Retinol is kind of like the gluten of the skincare industry. Just in the sense that it’s that thing everyone talks about endlessly, the topic of so much “professional” debate, and it leaves just about everyone with little more than a vague understanding of what it actually is.
Retinol is genuinely one of the most potent and effective anti-ageing ingredients out there – but there’s so much noise out there about it that it can sometimes cloud the very real revitalizing effect it can have on your complexion.
Do I know what gluten is? Absolutely not.
I feel like it’s in bread or pasta or maybe potatoes – I’m genuinely not sure. I also have no idea whether it’s good for me or not, and if I should maybe start eating a “gluten-free” diet.
It’s all very cloudy and fuzzy in my head – it’s one of those things I’ve heard about a million times but retained absolutely none of the information for whatever reason.
I do happen to know a thing or two about Retinol though – so let’s clear things up, get to the facts, bust the myths, and make sure Retinol is no longer that thing you hear about constantly but fail to fully understand.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Retinol is often used as a sort of catchall word for any topical ingredient that contains a Vitamin A derivative – which is not entirely accurate but not entirely inaccurate either. It’s your classic “all thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs” conundrum.
Retinol is a one of the members of the Retinoid family (which are all Vitamin A derivatives), it is the most stable and commonly used as a skincare ingredient – but there are several variations that operate on different levels of the skin.
Think back to when you were a kid and you would scrunch up your face to make a friend laugh. The expression causes wrinkles to form, but then, as soon as your face goes back to neutral the wrinkles disappear. This is because in our younger years our skin has an amazing “bounce back” ability! As we age that ability weakens, causing the wrinkles to become more visible, even when we’re not making facial expressions.
Retinol works by penetrating deep into the skin, where they neutralize free radicals, and promote the synthesis of elastin and collagen (a few more familiar skincare names). Essentially, what it does is revitalize the physiology of the epidermis – repairing damage, encouraging cellular turnover, and providing that wonderful plumping effect (more on that later). It sets itself apart as an ingredient because most others that perform these functions operate at the surface level. They exfoliate dead skin cells and repair damage that sits on the outermost layer of the skin – useful but the most effective method. Retinol is like the supercharged ingredient of the skincare world – it is super effective, potent and solves your skincare problems at the root!
Yes, with this added potency and effectiveness, there is a slight catch – and I’m willing to bet that if you’ve heard anything about Retinol it’s probably what I’m about to tell you. When you begin to use a product with Retinol as an active ingredient, your skin needs an adjustment period where it can get used to the ingredient. By using Retinol, you’re essentially re-training your skin cells to turnover at a significantly faster rate than they’re used to. During your skin’s adjustment period (or retinization if you’re partial to technical terms), side effects such as dryness, redness and peeling are 100% normal. These side effects can last up to the first several weeks of use, but it’s all a part of the process – after that adjustment period those incredible benefits start to shine through.
It’s kind of like when you stretch for the first time in a while. Everything hurts, your muscles cramp, you pulled something, you’re winded – you curse yourself for not being able to touch your toes anymore. But then, after a few weeks of practice, that flexibility comes right back, and your body starts to feel better than ever!
Retinol is one of those skincare ingredients that is just so potent that it covers a wide variety of skin concerns – it can improve the overall strength, quality and appearance of the skin in so many ways!
But its primary benefit is without a doubt the wonders it can work on the texture of your skin! Think about it, Retinol sends your skin into overdrive (in the best of ways) – you’re in a constant state of cellular renewal so your skin cells are always new, fresh and optimal. For that reason, Retinol is most commonly used to treat the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines – thanks to that aforementioned plumping effect it has.
Using Retinol is like turning a raisin back into a grape – that’s the primary benefit of how it penetrates and rejuvenates your skin cells!
Like I said, Retinol is a highly-multifunctional skincare ingredient – it brings you a whole bunch of different skin benefits. Some of the other benefits you can expect are:
… you have highly sensitive and reactive skin.
… you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, just to be safe we recommend you avoid using Retinol products during that time period.
… you have an active eczema rash – Retinol may aggravate it.
Since there are so many misconceptions out there, let’s end this Retinol lesson by busting a few myths – shall we!?
You definitely shouldn’t expose your skin to direct sunlight IF you haven’t used a sunscreen – but if you do, it is perfectly safe and stable!
This is a big one – while it may have similar benefits, Retinol is actually not an exfoliant, it doesn’t physically shed dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. It’s actually an antioxidant!
Some AHA and BHA products have a low pH and people thought that meant that they would disrupt Retinol’s skin-smoothing magic. Wrong! If anything, AHAs and BHAs can actually help with delivering the ingredient because they do shed dead skin that can limit penetration.
This one is another pH concern – people thought that because Vitamin C requires a low pH to remain stable, that it would not be the right environment for Retinol to be effective. Once again – it’s actually the opposite! Using Vitamin C with Retinol creates an even better environment for it to thrive because it stabilizes it, allowing it to work even more effectively.