Retinol has long been the gold standard of anti-aging ingredients in skincare. You can find myriads of before and after pictures that attest to its benefits. But this article is not some clickbait with photos that show jaw-dropping transformations. It’s simply a deep dive into all the research about retinol to help you figure out whether it’s the right choice for you.
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that’s among a class of compounds called retinoids. It’s a potent yet over-the-counter ingredient you’ll mostly find in anti-aging products. However, its benefits go far beyond treating fine lines or wrinkles.
- Retinol is a powerful vitamin A derivative with research-backed anti-aging benefits.
- It can help reduce fine lines and wrinkles through collagen stimulation while also increasing skin firmness by stimulating elastin in the skin.
- It can also be a good choice for people with acne, as this vitamin can help control sebum production and reduce enlarged pores.
- There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to retinol as it’s a potent substance, so it may not be ideal for people with sensitive skin and conditions like rosacea.
- In order to get the most optimal results out of retinol, it’s best to start slow and steadily move towards products with higher concentrations that can be used more frequently.
- Retinol can take at least six months to show results.
What are the Benefits of Retinol? – Before & After Usage
Before using retinol in your skincare routine, it’s better to fully comprehend the many benefits it offers. From reducing aging signs to treating acne, this vitamin A can target multiple skin concerns for you.
Reduces Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Do you know which protein is found most abundantly in our body? Its collagen. This crucial protein is also highly important for the skin as it’s a building block of skin cells.
However, as we age, collagen production slows down. Not just that, the collagen the skin produces isn’t like what it used to produce before. This leads to the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. But that’s obviously not the only reason, as the skin also gets drier because of lack of appropriate oil production.
The highlighting benefit of retinol is that it boosts collagen production in the skin. It does so in two ways. First, it actually stimulates the production of collagen on a cellular level. Secondly, it prevents the breakdown of collagen by inhibiting an enzyme, collagenase.
A comparative study on retinol and retinoic acid, which is what retinol eventually becomes as it goes deeper into the skin, showed that the wrinkles visibly reduced after 12 weeks of regular use.
Increases Skin Elasticity
Skin elasticity is linked with another protein, elastin. This protein keeps the skin tight, which gives a youthful look as skin elasticity is naturally high in adolescent and teenage skin.
Much like collage, the presence and production of elastin also slow down as we age. In fact, it does so rapidly in the teenage years, but the effects become more visible in older age as the skin gets saggy.
An International Journal of Cosmetic Science study supports that retinol can help promote skin renewal through elastin stimulation. That, combined with collagen, delivers a double impact on skin firmness, allowing the skin to become more stretchy.
Of course, there are limits to how much saggy skin it can fix. As retinol works slowly and moderately, it may not work for very loose skin, for example, after weight loss.
Improves Skin Texture
Your skin texture can be negatively impacted both by aging and environmental stress. If you have any particular skin condition like acne or eczema, that may also take a toll on the skin’s texture, rendering uneven skin tone or marks.
The UV rays from the sun are the most prominent cause of bad skin texture and aging (photodamage).
Retinol is also an antioxidant that can prevent free radical damage as well as improve the skin’s texture. Research already points to these benefits of retinol, including reversing photoaging.
There’s another reason why retinol helps improve skin texture and tone, and that’s its exfoliating effects. Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells from the skin. As we age, the dead skin cells build-up increases, which results in rough and dry skin texture.
A 2015 study comparing the effects of retinoic acid with glycolic acid found the former to be more effective for exfoliation and skin renewal.
Helps Control Acne
If you’ve heard that retinol is a strong ingredient, you probably also thought that it couldn’t be good for acne-prone skin. But that’s not the case at all, as a lot of research points to retinol being effective at treating acne.
It does so by preventing clogged pores, which are more often than not the culprit behind breakouts. Topical skincare products with retinol can clean up the pores of dead skin cells but also control sebum production. So it targets the very causes of acne breakouts.
But, wait, there’s more!
