Everything you need to know about…Retinol

It’s scientifically proven to prevent – and reverse – fine lines and wrinkles, help pigmentation and fight acne, as well as doing a whole load more. Here’s the low-down…

Picture perfect skin sadly can’t be achieved overnight, but there are some ingredients and products that can give things a super-charged helping hand. Retinoids, or Vitamin A, is one of those things. Here’s what you need to know about why it’s worthy of a place in your skincare arsenal…

What exactly is retinol?

Retinol belongs to the retinoid family, which is a class of compounds derived from Vitamin A. ‘There are a few types of retinoids, including retinyl esters, retinol, retinaldehyde, adapalene, and tretinoin,’ says Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Skin55 and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No Nonsense Guide to Great Skin. ‘They’re all slightly different chemical compounds, and retinol – which is more commonly seen in everyday products – is a more gentle type of retinoid.’

How does retinol work and what are the benefits?

‘It has been proven to reduce the signs of ageing and sun damage, in particular, fine lines and wrinkles, as well as pigmentation,’ explains Mahto. It also works to help reverse signs of ageing thanks to its ability to boost collagen production, which helps plump and smooth skin. And there’s more: it’s the only topical agent that repeatedly demonstrates those anti-ageing effects in scientific studies, says Mahto. So if it’s not already part of your routine, it should be because it’s pretty much guaranteed that it’ll have a positive impact on the appearance of your skin.

Who is retinol suitable for?

Experts mostly disagree on the age that you should start using retinol – some say it should be mid-30s, others believe it should be earlier or later. But, because it can also be used as a preventative measure – and because the skin loses 1% collagen per year from our mid-twenties, introducing it from around then is advisable. ‘Retinol is widely known as an anti-ageing ingredient, but because the benefits of using it are broad, we should be using them earlier than we think,’ says Mahto.

Are there any downsides to using retinol?

As long as you’re using it as advised, there aren’t any really, but sensitive or dry skin types should use with caution because it can cause the skin to be more prone to sensitivity. ‘When you first use these treatments, skin irritation and redness can occur. That’s why I usually recommend building up usage gradually: start using your chosen product twice a week initially, then slowly build up to daily usage,’ suggests Mahto. You should also be cautious about using other strong acids in your routine – like glycolic or lactic. ‘Those sorts of products are beneficial in skincare, but in some people, they can cause excessive dryness and irritation in the early stages,’ says Mahto. ‘Consider alternating between AHA-based products and retinol until skin develops a tolerance.’

How to incorporate retinol into your routine

It can take around three months before you notice any improvement in skin, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see a difference straight away. ‘It’s best used at night time because the skin is more permeable while you’re sleeping. Apply retinol to cleansed skin, and use a night cream if the skin is mature or dry as it’ll need the extra moisture,’ says Mahto. ‘It’s also imperative that you use a minimum SPF30 during the day as retinoids can make you sensitive to ultraviolet light from the sun.’

Dr. Anjali’s top retinol picks

NeoStrata Skin Active Retinol + NAG Complex, £55 

The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane, £5.80 

Medik8 Retinol 10 TR Serum, £40 

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