Last updated: August 31, 2021

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Welcome to our latest article on retinol! This product has been used for years to improve the appearance of the skin. Read on and you'll learn how to get the most out of this wonderful substance while avoiding its potential side effects.

Retinol stimulates the formation of new epithelial cells, therefore contributing to reduce spots and expression lines. Products with high concentrations of vitamin A are used exclusively in dermatology. While over-the-counter cosmetics containing retinol can be just as effective, you will have to persevere and be patient if you want to get results.




Summary

  • Retinol is a vitamin A derivative capable of stimulating the renewal of the most superficial layer of the skin.
  • This product is particularly effective in the treatment of acne, blemishes and the first expression lines.
  • The main side effects of retinol are inflammation, redness, and scaling of the skin. These unpleasant symptoms may appear if your skin is particularly sensitive or if you make excessive use of this product.

The best retinol products: Our Picks

Let's have a look at the very best retinol products available on the market. This section was designed to help you discover which one is the most suitable for you and your family. You'll also learn about some of the benefits of retinol for your skin.

Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about retinol

This derivative of vitamin A has been used in the cosmetic industry since 1984. This molecule can stimulate the DNA of the cells it comes into contact with and speed up their metabolism. If you use it with constancy, retinol can boost the production of new cells and contribute to the thickening of your epidermis.

Retinol serums improve the appearance of skin for men and women alike. (Source: Mandrikova: 51170131/ 123rf.com)

What is retinol exactly?

As we've already mentioned, it is a derivative of vitamin A, belonging to the group of topical retinoids like tretinoin and isotretinoin. Commonly used in dermatology, both of these products are effective; however, they have a tendency of generating redness and inflammation. Retinol was therefore developed as a softer (but equally effective) skincare alternative.

As you may already know, collagen production and the creation of new skin cells slows down around the age of 30. Vitamin A can penetrate your cells and stimulate their metabolism, making them act as young cells.

By adding a retinol serum to your skincare routine, you can alleviate the signs of ageing; your skin will appear refreshed, hydrated and healthy. You can generally notice an improvement in your skin's condition within about three months of consistent use, so patience is the word!

What is the difference between retinol and other vitamin A derivatives?

Many people see retinol as the "only anti-wrinkle product that truly works". In reality, there are other vitamin A derivatives that can modify your skin's appearance.

We believe that it is important for you to know the main differences so that you can make an informed decision when choosing the serum bets suited for your skin.

  • Retinyl palmitate: This weak retinoid is more affordable than other vitamin A derivatives. The palmitic acid found inside means that its effect is mostly moisturising. Its impact on wrinkles, blemishes and acne are somewhat limited, but it rarely causes irritation of the skin. We recommend it for sensitive skins.
  • Retinol: The potency of this product is moderate. It is considered safe enough to be sold over the counter. The reputation of the manufacturer's brand tends to affect the price of the product. Its most common side effects are redness and scaling. It improves the aesthetic appearance of your skin by producing microscopic changes in its structure.
  • Tretinoin: The acid component found in this product is particularly suitable for the treatment of acne, and it is also known as an excellent anti-ageing agent. You will need a doctor's prescription for its use due to its known side effects: redness, irritation and inflammation of the skin.
  • Isotretinoin: Like tretinoin, this molecule is used for the treatment of more severe acne. Presenting very uncomfortable side effects, this product requires a prescription and medical monitoring for proper use.
  • Tazarotene: As the most potent retinoid out there, it is mainly used for the treatment of psoriasis; it is also known for contributing to fight signs of ageing. Unfortunately, the price of this wonderful product is steeper.

We've created the table below to give you a more visual idea of the differences between retinol and other vitamin A derivatives:

Derivative Potency Side effects Price Over-the-counter sale
Retinyl palmitate Weak Very mild Low Yes
Retinol Medium Average  Variable Yes
Tretinoin High Severe Average No
Isotretinoin High Severe Average No
Tazarotene Very high Severe High No

For whom are retinol products tailored?

General expert recommendations suggest adding retinol serums to your beauty routine from the age of 30 onwards. This is when collagen synthesis and the creation of new cells start decreasing. Vitamin A serums can help keep your skin looking young for longer. Retinol is commonly used to treat:

  • Wrinkles and expression lines
  • Sunspots
  • Marks and scars from acne
  • Acne, blemishes and blackheads
  • Irregular skin texture

Who should refrain from using retinol products?

Younger people under the age of 25 should refrain from using such products. The stimulation of young skin can lead to a variety of problems: acne, oily skin and scaling. Salicylic acid-based formulae are recommended for individuals under 25 years of age.

Additionally, people with particularly sensitive skin should use retinol with extreme care. If you fall in this category, we strongly encourage you to start with a product presenting the lowest possible concentration of retinol. Go for a trial period and gradually increase the potency of your product if no side effects appear.

It is recommended to add retinol to your beauty routine around the age of 30.

How can I benefit from retinol serums?

By promoting the creation of new cells, retinol will help renew the outermost layer of your skin. Sunspots, scars and other acne marks will be attenuated. By penetrating your pores, this molecule will decrease the formation of comedones and blackheads.

The thickness of your skin is gradually reduced by ageing. Retinol combats this slimming and restores the elasticity, hydration and freshness of your skin. Both men and women can benefit from the use of retinoid products.

Don't let your serum degrade by avoiding it coming into contact with air. (Source: Kappatou: 67315405/ 123rf.com)

How should I apply my retinol serum?

