If you’ve even a passing interest in skincare, you’ll have heard about retinol. Beauty editors love it, A-Listers rave about its ability to keep their skin healthy and glossy, and dermatologists often cite its extraordinary capacity to render wrinkled, pigmented, damaged skin juicy and lustrous once more.
The only problem? Whisper the word retinol, and an abundance of questions arise. What percentage should a product contain? Can it be used in conjunction with acids? When should you start using it? Etc. We’ve peppered the experts with ALL the questions for you, to bring you everything you need to know about retinol, along with a list of our picks of the best retinol products.
What is retinol?
Retinol is effectively Vitamin A in an alcohol base, and Vitamin A is a hugely important component of healthy skin which is depleted by exposure to the sun. Topical application of Vitamin A will not only help to normalise cell function, but it also reverses the signs of ageing and sun damage - hence the esteem in which dermatologists hold it.
How does retinol work?
Dermatologist and Founder of Murad Skincare, Dr Murad, explains this one: ‘retinol works in three ways: it exfoliates, aids in production of collagen, and fights free radicals.’ Basically: it’s a one-stop shop to healthier, more youthful skin. On the subject, here are the best facials in London, if you really want to give your skin a spring-clean.
Do retinols work on all skin types?
In short, yes, though you’ll need to build up to using it daily as your skin acclimatises. Dr Maryam Zamani explains that retinol is a huge multitasker, and will ‘fight acne, decrease the appearance of enlarged pores, improve fine lines and wrinkles, and even out skin tone - and it’ll stimulate collagen production to boot.’
What are the drawbacks of retinol?
Once your skin is used to it, there really aren’t any. In the initial period while your skin is getting used to it, you may experience redness, sensitivity or peeling. If that happens, just ease off by using it less frequently or by mixing it with your serum/moisturiser. Also, don’t be fooled by reports that it thins the skin - dermatologist Dr. Goldfaden explains: ’the epidermis becomes thinner with age, and retinol actually thickens it.’
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How do I use it?
At night, after cleansing, under a serum or moisturiser - as you will. Don’t use it in the morning - instead, apply a high SPF, as retinol will sensitise your skin to the sun and there’s no point in repairing all the damage just to damage your skin afresh in the sun.
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Now shop 5 of the best retinol creams and serums...
You need minimum downtime when using this but will get maximum youth-infusing Vitamin A. It’s creamy but lightweight, so you can apply it under a cream if you need extra moisture.
The least spendy retinol product you’ll come across, Deciem Founder Brandon Truaxe explains that this contains no water ‘as water damages retinol.’
This lightweight serum contains three types of retinol to give a speedy result that will gently overhaul skin. The addition of hydrating hyaluronic acid and flower extracts helps to soften skin.
Want to sidestep the acclimatisation period or worried about sensitive skin? Try this version, which delivers all the benefits at a lower concentration.
This contains 1% retinol, but you can customise how much you apply to your face by mixing it with Lixir's Universal Emulsion.
This dry oil contains 0.3% retinol and is a great pick if you prefer to use oils on your skin.