Retinol Skin Care Guide

Being one of the most potent antioxidants, retinol became the gold standard in the beauty industry decades ago, and it’s highly unlikely that it will be replaced by a more powerful ingredient any time soon.

The top skincare trends for 2017 are all ingredient-oriented. Whether they doing research into face masks or bath bombs, ladies are very determined to use nothing but the best, highest quality beauty products. Since all-natural will apparently never go out of fashion, we’re finally starting to pay more and more attention to the ingredients used for creating our favorite creams, lotions and ointments.

Luckily, we don’t have to look too far. Derived from nature and scientifically refined, ingredients that have passed the test of time are still everywhere around us, and just as effective as ever. When it comes to skincare, we don’t actually have to reinvent the wheel – everything we need is already available in superfoods, over-the-counter products, and prescription aids.

Such is retinol, a powerhouse ingredient that you keep hearing about time and time again. Though it remains an essential constituent of skincare products, most of us have no idea how beneficial it actually is.

Prepare to be amazed.

What Is Retinol?

Retinol is sometimes referred to as Vitamin A, which is exactly what this ingredient is. Vitamin A has many different forms, including retinyl esters, retinoic, and retinal, but retinol is by far the most effective version. Together, all these forms of Vitamin A are called retinoids. Unlike others, our ingredient replicates the Vitamin A molecule in its complete state.

Though this vitamin can be found in plants as well, retinol is its animal form. This means that you can organically consume it with dairy products, eggs and meat. Being one of the most potent antioxidants, it has become a gold standard in the beauty industry decades ago, and it’s highly unlikely that it will be replaced by a more powerful ingredient any time soon.

How Does It Work?

All antioxidants function on a cellular level, and so does retinol. Its main nemesis is a free radical, a harmful electron responsible for cell and tissue damage, and one of the main causes of premature aging in skin. By preventing the formation of free radicals, which is a process that usually manifests through a fast-spreading chain reaction, retinol nurtures and rejuvenates skin of all types and ages.

A battle between retinol and free radicals is visible only through the microscope, but it certainly leaves some amazing consequences on the surface. From underneath, this miracle ingredient speeds up the cellular turnover, or a cell’s life cycle, thus swiftly removing dead skin from the top layer. Together with external pollutants, dead skin cells spawn inflammation, sun spots, pigmentation, and wrinkles, against which retinol is the best defense.

Still, that’s not all that retinol has to offer. As recent studies have shown, it also increases collagen production, thus replenishing the skin’s natural elasticity. This is because retinol is a tireless skin communicator – by managing cell turnover and sloughing dead cells, it stimulates faster production of new ones, which in turn creates new collagen.

Benefits of Retinol

Retinol’s benefits are countless, and its super powers have been exploited in general medicine, dermatology, and cosmetics for years, treating skin disorders like psoriasis and protecting healthy skin. Here’s what scientists in the wellness and beauty industry have been focusing on, and what we love about retinol’s ability to make our skincare routines truly effective.

Anti-Aging Properties

As we get older, free radicals start to attack our healthy skin cells at a greater pace. As a result, our skin becomes more susceptible to damage, of which accelerated aging is the most visible one. Retinol slows down this frustrating process, thus preventing new wrinkles and eliminating fine lines that have already started to form.

Pore Cleanse

Unfortunately, nothing can stop the aging process altogether, just as nothing can really put an end to enlarged pores. Even retinol isn’t strong enough to beat down nature, but at least it can shrink and unclog stubborn pores. It’s where dead skin and pollutants pile up to form blemishes, which makes the ingredient very welcome.

Acne Fighter

Speaking of blemishes, retinol’s pore unclogging powers are the greatest protection against acne and blackheads as well. Since it improves the quality of skin both on the cellular level and on the surface, this ingredient effectively controls sebum, preventing excessive oil.

Healthy Appearance

When nourished from within, skin gets a radiant appearance. While improved production of collagen contributes to firmness, retinol-empowered tissues make the top layers smooth and even. Sensitivity, dryness, greasiness, pigmented spots, and rough textures are either nipped in the bud or significantly diminished.

Types of Retinol

Now that you know that retinol is the main source of Vitamin A, don’t refrain from immediately making it a part of your beauty regime. As we’ve seen, this ingredient’s benefits are manifold, which makes it a necessary addition to your cosmetics kit. But don’t just buy any retinol-based product – there’s a couple of different types, all of which yield different results.

Over-the-Counter Retinol

If your skin is still fairly young, and the first signs of aging have only started to show, over-the-counter retinol will be just enough to reverse this unnerving process. This type can be found in most beauty products available in stores and online shops, and bought without a prescription. When included to over-the-counter creams and serums, retinol converts into its less potent version, retinoic acid. In case you have a severe case of pimples or sun spots, opt for stronger types.

Medical Grade Retinol

Just like over-the-counter retinol, the medical grade type slowly converts into retinoic acid, and doesn’t require a prescription. Since the main difference between the two versions is strength, you won’t be able to buy it just anywhere. Your dermatologist can probably give you a sample, but be careful when using it for the first time. Medical grade retinol for acne is very effective, but it can cause irritation if your skin is sensitive.

Prescription Strength Retinol

Though uses of retinol in medicine go beyond skincare, the prescription strength type is most frequently used. Unlike over-the-counter products and medical grade retinol, this version is already formulated as retinoic acid, which makes it pretty strong and potentially irritating. That’s exactly why you cannot buy it without advice and prescription from your doctor. This type should be used with care and applied to well-moisturized skin, otherwise it may trigger unwanted side effects.

Retinol Side Effects

Regardless of product or type, this ingredient is not always the best choice for highly sensitive skin. The risk of irritation is even greater if the retinol-based cream is of poor quality or misused, which is a more reason to consult your dermatologist before you make any decisions.