It should be applied at night on a clean and dry skin. Avoid any use during the day, as sunlight quickly deteriorates all retinoids and you'll end up wasting your product. On the other hand, serums can cause irritation as it penetrates wet skin more intensely. This is why you need to make sure to have a very dry skin before applying your retinol treatment.

You should apply a small amount of retinol to your face, neck and cleavage. You'll notice that a pea-sized quantity will be enough for gel and cream serums. For products in the form of oil, 4 drops should be plenty. We encourage you to stick to recommended amounts so as to avoid potential irritation, scaling or redness.

Should I put sunscreen on when using retinol?

Yes, definitely! You should use sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30. Don't forget that sun exposure is the main agent responsible for skin ageing. So put sunscreen on every day, not only when you head for a day at the beach or in the mountains.

We still don't know the exact mechanism through which retinol sensitises our skin to solar radiation. Some authors believe that it is due to an effect from this very molecule, while other hypotheses claim that new cells have a lower tolerance to the sun. Be it as it may, your epidermis will be more sensitive to the action of sunrays.

Dr. Adam FriedmanMedical Doctor, Dermatology Specialist (USA)
"You don't actually have to avoid sun exposure. Simply use protective measures, such as using sunscreen everyday on the areas where you apply retinol."

What are the potential side effects of using retinol?

Skin irritation, redness, and scaling may occur when you first start using retinol in your beauty routine. While these effects can be quite annoying, they are actually harmless and will improve over time. On other hand, you should not take the onset of pain, open wounds or swelling lightly; in these case, please consult your doctor immediately.

As we've said before, our recommendation is to start with low concentrations of retinol, one night a week for one month. Depending on how your skin tolerates the product, you can gradually increase you frequency of use. Here's a tip from us to you: apply moisturiser ten minutes before your serum if you have particularly sensitive skin.

We've summed up side effects of retinol use and their solutions in the table below:

Side effect Solution
Skin redness Sunscreen. Moisturising before applying retinol.
Irritation Sunscreen. Moisturising before applying retinol. Spread out applications of serum.
Scaling Sunscreen. Use cleansers and creams for sensitive skin. Moisturise thoroughly.
Dry skin Sunscreen. Moisturising (masks, day creams).
Pain, allergic reactions, severe or continuous irritation Stop using the product, and seek immediate medical attention.

Can I use retinol products during my pregnancy?

Vitamin A derivatives are fat-soluble, which means that they can penetrate your cell wall and build up in your body. Even through topical use of retinoids, the molecule will be able to get into your body and induce effects to the foetus.

The use of retinol is contraindicated for pregnant and lactating women.

Serums containing vitamin C, glycolic acid or lactic acid are safe alternatives for your foetus.

Dr. Hanna BrowneGynaecology Specialist
"Nowadays, we recommend stopping all use of retinoids one month before you try to get pregnant."

Shopping Criteria

This following section will introduce you to the most relevant factors to consider when purchasing your very own retinol product. Analyse these factors when choosing your new product:

Desired effect

What issue are you trying to combat? Low retinol concentration will do just fine if you're trying to improve your skin's appearance. On the other hand, you'll have to go for more powerful products if you're worried about blemishes and wrinkles. Unfortunately, manufacturers have no obligation to reveal the exact amount of retinol present in their serums.

While certain products advertise very high concentrations of retinol, they actually present a small quantity diluted in oils and moisturisers. Choose a quality brand with a formulation that uses retinol as its main ingredient. And don't forget: you should always read the product's composition before buying it.

Skin type

We recommend you use serums with low retinol concentration if your skin is particularly sensitive, prone to, allergies eczema or rosacea. The best thing you can do is perform a small test in a discreet zone – such as behind your ear – to check your reaction to the product within 24 hours.

Otherwise, note that practically all skin types (dry, oily, combination) can benefit from retinol and its effects. You'll want to opt for a lighter serum if you have oily or combination skin. You can go for thicker oils if your skin is dry. Regardless of your skin type, it is essential that you put sunscreen on everyday while using retinoids.

A container with a dispenser will prevent your product from degrading when it comes into contact with air.(Source: Starikov: 37935466/ 123rf.com)

Formulation

You will find serums free of parabens and silicones on the market, as well as products respectful of nature and the environment. You'll also be as happy as we are to know that more and more cosmetics companies are being compassionate and refusing to test their products on animals. If that is the case, your serum will carry a distinctive symbol on its packaging, as proof that its manufacturer does not experiment with animals.

Type of packaging

We've mentioned before that retinol deteriorates on contact with air and light. This is why it is essential that you buy products with opaque containers, and don't forget to store it away from direct sunlight.

We strongly encourage you to buy products in tube or with a dispenser. You'll better preserve your serum by only letting the amount of product you use immediately come into contact with air.

Value for money

Retinol products tend to offer great bang for your buck. You'll only need a small amount of retinol to improve your skin's appearance if you use it consistently. You can save some money by choosing a serum with a composition focusing on retinol and with fewer additional ingredients.

Summary

As you now know, retinol can accelerate your skin cells' metabolism, leading to rejuvenated skin, free of stains and wrinkles. Including redness and scaling, its side effects are easily preventable and will usually disappear over time.

We hope this guide will help you choose the retinol product that's most suitable for your skin. Always read carefully each product's formulation before making your purchase, and don't let yourself be fooled by percentages and concentrations. Remember that patience is key: you'll have a young and beautiful skin in a matter of months.

If you liked our guide on retinol, feel free to leave a comment in the section below, and share this article on your social media!

(Source of featured image: Mandrikova: 51170131/ 123rf.com)

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