People who have heard of retinol tend to fall into two categories: those who are absolutely obsessed with it and those who are too scared to try it after hearing too many rumors about retinol. While it’s true that the ingredient may initially irritate your skin, dermatologists agree that the alternatives pale in comparison to retinol’s near-magical results. After all, retinol treats such a variety of skin conditions that it’s a wonder for everyone – and we mean Everybody– don’t use it.
What is Retinol?
Retinol is an over-the-counter type of natural retinoid, a skincare ingredient that converts to retinoic acid, an active form of vitamin A, in the skin. “It has been repeatedly shown to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and improve tone and texture by increasing cell turnover and stimulating collagen production,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ashley Magovern, MD, medical director of Dermastore.
What does retinol do?
A better question might be: “What doesn’t do retinol? After all, this versatile skincare ingredient practically moves mountains. With regular use, Dr. Magovern says retinol:
Prevents acne by making skin less “sticky” which helps keep pores free of debris and buildup, allows oil to flow out of hair follicles and puts kibbosh on inflammation.
Stimulates and accelerates cell renewalwhich leads to cell renewal and brighter, smoother skin.
Stimulates collagen production to firm the skin and prevent sagging.
Reduces hyperpigmentation by exfoliating the superficial cells of the skin, thus eliminating the pigments. Retinol can also inhibit tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in pigment production.
What are the benefits of retinol?
Whether your main complaints are fine lines, dullness, discoloration, or acne, retinol fights just about every battle to make your skin look better, simple as that. That said, the ingredient is particularly revered for its anti-aging benefits.
“It’s the gold standard for keeping skin young,” says Dr. Magovern, going so far as to say it can reverse fine lines and wrinkles—literally turning back time.
If you think Botox already ticks that box, but you value youthful-looking skin, think again: “Botox only works on the muscles, but you have to work on the skin as well,” says Dr. Magovern. . “I see patients in their 50s and 60s in my practice who have used a retinol all their lives, and they don’t have any wrinkles on their skin.”
Ready to sign up for a lifetime supply of the stuff? Note that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists advises against the use of topical retinoids during pregnancy, so you’ll want to take a break from using stockpiled retinol products while you have a baby on board.
What is the difference between retinol and retinoid?
If these two terms confuse you, you’re definitely not alone: Retinoids are a catch-all term for topical vitamin A products, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Retinol is a type of retinoid that can be purchased over-the-counter. (Retinyl palmitate and retinaldehyde are alternative OTC ingredients that you may also see on product labels. A close cousin is Retin-A, a synthetic prescription retinoid that acts like retinoic acid.)
If you were missing the biochemistry, all you need to know is that there are many different names, types, and concentrations of retinoids, and retinol is one of them.
Retinol Side Effects and How to Mitigate Them
If Retinol Is So Ridiculously Effective, You May Be Thinking, Then Why doesn’t everyone uses it? The answer is the redness, scaling, itching, and scaling sometimes referred to as the “retinization period,” which can plague beginners for about a month (sometimes longer) and lead to what Dr. Magovern calls product dropout.
Given the benefits of retinol and the fact that it’s clearly an active ingredient, it’s no wonder the skin initially reacts with protest. The good news is that you don’t have to just persevere: just start slow with a gentle formulation. “I often recommend starting two to three nights a week and increasing usage as tolerated,” says Dr. Magovern. “If you use it with moisturizer and in the right amounts, you should be able to use it regularly.”
Even more promising: Retinol formulations are constantly evolving and are often paired with healing antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients to nip potential discomfort in the bud. “You just need to find one that you can [work up to using] every day, no matter how strong,” says Dr. Magovern. “Stronger isn’t better if you don’t use it.”
Once your skin has acclimated to the new ingredient, get ready to glow. “That’s the sweet spot,” she says. Hold on, and you’ll see.
After retinization, retinol can still make your skin sensitive to the sun, warns the American Academy of Dermatology Association. All the more reason to apply sunscreen daily.
At what age should you start using retinol?
Dr. Magovern begins prescribing retinol to teenagers for acne and recommends continuing even after it clears up. “Start as early as possible,” she recommends.
Regardless of your age, if you have particularly dry, red, or inflamed skin, it’s worth talking to your dermatologist before starting retinol on your own.
Other? If you were years old today when you realized you needed retinol in your life, it’s never too late to give it a shot.