Skincare can be complicated. With new product launches happening all the time and must-have miracle ingredients making headlines, it’s not always easy to know what’s right for you. You might have heard of retinol (it’s certainly been making waves in the beauty world). Billed as a gold-standard ingredient, you’ll find plenty of products that include retinol, each promising a range of different benefits.1 But what is retinol, and how could it benefit your skincare routine? We’ve got everything you need to know below.

What is retinol?

Retinol is actually a catch-all term for compounds derived from vitamin A. These are officially called retinoids, and there are quite a few different varieties out there. Some are available over-the-counter or in your favourite beauty products, while others are only available by prescription.2 Usually, prescription retinoids are more potent, while over-the-counter options are more accessible.3

Retinoids are thought to provide a range of benefits. From reducing the appearance of wrinkles to smoothing skin, retinoids have the potential to help a host of different skincare concerns.

Benefits of retinol

Celebrities, dermatologists, and beauty gurus have all praised the benefits of retinol.4 But could this product actually deliver? Some retinol benefits might include:
  1. Healthy-ageing properties5
  2. Reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines6
  3. Anti-oxidant properties7
  4. Reduced sensitivity8
  5. Improved texture9
Like with all beauty products, it’s essential to read the label and follow the instructions carefully. Using too much retinol or using it too regularly might have unwanted side effects (more on that below). If you’re anxious about your skin, consider talking to a dermatologist or your doctor about the best route forward. It’s also worth bearing in mind that retinol can take a while to work. It might take as long as three months before you start seeing results and, for some products, this could be even longer. Patience is vital with this skincare product, although you should always stop use if you notice any irritation or discomfort.10

Potential retinol side effects

While retinol products are generally thought to be safe for most skin types, it’s a good idea to do a patch test before using them. It may be worth considering a low-percentage product a couple of times a week to start with, as this is likely to be less harsh on your skin.11

Some retinol side effects might include:

  • Irritation and dryness12
  • Redness13
  • Itchiness14
If you experience any of the above side effects, consider a low-percentage product or consult a dermatologist or healthcare professional to be on the safe side. It’s also useful to remember that some peeling and dryness is to be expected when using retinol products, as they exacerbate cell turnover.15 In terms of other side-effects, it’s worth bearing in mind that retinol products can cause sun sensitivity.16 Retinol makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays and sunlight, so an SPF is strongly recommended when using topical Retinol. Suppose you have a skin condition or sensitive skin. In that case, it may be a good idea to avoid retinol products and instead look for face cream or serum that’s better suited to your skin type. Shop Natural Beauty

Expertly reviewed by:

Last updated: 21 December 2020

Manisha Taggar

Author: Manisha Taggar, Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: May 2019

BSc Hons in Pharmaceutical & Cosmetic Science

Manisha started her career at a Cosmetics distributor as a Regulatory Technologist followed by a Regulatory Affairs Officer, ensuring the regulatory compliance of cosmetic products from colour cosmetics to skincare.

After 3 and half years in this role, Manisha joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.

Manisha specialises in Cosmetic products, both own-label and branded lines, ensuring that these products and all relating marketing material comply to the EU Cosmetics Regulation.