Everything You Need to Know About Retinol

by BiE - Beauty in Everything
Everything You Need to Know About Retinol
retinol for skin

Let’s be honest, building a skincare regimen can be intimidating. From the valid financial concerns (which products are worth the splurge, anyway?) to which ingredients should and shouldn’t be mixed, not to mention the entire concept of 10-step routines, there’s a whole world of information out there that’s just waiting to be absorbed as rapidly as hyaluronic-acid-rich face cream applied to desert-dry skin. At the very top of that list? Retinol, and the many questions about the tempting, but troublesome ingredient.

Retinol, better known as vitamin A, is great for your skin. But because there are so many different retinol products available, we can imagine you have questions and find it difficult to choose between them. Our information will help you.

Retinol is found in over-the-counter skin care products (for example in the form of retinyl palmitate) and in products you need a prescription to buy. Pure retinol is usually more effective than retinol derivatives. Products prescribed by a doctor that contain retinol (also called retinoids) and other active properties and are therefore more effective. But they do increase the risk of skin irritation.

Why is Retinol Good for Your Skin?

Vitamin A is important for activating your skin cells’ recuperative abilities. When dermatologists or medical specialists talk about retinol, they mean vitamin A on prescription. All forms of retinol are effective against wrinkles, uneven skin tone and acne.The benefits of retinoids and retinol are plenty. But all of the positives come down to one key factor—the ingredient’s ability to regulate skin cell turnover, which slows down as we age. Retinoids help keep the cell turnover in the cycle that it should be.


Retinol isn’t going to just smooth out existing fine lines and wrinkles, it’s also going to help prevent new ones from forming. Up until your early 30s, your cells turn over every 28 days, creating a fresh layer of untouched, pristine skin. But after you hit your mid-30s, your cell regeneration slows down, turning over every 50, 60, or even 70 days. That slower cell regeneration is what causes your face to look dry and wrinkled. Retinoids can speed up the cell turnover process in a way that makes your skin act like it’s in your 20s. The result? Fresher, smoother, more supple skin.


Because retinoids help to regulate skin cell turnover, it works to prevent pores from becoming clogged, which makes them an effective option for acne and breakouts. It can also help to regulate sebum production, helping those with oily skin who may be prone to breakouts. Even after acne subsides, retinol can also help with scarring, so it is important to continue using it.

Skin Tone and Texture

Even if you’re not on a mission to cure acne or fight the effects of aging, retinoids can still be a worthwhile addition to your routine. They can essentially just make your skin look, well, better. Think: More even, brighter, smoother. Your stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of the skin, can get thick as time goes on and make everything look a little bleh. Retinoids help keep the stratum corneum thinner, which allows you to achieve lesser dullness. Sun damage, environmental damage, and free radicals don’t allow our cells to turn over the proper way. Retinoids help keep the cell turnover in the cycle that it should be. As an added bonus, it’s also going to help reduce the look of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) and dark marks that can be left behind by pimples or sun damage.

More Tips for Using Retinol or Retinoid Products:

  • Apply the prescribed retinol product (which is more powerful) once a week to allow your skin to get used to it. You also need to give your skin time to get accustomed to cosmetic products with a higher concentration of retinol. You can increase the frequency of use to 2-3 times a week once your skin is able to tolerate it.

  • Once your skin responds well, you can gradually further increase the frequency to once a day, in the evening before going to bed.

  • A prescribed retinol product can be combined with a product containing benzoyl peroxide against spots. Make sure that you first allow the benzoyl peroxide to dry thoroughly before applying the retinoid product. Discontinue mixing with benzoyl peroxide if you notice redness or a reaction.

  • You can use products containing retinol under your eyes, but not on your eyelids.

  • You can use a cosmetic retinol product alongside a retinoid product prescribed by a doctor. You decide in which order you apply them. Do keep in mind that more is not always better.

  • If your skin becomes irritated (flaking, redness, sensitivity), then stop using multiple retinol products or reduce the frequency.

While retinol can be beneficial for most skin types, it's not one-size-fits-all. Retinoids are notoriously difficult to manage for people with easily irritated or sensitive skin. Technically speaking, everyone could use one, but not everyone can figure out how to make it work for them. The conditions that make it the trickiest are rosacea, dryness, contact allergies, and general sensitivity.

When Should You Start Using Retinol?

Just because retinol is an effective ingredient for some, don't feel like you need to use it. Retinol is not for everyone, and it should not be considered something that is a must, some people cannot tolerate it, and some don’t want to commit to a complex skin regimen. But for those who are motivated, we would say starting a retinol product in your mid to late 20s is reasonable, as long as a daily moisturizer with sunscreen has been part of the plan since your teen years. Prevention comes first!

If you're still new to daily skincare and sun protection, start by getting those basics in place for a few months before diving into a more complex routine.

How Long Does it Take to See a Difference in Your Skin?

Like any new skin-care product, it takes a little time to see major results from retinol. Marchbein says around four to six weeks is average, and for acne, it can take up to 12 weeks for full improvement. When used for antiaging, in the short term, retinoids help unclog pores and give your skin a healthy glow by removing dead skin cells from the surface. Over the long-term—six months and beyond—they help grow new collagen and elastin, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and lighten brown pigmentation.


Apply Sunscreen, Always

Retinol can thin your skin and decrease its “protective capacity”. Therefore, although retinol itself is not sun-sensitizing, you should always take measures to protect your skin from sunlight, e.g. applying sunscreen daily.

Be Patient and Stick With It

Although there are examples that show improvements as early as a month, it can take up to 12 weeks for people to see significant changes in their skin.


Do Not Apply it Daily From the Beginning

Start slow and always monitor your skin’s reaction. There is a process for your skin to get adapted to retinol. In the beginning, there may be irritation and flaky skin, see how it is getting adjusted to the ingredient. Apply with a longer interval or switch to skincare products with a lower dosage if the signs of irritation prolong.

Do Not Overuse

Use retinol only once a day and apply only a thin layer to the affected area. Remember it takes time for your skin to adjust. Even though increased dosage and frequency can speed up the process of collagen production, it may also lead to more redness and irritation.

As we age, it’s normal to see changes in our skin. Almost everyone gets pimples and wrinkles at some point in their life. But there are lots of different treatments to help if you don’t like the way your skin looks or feels. Retinol is just one ingredient that can help clear and plump your skin. It can take several weeks before you’ll start to see results from retinol, and your skin may look worse before it gets better, so try not to get discouraged. Start slowly and increase your use of retinol gradually.

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