Retinol can also help prevent and reduce acne scars. By preventing severe breakouts, it can help reduce the chances of long-lasting acne marks, and through its skin tone regulating benefits, it can reduce the appearance of existing dark spots caused by acne.
Who Should Use Retinol?
So retinol is good for anyone who has visible aging signs like fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, or low skin elasticity. But it can also be good for someone who may have acne.
Even though many dermatologists recommend using it later in life when the skin aging process speeds up. However, some people also use it at an early age if they are starting to see wrinkles or fine lines.
While retinol and its more potent sibling retin A (tretinoin) get all the limelight for anti-aging benefits, let’s not forget that it can also do its magic for acne. Therefore, retinol can also be ideal for those with frequent acne breakouts.
With all that said, it’s not a highly tolerable ingredient either; it may be potent even in milder concentrations for some skin types, particularly sensitive skin. If you have sensitive skin or any chronic skin condition, you shouldn’t use retinol without consulting with an expert first.
What Age Should You Start Using Retinol?
Online and in dermatology clinics, the time to start using retinol has mostly been touted as 30 or perhaps somewhere in your 30s. With retinol’s anti-aging benefits in perspective, that’s not wrong. Thirty is a good time to start using any retinol product, especially if you’re starting to see subtle aging signs, which usually begin after 25.
Some dermatologists recommend beginning in your mid-20s as a precautionary way.
Even if you’re way past your thirties, it’s never too late to start using retinol. Anyone seeing skin aging signs can tap into the age-defying benefits of this vitamin A. But, of course, beginning at least in the 30s gives you a headstart.
How Long Does Retinol Take to Work?
Retinol, although quite potent and beneficial for the skin in many ways, does take time to work. Before beginning the use of retinol in any form, it’s important to understand that the effects also vary by time. Overall, it can take anywhere from six months to one year to work.
You can start to see a difference in fine lines and wrinkles in three months, but for those deep wrinkles, it can take up to a year. Similarly, skin texture improvement can kick in as early as two months.
Retinol works the fastest on clogged pores, with improvements in just under a month and a noticeable difference in sebum production and acne scars in three months.
It’s also good to know that the effects depend on the concentration, frequency of use, and to some extent, what other products you’re using it with. For instance, you may see better results for aging signs as well as skin barrier if you used retinol with niacinamide.
So, at the end of the day, your whole skincare routine matters and how you’re using retinol in it.
Things to Consider Before Using Retinol
Retinol may be a magic ingredient if your main concern is skin aging. However, there are a few key things you should consider when choosing a retinol product:
Retinol comes in different concentrations, with serums typically offering the strongest levels. Normally, in skincare, retinol concentration ranges from 0.025 to one percent.
Naturally, if you’re just beginning with retinol, it makes sense to start at the lower end, i.e., 0.025 percent concentration. You can easily find this concentration in creams and moisturizers. It’s also good for preventive use for aging signs.
The highest concentration of one percent is best for people over 30 and with visible aging signs, dark spots, or acne. Even then, it’s best to first begin with a lower concentration and work your way up to the higher levels in a few months.
The use of retinol, and its concentration, go hand in hand with your skin type. It may not be the right choice for every skin. If you have sensitive skin, you’re likely to experience some side effects that may or may not last long.
If you find retinol to be incompatible with your skin at first, make sure that you’re using the lowest concentration and that too in very little amounts. You may also want to consult a dermatologist beforehand.
Side Effects: Before & After
Retinol isn’t without its fair share of side effects, which people with sensitive skin are more prone to experience. However, these are also common with the initial use of the product, regardless of the skin type.
Common retinol side effects include:
How to Incorporate Retinol in Your Skincare Routine the Right Way
As you can see, retinol can have some side effects owing to its potency. Therefore, it’s best to begin with caution and use a low concentration in more than a pea-sized amount. You also may want to start with a lower frequency of use, like every other day.
If your skin doesn’t have any reaction to it, you can proceed to use it more frequently, but no more than once daily. Also, retinol is best used in the evening. However, if you’re using it during the day, make sure to use sunscreen with a high SPF. This is because sunlight can make retinol cause irritation to the skin.
