Everything you need to know about retinol





Retinol was THE star anti ageing solution during the 90's, before becoming sidelined by other active ingredients. At the time it was considered to be an irritant and deemed unsuited to sensitive skin. The good news is that's now back in action, thanks to new, gentle formulae!

Retinol, A Brief History
Retinol is the chemical name for vitamin A. Scientists first remarked its skin-friendly benefits back in the 70's, when they discovered that dry, irritated skin could be caused by a lack of vitamin A. They then decided to use vitamin A-derived molecules - retinol - to deal with various skin problems. Retinoic acid was first used to treat acne, before researchers realised that it also had beneficial effects on skin's appearance and elasticity. In the 90's it took the anti ageing skincare word by storm, thanks to its ability to minimise the four classic signs of ageing: dry skin, loss of elasticity, thinning skin and the appearance of wrinkles. But it wasn't suited to sensitive skin and caused flare-ups including irritations, rashes and inflammation. Retinol was suddenly put on the back burner in favour of hyaluronic acid, antioxidants and peptides...

Unquestionably Effective
Any skincare specialist will tell you that retinol plays an essential role in preventing cracks (AKA wrinkles) in the dermis, as well as combating ageing skin and the harmful effects of UV rays. A skin-loving all-rounder, retinol works on two levels: it exfoliates the epidermis to brighten and even out skin tone, whilst boosting collagen production in the dermis to deal with visible signs of ageing. In other words, it not only prevents wrinkles, but also balances melatonin (skin pigment) production and evens out our complexion.

Retinol's Come-Back
Retinol's back with a vengeance, this time suited to sensitive skin. Once shunned for its irritating properties (partly due to concentration levels that reached 0.3%), this molecule is now presented in lower doses that are gentle and easily-tolerated. Some treatments use slow-release retinol, which gives our skin time to adjust. Retinol is often included with other active ingredients and comes recommended for women whose skin couldn't handle previous versions. So, happily for us, retinol is once again gracing the anti ageing podium!


An anti-ageing powerhouse, retinol knows how to slow down the clock. It's a sure-fire, wrinkle-zapping ingredient. Here's a closer look...

Retinol, From Dermatologists To Anti-Wrinkle Creams
What gets dermatologists all worked up? Vitamin A, a well-known anti-wrinkle active ingredient. The problem is that it can cause irritations and isn't ideally suited to skin.
Which is why researchers set off to find a skin-friendly derivative of this powerful vitamin and came up with retinol. It's kinder to skin and doesn't need to be prescribed by a doctor. Hence it's meteoric rise in the anti-wrinkle industry.

Retinol, An Anti-Ageing Holy Grail
So, what's the big deal? Retinol is an anti-ageing powerhouse. It thickens the epidermis, helps cell differentiation, regulates keratinisation, prevents the breakdown of collagen and elastin and increases cutaneous vitamin A levels, so that we reap the benefits of its anti-ageing properties.
In simpler terms, retinol leaves us with skin that's:
- smoother,
- softer, 
- radiant and even-toned.

Retinol-Based Treatments Are Best Applied At night
Retinol is the nightingale of the anti-ageing world. Why? To avoid any problems caused by photosensitisation. By boosting cell renewal, retinol leaves our skin susceptible to UV damage. Which is why retinol-based treatments are a great winter-time option. If you apply an anti-wrinkle cream that contains retinol in the morning, follow it with a cream that contains an SPF 30.
Retinol is a slowly but surely anti-wrinkle ingredient. Retinol works best over time, as our skin needs to adjust to its presence. Scientists refer to this as 'cellular memory'.
Start by applying your retinol cream two nights a week. If your skin reddens, leave a longer gap between each application. If all goes well, move up to 3 times a week.
But even if you have a slight flare-up, don't panic! If your retinol cream causes a tiny reaction, it means that it's doing it's job. It's just getting to work on your lines and wrinkles!

Can I Use Retinol On Sensitive Skin?
Back in the day, retinol was known to irritate skin, but formulae have since been re-jigged. Advances in the skincare world have allowed researchers and labs to come up with retinol-based creams suited to all skin types. So even if your skin is ultra-sensitive, you'll still find a suitable retinol anti-ageing cream. This is because the retinol used is slowly released, meaning it won't saturate and subsequently irritate skin.


Its anti-ageing properties have taken the world of cosmetics by storm. Smoothing out wrinkles and firming the skin, retinol – otherwise known as vitamin A – is THE ingredient of the moment. Here, we sort out the fact from the fiction regarding this wonder ingredient.

Retinol Is Used By Dermatoligists 
True: Dermatologists first used the acid version of vitamin A (retinoic acid) to treat acne, but they immediately noticed that the treated skin appeared smoother and younger. Now, they prescribe retinol to fight against the signs of ageing. The ingredient has been the subject of numerous scientific studies.

Retinol Is A Vitamin
True: Retinol, or Vitamin A, is found in liver, tuna, butter, eggs and dairy products. Its precursor molecule, pro-vitamin A, is found in vegetables such as carrots, apricots, persimmons and spinach. This vitamin plays an important role in the quality of our bones, eyes and skin. What’s more, pro-vitamin A helps to give the skin a slightly tanned hue, as well as boosting hydration.

Retinol Is Stable
False: Retinol is a highly unstable molecule. It can be altered by oxygen, light and heat. Retinol-containing creams have to be carefully formulated and are presented in adapted packaging to protect it from exposure to light. It used to come packed in aluminium tubes and was recommended for overnight use only.

Retinol Only Acts At Surface Level
False: Retinol not only improves cell renewal in the epidermis, but also boosts the production of collagen fibres and glycosaminoglycans, including hyaluronic acid. It also has a positive impact on cutaneous immune cells and melanocytes, the cells that cause pigmentation. Plus it protects the skin from enzymes that gnaw away at its fibres.

Retinol Is Not Recommended For Sensitive Skin
False: Nowadays, this is no longer an issue. Researchers have refined its form (pro-retinol being one), finely tuned dosages, and discovered which soothing ingredients it can be blended with. In other words, all skin types, including sensitive, can benefit from its powerful rejuvenating properties.

 Article supplied & written by Marie Claire, part of Hearst Communications, Inc

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