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What Is Retinol and How Does It Fight the Signs of Aging

Medically reviewed by Sue Kua, MD · Dermatology

Written by Hello Bacsi · Updated Oct 12, 2022

What Is Retinol and How Does It Fight the Signs of Aging

What is retinol? This widely studied ingredient is known for its anti-aging, acne-fighting, and wrinkle-reducing properties. Hence, it’s not surprising that many people consider this vitamin A derivative a gold standard in the skin care industry.

Retinol (a type of retinoid) is widely sold in the market as an over-the-counter product. However, before purchasing any product containing retinol, you need to understand what it is first. That way, you’ll know if this is the product for you.

What Is Retinol? How Well Does It Work on the Skin?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A . It neutralizes free radicals in the skin that can cause damage to collagen cells.

Collagen accounts for 25% of the total protein in the human body. It is responsible for keeping the skin plump and youthful

But, as we age, our bodies produce less collagen and elastin. At the same time, external and internal agents begin to break down the skin barriers, collagen, elastin, and fats. This can contribute to the appearance of skin aging signs, like pigmentation, sagging, and wrinkles.

Retinol helps preserve and produce collagen. Hence, if you use this active ingredient, you might see less wrinkles, laugh lines, and crow’s feet. It might also help improve skin texture, moisture, and pigmentation. Some treatments also help with acne. 

Note that for treatments to work properly, you need to use them regularly. 

What Kind of Retinol Is Suitable for Your Skin?

There are 5 main types of retinoids in the treatment of wrinkles:

  • Retinyl palmitate: This is the most gentle over-the-counter retinoid for the skin. You can consider it if you have sensitive or dry skin. It might also work well for people with minimal wrinkles
  • Retinaldehyde: This form is stronger than retinol, but doesn’t require prescription.
  • Retinol: This is the standard ingredient found in over-the-counter retinoids.
  • Tretinoin : A strong form of retinoid that requires a prescription from a doctor.
  • Tazarotene : This is the strongest retinoid and requires a prescription. It is used to treat many skin aging problems.

The type of product containing retinol also affects how well they work. 

If you use alcohol-based gels, which are considered the most effective of all formulas because they are easily absorbed by the skin, know that they will be suitable for acne-prone or sensitive skin. If you have dry skin, a cream will work better and more effectively.

How To Use Retinol in Skin Care

#1 – Perform a patch test first

Before adding any new product to your basic skin care routine, you need to make sure that the product or ingredient is not irritating to your skin. Hence, performing a patch test is a must. 

#2 – Determine frequency of use

Fragile skin always takes time to adapt to new products and active ingredients. The best way to use retinol is to use it sparingly (once a week) at first. 

Then, you flexibly increase the frequency. After a month, when the skin is completely accustomed to the action of this vitamin A derivative, you can use them every night.

#3 – Apply it correctly

Retinol is not a chemical exfoliant, so it’s not necessary to use it after a toner. You can apply it in three ways:

1: Makeup remover – Cleanser – Toner – Serum – Retinol – Emulsion (nourishing gels, hydrating water) – Nourishing cream

2: Makeup remover – Cleanser – Toner – Serum – Emulsion (moisturizing gels, hydrating water) – Cream – Retinol

3: Makeup remover – Cleanser – Toner – AHA/BHA (after 30 minutes) – Serum – Retinol – Emulsion – Cream

Ideally, you should take retinol every other day with AHA, BHA, vitamin C products.

What Are the Precautions When Using Retinoids?

  • Because retinol makes the skin sensitive to sunlight, use this active ingredient at night.
  • If it’s your first time using these products, you should use them at the lowest percentage concentration, then increase gradually over time, depending on skin needs.
  • Always moisturize well to reduce side effects, such as redness or flaking. In case of acne-prone skin, you should consult your doctor before using any new product.
  • Always use a broad-spectrum physical or chemical sunscreen during the day, because retinol makes the skin very susceptible to sunburn and hyperpigmentation.
  • Do not use retinol or retinoids while you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Some regimens are not advisable to combine with tretinoin. Always ask your dermatologist regarding treatments such as lasers, chemical peeling, microneedling and such while on tretinoin.
  • Many anecdotal reports say retinol is an effective anti-aging and acne treatment. However, to be absolutely sure that it’s right for you, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a dermatologist. 

    Learn more about Skincare and Cleansing here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Sue Kua, MD


    Written by Hello Bacsi · Updated Oct 12, 2022

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