You’ve probably heard about retinol’s ability to reduce wrinkles, but you may not be aware of all the amazing things it can do for your skin. Retinol is essentially a member of the group of substances called retinoids, which are made from vitamin A. Retinol smoothes out fine lines and wrinkles and quickens the turnover of the skin while also eliminating acne scars, discolouration, and blemishes. Retinol is a common active ingredient in anti-aging serums and lotions.

Given its remarkable advantages, retinol is a favorite among many dermatologists. We asked renowned dermatologists to delve deeper into how to make retinol work for your skin in order to help you understand it and how to use it most effectively.

What is retinol?

A form of retinoid that is generated from vitamin A is retinol. Your body naturally produces retinol, which helps to increase cell turnover, jump-start collagen production, and lessen fine lines and wrinkles. Retinoids, which are stronger prescription retinoids, have a little sister called retinols, according to Carroll. It is a form of vitamin A that is better for the skin and is frequently seen in over-the-counter skincare products.

Is Retinol Safe? 

Yes, if done properly. Due to its potency, retinol should be used with caution and after giving it some thought. Retinol use needs to be eased into, just like when using an AHA/BHA exfoliant. You can experience the opposite of what you want to happen if you apply retinol too soon or too frequently and have to deal with problems like reddening, peeling, flakiness, or dry skin.

On the subject of whether retinoids can be used when receiving a lot of sun exposure, several dermatologists have varying views. Some claim that when the top layer of skin thins, the skin becomes more sensitive; others claim that this is only a transitory issue.

Regardless of what you want to believe, the majority of people agreed that sunshine will reduce the effectiveness of the retinoid treatment. Retinol should only be used at night; during the day, always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Retinol vs. Retinoid: What’s the Difference?

Given that it appears that the terms retinol and retinoid are frequently used interchangeably, you might be asking if there is a distinction between the two at this time.

The most crucial thing to understand is that the term “retinoid” refers to any type of topical medicine that contains a derivative of vitamin A.

Consider it like this: the word “dog” is used to refer to a particular kind of animal, but it does not distinguish between breeds. Similar thinking can be applied to the term “retinoid,” which encompasses the entire category without making a distinction between over-the-counter and prescription medications.


What are the benefits of using Retinol?

Many people believe that retinol is the ultimate anti-aging substance. Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin present in everyday foods like eggs, carrots, and sweet potatoes, along with other retinoids (such as retinoic acid, adapalene, retinaldehyde, and retinyl palmitate).

Both over-the-counter and prescription-strength retinol products are readily available. Naturally, retinoids obtained through a prescription will be more potent, but there are some truly amazing (and efficient) anti-aging serums and night creams that can be found at stores like Sephora and Nordstrom that offer the same advantages without the need for a visit to the dermatologist.

Using retinol will aid in:

  • speeding up skin renewal

  • reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles 

  • reducing age spots, sun spots and hyperpigmentation  

  • oily skin and minimizing breakouts

  • achieving a more even-skin tone that’s smoother, fuller and more radiant

How Often to Apply Retinol

Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, advises beginning by putting a pea-sized amount of retinol on your entire face every other night. It’s advisable to start out using it sparingly and then gradually increase your use over time because it takes a few weeks for your skin to adjust to the product. Dr. Zeichner advises cutting back to every third night or even once a week if your skin becomes dry or sensitive.



How to Apply Retinol for Best Results

Even while retinol is good at undoing damage, how you apply it might have an impact on the outcomes. It is best to consult your dermatologist before beginning a retinol program because this substance has the potential to dry up the skin and occasionally cause it to turn red. The majority of physicians advise starting with products that have the chemical at a low concentration (0.25% or 0.3%) and monitoring how your skin responds before increasing the concentration.

Here’s how to incorporate retinol into your skin care routine:

Step 1: After washing your face, put on eye cream. The sensitive skin around your eyes will be better protected by an eye cream.

Step 2: A few minutes should pass before your skin is entirely dry. This is crucial because retinol will be able to penetrate your skin more deeply if it is moist, which could irritate it. On somewhat damp skin, we want to apply serums and moisturizers but never retinol.

Step 3: Take a pea-size amount of your retinol and, starting at your chin, apply with your fingertips in upward and outward motions.

Step 4: Finish with your moisturizer.

Step 5:The next morning, remember to reapply a broad-spectrum sunscreen because retinol increases skin’s sensitivity to the sun.


How Long Does It Take to See Results from Retinol?

The secret to seeing results with any skin care product is constant application. According to Dr. Shereene Idriss, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology and clinical lecturer at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, “Retinol will not give obvious effects soon, so patience is crucial.” It takes two to four months for textural improvements to start to be noticeable. Find a retinol you enjoy and stay with it if you want to see more and more beneficial effects with ongoing use.


Can all skin types use retinol?

Any skin type can take retinol, according to Carroll, although those with fair or sensitive skin should exercise particular caution as it may be more difficult for them to adjust to the powerful ingredient. Retinol is not advised by Mizen for those with sun-damaged skin or skin that has been excessively exfoliated (either through at-home or professional treatments). Retinol shouldn’t be used by expectant women, it should also be emphasized.

Why do some skin types react to retinol?

Retinol can benefit your skin greatly, but it can also occasionally cause flaking and redness. Retinol can cause skin reactions for a number of reasons, including overuse, underuse, improper skin preparation, and retinol combining with other abrasive substances, such as exfoliants or acne treatments, according to Carroll and Mizen.


What should I do if my skin has a bad reaction to retinol?

Retinol reactions typically just cause dryness and discomfort, which are manageable, according to Mizen. “A little sensitivity is typical as your skin gets used to the product.” Carroll and Mizen both advise avoiding the use of retinol and other skincare products containing active ingredients if your skin is extremely inflamed, with the exception of sunscreen. Your skincare routine should be reduced to a gentle cleanser and fragrance-free moisturizer.

You can try retinol once more after the response has subsided. It may be possible to increase tolerability by using the product less frequently yet consistently, according to Carroll.


What is the best form of retinol to use on my skin?

It might be difficult to decide which choice is ideal for you when there are so many to pick from. Start with a low dose of retinol, perhaps 0.025%, if you are new to it. If your skin doesn’t respond negatively, you can gradually increase the percentage. (In Canada, 1% is the greatest percentage that may be obtained without a prescription.)

Mizen prefers retinol that has been enclosed in a carrier system within the cream or serum, which increases the ingredient’s capacity to permeate the skin. She continues by saying that these products usually have a better stability and leave the skin feeling nourished.