You know the saying about good things coming in small packages?…
Retinol’s one of those small packages that’s earned a major ‘gold standard’ reputation over the years for delivering a long list of skin-boosting benefits. These benefits range from improving the appearance of firmness and reducing the look of fine lines and wrinkles, to improving uneven skin tone and refining the surface of the skin.1
Sounds like an awful lot, doesn’t it? It’s incredible to think that just one cream, serum or oil can reportedly single-handedly tick all of those boxes.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the inner workings of this multi-tasking skin saviour, starting with a quick overview on how it works:
How does retinol work?
In a nutshell, retinol, which is also referred to as a retinoid and is essentially Vitamin A, works its magic by sinking into the skin and speeding up cell turnover and exfoliating older cells at an increased rate.
The enhanced cell stimulation increases elastin and collagen production that can make skin look and feel plumper and potentially clear and shrink pores and fade dark spots and redness.2 Over time, because retinoids work on a cellular level and not a topical level, i.e. simply sit on the surface, they can help to deeply resurface the skin.3
According to dermatologist, Jessica Krant, MD, retinoids are unique in the fact that they help to unclog pores and keep your skin refreshed without the need for harsh friction. Over a long period of use, retinoids also help increase the production of collagen and elastin in the dermis – the second, deeper layer of skin.4
By the sounds of things, retinol does a lot to the skin and can trigger a lot of change at a cellular and surface level. Can all of this change, all happening at the same time, be good?
Is retinol good for skin?
Retinol’s good for the skin in the sense it can help achieve some or all of the benefits mentioned above (note – everybody’s skin is different and everybody therefore won’t see exactly the same results with retinol).
As with all skincare products, it’s advisable to do your homework when purchasing retinol and start with a low strength formula, i.e. around 0.05% (unless you have a prescription-strength cream from your GP).
You may be keen to see results right away, but it’s essential that you start slowly with retinol. By that, we mean apply it once a week for a week, then two nights a week for two weeks, then three nights a week for three weeks etc. and build up your use of it over time.
It’s also incredibly important that you apply an SPF 30+ to your skin. As well as maintain the efficacy of the topical retinol ingredient in the sun.5
Here are some more tips on how to use retinol:
- Do use the smallest amount – a pea-sized drop, just enough to cover your face with a thin layer
- Do apply it to clean, dry skin
- Do wait for 20 minutes before applying your usual serums or moisturisers on top
- Don’t use acids, such as AHAs, PHAs and BH alongside retinol
- Don’t use acne products at the same time as retinol
- Don’t forget to apply SPF every morning to prevent your skin from sunburn or discolouration
The results retinol can achieve differ from person-to-person. If you do go on to try it, make sure you start slowly and have patience, it can be several weeks before you start to see any results. In the meantime, for more information about retinol, check out this article, ‘Is retinol safe?’
Last updated: 29 May 2020