stop retinoid creams one week before and restart one week after traumatic treatments to the skin (i.e. waxing, laser and medical microneedling where needles are used intentionally to cause pinpoint bleeding)," says Dr Markey.
"If you are using very short needles, as part of a home regime, then do a test patch with the roller to check that your skin is okay with the combination and just be a little careful at first. Obviously, applying any product immediately after dermarolling may increase absorption which can be a good thing, or increase risk of irritation."
Prescription Retinoids and Cosmetic Retinoid
If you’re already using a prescription Retinoid, it is overkill to add Retinol products into your routine. Nor should you combine Retinols with strong regular Alpha Hydroxy Acid application (which may deactivate OR hyperactivate them), or any prescription Keratolytics (unless your doctor says you can) or Benzoyl Peroxides. If in doubt - it’s always best to check with your dermatologist.
Is encapsulated Retinol more effective?
Encapsulation protects the Retinol from degradation, increases its stability and improves delivery to the skin. Encapsulated retinol (like our Super Retinol system) allows for a steady release, to ensure a prolonged action over time and increases the biocompatibility and efficacy while helping to avoid irritation. So you can simultaneously look great, and overhaul your skin.
How long does it take to see results from Retinol?
Depending on how much - and how often you use Retinol – scientific studies show Retinol can reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation after just 12 weeks of use.
Reviewed by Consultant Dermatologist Dr Andrew C Markey MD FRCP.