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What is Retinol
What is Retinol


What is retinol and what does it do?

Retinol is a popular ingredient often used in skincare products. It’s a type of retinoid – a blanket term for vitamin A-based ingredients used on the skin. However, retinol is a weaker version of retinoid, so is generally better tolerated and therefore used more widely in skincare products.

It can be used to help with a wide range of skin complaints, such as wrinkles, age spots, and uneven skin tone. But whether it’s right for you will depend on your skincare needs, goals, and the specific retinol product in question.

Read on as we cover the different uses of retinol, how it works on the skin, potential side effects, and the benefits it can offer.

In this guide:

What is retinol?

Retinol is a type of retinoid or vitamin A derivative that is commonly used in a wide range of skincare products. It’s one of the most effective forms of retinoid that can be bought without a prescription, helping with everything from anti-ageing, pigmentation, and texture to uneven skin tone.

Vitamin A derivatives like retinol rapidly break down when exposed to the air and the sun. Therefore, products containing retinol usually come in tubes or pumps with fitted caps and may be best suited for nighttime use – although specially designed products like our NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Day Cream SPF 15 can be applied during the day.

Retinol is available in a variety of cosmetic and skincare products. The NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Range , for example, includes creams and serums – designed to prevent and correct visible signs of ageing for healthy-looking skin.

How do retinoids work?

Retinoids work by triggering the production of collagen in the body. Collagen is a protein in the skin, muscles, and bones. It helps to keep the skin firm and elastic.

As well as boosting the production of collagen in the skin, retinoids (and retinol) also increase the rate at which new skin cells are created. This works by prompting skin cells to turn over and die rapidly, which makes way for new cell growth below.

While retinoids may cause some initial peeling in the first few weeks of use, they do not thin out the skin. Instead, they actually help to thicken it.

What does retinol do for skin?

Here are some of the benefits that retinol skincare products can offer:

Reduces fine lines and wrinkles

Retinol helps to boost the skin’s collagen production and thicken the deeper layer of skin. This can help to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

Smooths skin texture

Retinol formulations also boost the skin’s production of natural chemicals, like hyaluronic acid, to help keep it plump. The increase in skin cell renewal makes it suitable for those looking to improve skin texture.

Boosts radiance and evens skin tone

By increasing the rate at which new skin cells are produced, retinol can also help to boost radiance. It can shed off darker spots of skin and curb the production of melanin. The stimulation of new blood vessels in the skin can also help to even out colour and tone.

Protects skin from damaging free radicals

Retinol helps to neutralise free radicals – molecules that are produced when the skin is exposed to harmful factors like UV from the sun and pollution. These break down collagen in the skin, leading to fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin.

Helps with acne-prone skin

Retinol may also be beneficial in the reduction of breakouts and helping to fade acne scars . However, for people suffering from acne, stronger retinoids may be required, including products that require a prescription from a GP.

Potential side effects of retinol

Retinoids can offer benefits for various skin complaints. But like other skincare ingredients, they can come with potential side effects. These can include dryness and irritation, redness and swelling, changes in skin colour and sensitivity to sunlight.

The higher the dose and concentration of retinol used, the higher the chance of experiencing side effects. That said, the more severe reactions are typically seen with prescription-strength retinoids. Thankfully, side effects tend to go away on their own after a while.

Knowing how to use retinol safely and properly can help to minimise the risk of side effects. It’s important to always use the amount instructed on the packaging and incorporate the ingredient slowly into your routine to give your skin time to adjust.

Retinol can also make skin more sensitive to sunlight, so use sun protection whilst using the ingredient. You may also want to use a moisturiser with topical retinol to reduce the chances of your skin drying out.

Fortunately, retinol is suitable for all skin types. However, sensitive and fair skin types may take longer to adjust to the ingredient. We recommend using retinol products two to three times a week, then every other day, until you’re comfortable using it daily.

Flaking, redness, or a warm, tingling sensation during use is a normal sign that the retinol is working and should be temporary. However, if these effects cause discomfort, limit use of retinol products to once every other day until your skin adjusts. If the effects persist, discontinue use.

Retinol FAQs

What does retinol do to your skin?

Retinol works by speeding up the rate at which skin cells are produced and boosting the skin’s collagen production. This helps to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and age spots, even out skin tone, and more.

Is it good to use retinol every day?

Never use a retinol product more frequently than instructed on the packaging. Using more of the product will not boost its effectiveness but may increase potential side effects. You may wish to start by applying retinol products only two to three times a week and work up to daily use as your skin adjusts.

How long does it take to see results from retinol?

How soon you see results from retinol depends on different factors, including the strength and frequency of usage, and the condition of your skin. Although improvements in skin texture can be seen from the first few weeks of use, it can take two to three months to start to see real differences in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, and signs of sun damage. Best results may take six to 12 months of regular use.