Retinol for Skin: Benefits, How to Use

Retinol for Skin: Benefits, How to Use

For skincare enthusiasts, it is always a dream when a critically acclaimed ingredient actually delivers on its promises. Enter retinol! When used properly, this complexion powerhouse can truly transform the look and feel of your skin over time. Read on to learn how.


Ingredient Category: Antioxidant, Exfoliant

Main Benefit: Retinol transforms the look and feel of your skin by clearing away dead skin. This makes it the perfect answer to the emergence of fine lines and wrinkles. It is also notorious for keeping your pores clean and brightening your complexion.

Find It In: Facial cleansers, moisturizers, serums, masks, oral vitamins, and prescription medications.

What Is Retinol

To best explain retinol, it would help to first understand a bit about retinoids. Retinoids are a powerful form of vitamin A. For decades, these magical little molecules have been scrupulously studied and highly regarded for their intense and expansive range of skin benefits. Further, their impressive rejuvenative effects have them highly regarded as “fountains of youth”. Most retinoids are applied topically, but there are some versions that are actually consumed orally, with the most potent retinoids reserved for prescription products. To get your paws on some of those, schedule a visit with your physician or dermatologist.

But luckily, you don’t need a doc to get in on all the goodness. Retinols are a type of retinoid whose atomic structure is somewhat altered from traditional retinoids. Consequently, they offer a few benefits, most notably their accessibility. Retinols are found primarily in over-the-counter products. They are also not as strong and work more gradually than retinoids. This may sound like a deficit, but for first timers, retinols offer a gentler segue into the world of retinoids and can be easier on the skin. OTC retinol is also often blended into beneficiary cocktails that can have other lovely effects, like increased hydration, helping you do the two-birds thing!

Retinol Skin Benefits

No one trick ponies here! Retinol is a totally talented triple threat, deserving of your most enthusiastic standing-O!

It fights fine lines and wrinkles.

Over time and with continued use, retinol can minimize the appearance of existing fine lines and wrinkles, while helping to prevent new ones from forming. Retinol also helps fade the look of age spots and other forms of hyperpigmentation that are often considered signs of aging. To turn back the clock, pair a gentle cleanse with a quality, retinol-infused moisturizer to promote plumpness.

Retinol helps keep pores clean.

Retinol slicks up cells that may otherwise be coarse and somewhat sticky. This prevents them from setting up shop in your pores, keeping them clean and free of gunk. For this, use retinol in conjunction with a good toner to ensure your pores are spick and span!

It brightens and evens out skin tone.

Retinol is actually a non-abrasive exfoliant. When applied consistently, it helps clear away dull and dead skin, revealing a brighter, smoother, more even tone. Look for a silky smooth retinol serum to add a fresh and natural glow to your complexion without the use of abrasive beads or a granular exfoliant.

How to Use

Retinol requires ease and gradual incorporation into one’s routine; any other approach can lead to irritation and increased redness. However, it is also important to know that these side effects may occur even if you introduce it slowly, and are not necessarily indications that you should hightail it out of retinol town; they might just mean that the formula is working. As earlier stated, retinol helps get rid of dead skin. Similar to what your skin experiences after an injury, it may not look its best before it regenerates. So, don’t stress and allow for time to adjust (a period known as “retinization”). As always, consult with your doctor about when and how to incorporate retinol or any new ingredients into your regimen and follow manufacturer’s instructions. But have some extra patience when it comes to retinol and try to ride out the retinization wave.

New users with lighter complexions should start incorporating a retinol product no more than once every three nights. When your skin adjusts, increase to once every two nights, and ultimately ease into daily use. But those with more pigmented skin should go even slower, as any associated redness can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. So, give your skin a ton of room to build up a tolerance and start with just once per week. Gradually work your way up, and definitely don’t go for a daily dose before first experiencing incremental increases spread out over a month’s time.

It is advisable to avoid using retinol during the day. There is a long exhaustive debate as to whether or not retinol makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays. But while recent years have led to more research that debunks this idea, sunlight is at a minimum said to decrease the efficacy of retinols. So, when first sprinkling it into your routine, reserve retinol for your nighttime regimen. As for order of operations, follow the manufacturer’s instructions or default to a tried-and-true evening routine directive (1. cleanser, 2. toner, 3. serum, 4. moisturizer), and insert your retinol product accordingly (e.g., if it’s a serum, apply after your toner and before moisturizing). Avoid the eye area unless using a product specifically designed for that region, and don’t let your retinols mingle with other could-be-harsh ingredients, like vitamin C, unless otherwise directed by your doctor.

Who Can Use; Potential Side Effects

It’s clear that incorporating retinol into your routine can have profound effects on the look and feel of your skin, and the good news is that with the exception of those who are pregnant, nursing, or using another product that is either contraindicated or deactivating (things like drying toners or benzoyl peroxide), pretty much anyone can give them a try! But as with most ingredients, there could be some potential side effects. The most common ones include redness and irritation, so those with ultra-sensitive or dry skin should proceed with extra caution. Temporary eczema flare ups, peeling, and even breakouts have been reported, but these are likely just the mark of your skin adjusting to the retinol at work.