Retinol is one of skincare's most transformative ingredients - here's your need- to-know
One savvy ingredient that's always in demand, and even more so now, is retinol. Hailed for its ability to turn back time and boost collagen production as well as evening texture and smoothing skin retinol is considered the gold standard anti-ageing ingredient by many dermatologists. Available in various strengths and formulations, it's important you do your homework before jumping straight in. But, as skincare expert and co-founder of the Skin Doctor Clinics, Dr Saleena Zimri says: 'my one piece of skincare advice would be to get on it with the retinol.'
What is Retinol?
All derivatives of Vitamin A are called retinoids; retinol is one of these retinoids and sits alongside retin-something friends like retinoic acid and retinal under the umbrella. 'Retinoic acid is the most active form of vitamin A as the one that interacts with skin's cells, causing all the benefits', says celebrity facialist Debbie Thomas and you can find this in derm-prescribed creams, not over the counter. Retinol, on the other hand, has to change twice before it becomes retinoic acid: 'It means that it's not as strong when you put it on your skin but you get the same results, just over a longer period of time', points out Debbie.
Best Retinol Products 2021
1. Medik8 Crystal Retinal, 39
shop This is formulated with retinaldehyde, another derivative of vitamin A, that works 11 times faster than classic forms of retinol.
2. La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Serum, 38
shop A gentle retinol with hydrating glycerine and soothing vitamin B3 - ideal for sensitive skins.
3. Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3, 65
shop Start with Skinceuticals' 0.3 per cent pure retinol treatment, work your way up to 0.5 per cent, and then finish with 1.0 after it.
4. Votary Intense Night Oil, 135
shop A sumptuous silky oil that contains a gentle level of retinoid you'll wake up with the ultimate glow.
5. Beauty Pie Super Retinol Ceramide-Boost Anti-Aging face serum, 13.75 for members, 80
shop With lactic and hyaluronic acid for added hydration as well as a clever retinol hit.
6. The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane, 4.90
shop A highly stable form of retinol at a very affordable price point. Apply in the evenings after water serums and before heavier products, like moisturiser.
7. 1% Retinol Treatment by Paula's Choice, 53
shop A lightweight retinol lotion blended with antioxidants and soothing plant extracts to hydrate while softening fine lines and fading dark spots.
What does Retinol do to skin?
Retinoic acid started its days only as acne medication some 40 years ago. Why? 'It increases your cellular turnover and unblocks pores', says Debbie, 'which equates to less blemishes and fewer possible blockages that acne can develop in.' Fast forward a few years, in which time the derms had noticed the brilliant results this wonder ingredient achieved, and you've got a repackaged anti-aging product available to buy over the counter.
'It's a really intelligent ingredient', says Debbie, 'when you put it on your skin, it re-educates your skin cells to behave like younger, healthier cells and so that's exactly what they do.' Cue, fresh new skin cells and improved collagen production both of which equal fewer fine lines, even tone, fewer blemishes and plumper, more radiant skin. It's also great for pigmentation thanks to its ability to inhibit melanin production.
How do you use Retinol?
The main problem with retinol is that it's surrounded by misconceptions: 'A lot of people think they'll suffer from six weeks' worth of really sore, flaky skin but actually it's more a matter that they don't know how and when to use them', says Debbie. Some irritation does tend to be part and parcel of deciding which formula is for you the top layers of our skin are quite reactive to retinol but once it gets into the deeper layers, our skin cells love it. To avoid irritation, you need to build up skin's tolerance: 'Begin by using it twice a week for 2-3 weeks or every third night', recommends Debbie, 'and then just shorten the gap between uses.' The aim is to build up to using it every night before bed, so gauge how your skin responds to each use; Debbie recommends reducing how often you're using it if your skin is getting really irritated.
There are also different strengths. As mentioned, retinoic acid is stronger at around 1-2 per cent while the highest strength of pure retinol you can buy over the counter is 0.5 per cent: 'Some companies say they have 1 per cent retinol for their over the counter products, but this means it's combined with other ingredients and isn't pure', points out Debbie, so check the label to see how much you're actually getting. Retinol beginners should start with a low percentage (0.2 or 0.3 per cent strength) to slowly introduce skin to its newfound friend.
And another thing to note? This isn't a product to use during the day - retinol is broken down by the sun which effectively renders it useless. Also, when using retinol ensure you wear an SPF50 come morning.