Retinol: What Is It And What Are The Skincare Benefits?


What is retinol?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A and has long been touted the holy grail of anti-ageing. Several studies have shown that using the ingredient topically can reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles, pigmentation and acne.

What is the difference between a retinol and a retinoid?

Vitamin A comes in different forms, including retinols and retinoids, which is where it gets confusing for most of us. Essentially, for your skin to process vitamin A it needs to be converted into retinoic acid. Retinoids need fewer conversions and are, therefore, the strongest derivative of vitamin A. Only available via prescription, retinoids are most commonly used to treat acne with GPs regularly prescribing tretinoin to help alleviate problem skin.

Retinol is a more diluted form of vitamin A as it needs more conversions and can be bought over the counter. Don’t let the idea of it being a weaker form fool you though, as plenty of studies have revealed its anti-ageing benefits.

What are the skincare benefits?

As mentioned, vitamin A has many skincare benefits, including increasing cell turnover and getting rid of any old one. A US study in 2016, found that using retinol increased the production of collagen and reduced expression wrinkles over a 12 week period. It can also help reduce acne and correct pigmentation over time.

What are the side effects of using a retinol?

With the good must come the bad and there is a downside to using retinol. For some, this is the main reason they avoid them. Vitamin A is an incredibly irritating ingredient and even the lowest percentage of retinol can cause redness, itchiness and peeling, and can increase your skin’s sensitivity. With this in mind, those with sensitive skin should proceed with caution. It’s not safe to use retinol or any form of vitamin A when you’re pregnant either.

What is the best retinol product for your skin?

When shopping for a retinol based product always look for airtight, tinted packaging as vitamin A is photosensitive, breaking down when it is exposed to sunlight. Retinol has many derivatives and can appear on product labels as retinyl acetate, retinyl propionate and retinyl palmitate, depending on its strength. If you’ve never used a retinol before, start with a low percentage and don’t use it every night as it is an incredibly strong ingredient. One pump of LixirSkin Night Switch Retinol 1% mixed into the Universal Emulsion used twice a week before you go to bed is a good place to start, depending on how sensitive your skin is.

How do you use retinol products?

To reap the benefits and minimise the side effects, build up your skins tolerance and start by using small amounts twice a week.

Some brands strongly advocate using all retinol products overnight due to it’s sensitising powers that can make your skin more susceptible to UV damage, others argue that some forms of the ingredient can in fact give your skin a natural SPF 20 protection. While the jury is out as to whether you should use retinol during the day or not, we recommend using it at night and using an SPF during the day to protect the new skin cells from UV damage.

Remember that this is a strong ingredient and you don’t want to overload your skin with acids. There’s no need to use vitamin C and A at the same, instead opt for a hydrating hyaluronic acid based formula to maximise the results.

As with most skincare ingredients, vitamin A won’t offer instant results. Expect to wait around 12 weeks to see any noticeable change in your skin though as it takes that long for your body to produce collagen.

Victoria Hall | , , , , , , ,
  • Victoria Hall

    Hi Tessa,

    If you hadn’t used vitamin A before or have sensitive skin, we recommend The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid formulas as they’re less irritating. In order of strongest:
    Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane
    Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion
    Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane
    However, if your skin isn’t sensitive or you’ve used vitamin A before and your skin is used to it, as yo u’ve mentioned, The Ordinary Retinols are worth trying out. In order of strongest:
    Retinol 1% in Squalane / There is also Lixirskin’s 1% Retinol Night Switch
    Retinol 0.5% in Squalane
    Retinol 0.2% in Squalane

    It might also be helpful to read Arly’s Definitive Review of The Ordinary.

  • Victoria Hall

    Hi Renata,

    You can use both at the same time if you haven’t experienced any irritation so far, but don’t use them more than three times a week to avoid over-exfoliating skin. Lactic acid works on the top layers of your skin, while retinol works at a much deeper level. If you’re using them at the same time, apply the lactic acid before the retinol, and then your moisturiser.

  • Victoria Hall

    Vitamin C and A are strong acids and both can cause irritation. If you’ve built up a tolerance to both you can use vitamin C in the morning and your retinol in the evening, but don’t use them together in the morning or evening and you need to wear SPF during the day.

    You can use moisturiser after applying your retinol, but just make sure it’s after rather than before for maximum benefits.

  • Tessa Warren

    Thank you that’s so helpful

  • Victoria Hall

    Hi Lieke,
    Thank you for your feedback and I’m sorry you feel this way. The Ordinary is an incredible brand that offers amazing value for money when it comes to skincare. Yes, the packaging isn’t completely airtight, but the bottle is tinted, which is key as sunlight breaks down vitamin A. We will of course pass this on to Deciem though.

  • Victoria Hall

    Hi Cathy,
    I would recommend you use it at night, twice a week to start off with. In terms of a moisturiser, opt for a hydrating formula such as Derma E Hydrating Night Cream. If you want to stick to The Ordinary, Natural Moisturizing Factors is a good option, but it is on pre-order only at the moment.
    I hope this helps!

  • Victoria Hall

    Hi Dianna,
    Unfortunately I haven’t tried La Roche Posay’s C10 or Redermic R, so I wouldn’t be able to comment on them specifically. So sorry!
    Victoria x

  • Victoria Health

    Hi Helene, please call our Customer Care team during office hours on 0208 951 4144 and they can organise a new bottle of the Lixir Retinol to be sent to you.

  • Victoria Hall

    Hi Reecie,
    We’d recommend that you use a retinol, such as Lixirskin Night Switch, once or twice a week on the evenings that you don’t use your aromatherapy oils. I hope this helps!