More importantly, pay attention to the ingredients in other ingredients you’re using in the same skincare routine. For instance, retinol should not be used with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) as both are quite potent.
Regardless of the skin type, when using retinol in one percent concentration, make sure to do patch testing first to ensure it doesn’t cause significant side effects.
Retinol is also a popular ingredient in eye creams as it can help reduce fine lines under the eyes as well as crow’s feet. However, since the undereye skin is thinner than the rest of your face, it’s advised to use milder forms of retinol, preferably in lower concentrations. A serum, in this case, maybe a bit harsh.
5 Best Retinol Skincare Products
Here are the best skincare products recommendations to use retinol in your routine:
1. Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Max Moisturizer
The Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Max Moisturizer is a retinol-based moisturizer with hydrating properties as well. It doesn’t just offer skin renewal through retinol but also hydrates the skin, so it doesn’t get dry because of retinol.
This is a PM formula that should ideally be applied before going to bed, after any serums you may be using. The creamy, lightweight texture is suitable for most skin types as it absorbs readily and doesn’t leave a greasy look on the skin.
This formula can help reduce wrinkles, lighten dark spots, and smoothen skin texture. Although it has a long list of ingredients, there are no toxic chemicals, mineral oils, or fragrances.
2. SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream
If you’re looking for something strong, the SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 cream offers the highest concentration of retinol (1.0%). As the name indicates, it’s a nighttime cream that should make it into your before-bed skincare regimen.
This one is good for both aging skin as well as acne-prone skin. While it’s strong, the formula minimizes the likelihood of side effects. The formula uses pure retinol in a highly stabilized form, so your skin gets the best of the compound has to offer.
This can also help give you a blemish-free look with smaller pores.
3. CeraVe Skin Renewing Day Cream with SPF and Retinol
The CeraVe Skin Renewing Day Cream is encapsulated with retinol and is a good product to add retinol to your skincare for the first time or add it to the AM routine. Retinol delivers anti-aging benefits like increasing cell turnover and reducing wrinkles. On the other hand, hyaluronic acid and three essential ceramides increase skin hydration.
This also contains broad-spectrum SPF 30, which deals with the sun sensitivity of retinol. As a result, you don’t have to wear an extra layer of sunscreen. It can be used in conjunction with CeraVe Skin Renewing Serum at night if you’ve been using retinol for a while and your skin can tolerate its use twice a day.
It’s a non-comedogenic formula that’s lightweight, so also good for oily skin.
4. The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane
The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane is a retinol serum that uses a stabilized retinol combined with squalane, which is a hydrogenated form of squalene. The squalane helps with moisturization of the skin, which, in turn, prevents any dryness from the use of retinol.
This is a potent serum with a 1% concentration of retinol, so it should be used with caution if you have any skin conditions. Other ingredients include jojoba seed oil, fruit extract, and rosemary leaf extract.
While many retinol serums for anti-aging are quite pricey, this one is budget-friendly.
5. RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream
The RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Eye Cream is specifically designed to reduce fine lines under and around the eyes. It doesn’t just deal with aging signs under your eyes but also helps with puffiness and dark circles. It has been clinically tested for all these benefits.
You can start seeing subtle differences in just four weeks and more noticeable differences on continued regular use. This can be used daily as the formula isn’t very potent. With antioxidating and exfoliating effects, the pure retinol in this eye cream is also ideal for preventing aging signs under the eyes as well.
Now, you know everything you should know before using retinol and what to expect after using it. For most people except those with skin sensitivity, retinol can offer a wide range of benefits, but mainly anti-aging effects. From wrinkles to pores, this strong vitamin A can handle everything, but with time.
There are a lot of brands making products with retinol. However, for anti-aging benefits, go with one that has retinol as the star ingredient. Also, be wary of other products you use it with.
And lastly, be patient, as, with retinol, it’s a classic case of slow and steady wins the race!