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.
However, if you’re shopping The Ordinary, it’s worth noting that Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane is the latest formula with the newest technology and is less irritating than the 0.2% Retinol in Squalane. It contains 0.2 percent hydroxypinacolone retinoate, which is a non-prescription retinoic acid ester that is incredibly unique as it offers little-to-no irritation.
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.