These are the common retinol side effects that usually appear until the skin adjusts to the powerful new ingredient. They are no reason for concern, though you should stop using the product if they don’t disappear after 2-6 weeks after the first application.

Redness. Warm temperatures and direct exposure to sun can make the “windburn” effect worse, so try to avoid them until your skin gets used to the retinol product.

Flaking and Dryness. Since it accelerates the cell life cycle, prompting old ones to die faster and make room for new, healthy ones, retinol can incidentally dry up your skin more than it should. To prevent temporary flaking, make sure to avoid exfoliation at all costs, and moisturize on a regular basis.

Uncomfortable Tightness. The same applies to tightness, which usually accompanies dry skin. It’s actually a sign that your skin cells are renewing and becoming firmer, so don’t worry and keep hydrating.

Itching. This side effect is a fleeting one as well, and it comes as a consequence of cell turnover. Itching means that retinol works – don’t scratch, it will pass in a couple of seconds.

Breakouts. In rare cases, acne-prone skin can breakout in the first week of retinol use. It’s an uncomfortable, but temporary side effect that will eventually disappear to make space for new, balanced skin cells.

Side Effects of Topical Retinol in Pregnancy. There isn’t any evidence that topical retinol can harm unborn babies, but doctors still advise against using it as a precautionary measure. Pregnancy can make breakouts worse, but leave your retinol treatment for later, just in case.

How to Use Retinol for the Best Results

However disappointing, these retinol side effects are normal in people with the sensitive skin type. You shouldn’t panic if some of them occur, but you can do a couple of things to prevent them from turning your treatment into an unpleasant experience.

Choose Proper Packaging

All forms of Vitamin A turn unstable when exposed to light or air. That’s why you should never buy retinol-based products that are packed in transparent jars and other kinds of containers that allow unnecessary contact with light and air.

Run a Patch Test

When you have sensitive skin, using a patch test is always a great idea. Ask your dermatologist for a sample, and apply it to the inside of your arm. If there aren’t any irritations after 24 hours, feel free to buy a whole pack.

Combine with Moisturizer

For the first three weeks, apply retinol every other day. That way, your skin will gradually acclimate to it without any greater risk of redness, flaking, or breakouts. In case you’re really impatient and want to use it on a daily basis, apply it over a moisturizer.

Apply in a Pea Size Amount

When it comes to this ultra-potent ingredient, remember the phrase “a little goes a long way”. Dermatologists warn that a proper amount of retinol for the entire face is a pea size.

Always Wear Sunscreen

If transparent packaging isn’t a suitable choice for retinol in skincare cosmetics, then how does this this ingredient stay stable when your skin is exposed to sunlight? Well, it doesn’t! UV rays can deactivate retinol, making it ineffective, which is why you should always choose a day product with SPF included.

The Best Retinol Creams

At last, here are our picks for the best retinol creams on the market. We’ve chosen those that are suitable for all skin types, and already have many advocates among users and experts alike.

Neocutis: Nouvelle + Retinol Correction Cream

A potent mixture of antioxidants, mid-strength retinol and anti-irritants makes this formula perfect for sensitive skin. Creamy, but lightweight, it provides an ideal kind of moisture for both dry and oily types.

Paula’s Choice: RESIST Intensive Repair Cream

In addition to retinol, Paula’s Choice uses a series of other anti-aging ingredients, nurturing glycerine, jojoba oil, and soothing plant extract that together fuse into one of the most powerhouse moisturizers you can find.

Neutrogena: Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream Original Formula

Though less compounded than most of the over-the-counter products, this cream packs an impressive amount of green tea, along with two forms of Vitamin E. The formula moisturizes well and leaves a smooth finish.

Best Retinol Serums

In comparison to creams, serums are more lightweight and easily absorbed into the skin. Finding a great retinol serum is not hard, but these three products are currently the bee’s knees of the anti-aging industry.

Denese New York: FirmaTone Rx Retinol Maximum Firming Serum

Silicone-based and fragrance-free, this serum promises that “nothing on the market is more effective for firming the appearance of skin”. According to its ratings, Dr. Denese doesn’t make promises she can’t deliver.

Algenist: Retinol Firming and Lifting Serum

Besides retinol, which this formula contains an abundance of, the firming and lifting solution from Algenist comes with an array of antioxidants and reparative ingredients as well. The light amount of moisture makes it perfect for oily skin.

MD Formulations: Vit-A-Plus Illuminating Serum

In combination with AHAs and antioxidants, retinol works wonders for normal to dry skin. However, this brilliant formula might trigger slight irritations in acne-prone skin, so make sure to sample it first.

Food High in Retinol

Then again, retinol products are not the only source of this amazing ingredient. You can find it in healthy foods as well, and it’s actually important to keep your diet balanced during the use. These are our absolute favourites.


Like all dairy products, milk is extremely high in retinol. However, there is a catch: the more fat it contains, the lesser is the amount of Vitamin A. A single cup of nonfat milk packs a whopping 497 units of retinol.


As if Omega-3 fatty acids and protein weren’t enough, fish provides a healthy dose of retinol too. Salmon, cod, herring, trout, mackerel, and tuna are all rich in this ingredient, with one serving of tuna containing around 2,500 units of retinol.


Being an animal form of Vitamin D, retinol can be found in all kinds of meat and poultry. Beef liver seems like a winner of this category, since it offers about 545 units of retinol, which is over two times more than duck and chicken meat.

Whether in the form of delicious food or in a silky formula you can apply to your skin, retinol is one of those health and beauty ingredients that defy time. If you include it in your skincare regime for 2017, you’ll enter the next year as a younger, more radiant version of yourself.

Add Comment