10 things you need to know about retinol

10 things you need to know about retinol


If you haven’t been hearing the buzz about retinol products – can you drive yet? Retinol is touted as one of the most effective anti-aging products on the skincare market, and is available both over the counter and through a prescription (for higher concentrations). Short of Botox and Juvaderm, this vitamin is where it’s at. Retinol is a chemical form of vitamin A, and has been shown to promote cell regeneration and renew skin through effective chemical exfoliation. Just like any good urban legend, retinol has many myths and warnings floating around about the product. We’ve done our own research to make sure that if you choose to start using Retinol (to maintain the mystery about your driver’s license date of birth) you can make an informed decision and choose the right product for you.

Sunscreen with retinol can’t hurt

Recently, there has been some debate about whether Retinol causes issues with your skin’s natural UV barrier. Traditionally, experts have recommended avoiding wearing retinol during the day, to avoid the product being exposed to the sun. Some studies have shown that Retinol has no negative effect on your skin’s tolerance to UV rays, but wearing daily sunscreen is still an excellent habit. There are also some skincare products, such as Vitamin C, that do require sunscreen wear, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Wearing a daily sunscreen may even keep your skin looking so fresh that you can skip out on the retinol altogether!

Have patience

You won’t see the results right away – and we mean longer than a month. While traditional estimates suggest that the effects of retinol on your skin may not show up for four to six weeks, recent studies have shown that this timeline can vary. If you’ve waited a month or two and still aren’t seeing the results you had hoped for, try waiting another two. After that, you can always speak to your dermatologist and request a higher concentration of retinol for your skincare needs.

No prescription needed

That’s right – you can just walk down the skin care aisle and take your pick! There has been speculation about the (lack-of) effectiveness of over-the-counter Retinol products – and this is totally false. The percentage of retinol permitted in skin care products varies from country to country, but many countries mandate that a pharmacist must sell anything over 1%. For most of us, however, beginning at a concentration of 1% would actually be too strong and hard on sensitive skin. There are many great drugstore Retinol products to try before obtaining a prescription – just be prepared to spend a little more than you do for your toothpaste.

Chose your consistency

Retinol products are offered in all different forms: gel, cream, and liquid to name a few. You can choose what formula you’d like your retinol to come in, and it’s also a smart idea to read the whole list of ingredients. Retinol is not the only anti-aging product, and many brands will include other good ingredients in their formulas to improve hydration, consistency, scent, and even effectiveness.

Use any time you like (but night time might be more effective)

There have been claims that Retinol cannot be worn during the day (which we have already debunked, see #1!) but what we didn’t mention is that retinol may actually be more effective at night. During sleep is when your body regenerates, heals, and restores itself. This means that things like illness and injuries are tended to during sleep – but also cell regeneration. Because retinol is an exfoliating product that promotes cell turnover, some experts believe that it may be the most effectively used at night.

Only buy retinol with opaque packaging

We’re not making it up! Retinol formulas are unstable, and the chemical compounds will break down over time (rendering them far less effective at keeping your eternal youth). Exposure to oxygen and sunlight will speed up the breakdown process – and that’s why the packaging is important. If your bottle, jar, or container has a good seal and protects the product from light, your retinol will keep you looking fresh for much longer. Plus, that stuff is worth its weight in gold – we’d rather not lose our valuable retinol just because it’s in a clear plastic bottle!

Start slow, and build up

Just like other chemical exfoliant products, too high of a concentration too quickly may result in a negative reaction from your skin. Begin your retinol journey with a low percentage of retinol in the product, and try adding it to your skincare routine once a week. Build the frequency as quickly as you feel comfortable, over time you may want to increase the concentration of retinol in your formula – and perhaps speak to your dermatologist about a prescription.

Don’t ditch your other products

It is totally safe to keep using all of your other anti-aging and skin care products. Other chemical exfoliants (and acne products) such as alpha-hydroxyl acids (AHA) and beta-hydroxyl acids (BHA) can be used in addition to retinol. Make sure you stick with the moisturizer and sunscreen, too!

You won’t build immunity

According to retinol myth, with prolonged use of a retinol product will actually build immunity and render the chemical ineffective. Untrue! Your skin will become accustomed to the exfoliation, and any discomfort or irritation will disappear with frequent use (usually after a week or two). However, the retinol will keep working its magic on your skin, long after you forget it’s even there!

Side effects 

Irritation is normal…but that doesn’t mean it sucks any less. We get it – no one wants to have red, dry, or peeling skin. However, these side effects (in moderation) are actually part of your skin adjusting to the retinol product. If the irritation continues or causes a lot of discomfort, it’s probably best to stop using the retinol and consult a dermatologist. For most of us, however – the irritation will subside after a week or two, once your skin has built a resistance and tolerance to the chemical formula. Also, it is not recommended for pregnant women to use retinol creams.