What is Retinol: How and Why You Should Use It on Your Skin

What is Retinol: How and Why You Should Use It on Your Skin

There’s no shortage of skincare products for every health and beauty goal, whether that’s treating breakouts or maintaining your skin’s fresh, dewy look and feel. However, not all beauty ingredients are equal. Few can claim to have scientifically proven benefits for the user, so it’s not surprising that retinol has emerged on top of the best skincare ingredients in the beauty world. 

Retinol’s efficacy and safety have been tested in clinical settings, and as you might expect, this holy grail cosmetic product passed with flying colors. From an overall clearer complexion to bouncier skin, its potent formulation lets you take care of your skin woes. 

Then again, even though retinol is a proven powerful, multi-purpose skincare ingredient, many are wary of using it for fear of experiencing redness, flaking, or dryness–no thanks to stories that cast doubt on retinol for some users.

Don’t let the things you hear stop you from making retinol part of your skincare success story. Here are facts that should help retinol get the nod it rightfully deserves.

What is Retinol?

what is retinol?

Retinol is a type of drug derived or made from vitamin A. In case you didn’t know, vitamin A is a nutrient that not only helps with vision but also a host of other vital functions in your body, including skin cell growth. Since your body can’t produce vitamin A naturally, you need to supply it through your food, mainly animal products like dairy, beef, fish, and liver. Fruits, vegetables, and oils are also rich in vitamin A.

In skincare, retinol serum, gel, cream, and moisturizer are the most common forms of this ingredient. Aside from these topical treatments offered over-the-counter, retinol is also available as a prescription drug. Skincare and OTC products with retinol are typically allowed to have up to 2% concentration, but you’ll need to consult with your dermatologist and request a prescription for higher doses.

Here’s how retinol works when you apply it to your skin: retinol is absorbed by the epidermis or the outermost layer of the skin and then penetrates the layer underneath it or the dermis. Then, retinol goes to work, neutralizing free radicals that can damage your skin cells while boosting the production of collagen and elastin or the proteins that give your skin a nice, firm lift.

Retinol Myths and Facts

A list of retinol myths and facts

You’ve probably had a relationship with someone that started on the wrong footing, only to realize afterward that your dislike for that person was a mistake. If you’re faced with the similar dilemma of shying away from retinol because of the misconceptions surrounding its use, here’s a chance for you to finally get to know the truth about it.

Retinol Myths:

  • Retinol requires a “purging” period. Retinol has gotten the bad rap for causing severe irritation like peeling and breakouts two to four weeks after treatment. This isn’t always true, however; yes, some flaking and redness can happen when you first introduce retinol to your skin, but this natural side-effect can be minimized by starting with a low dose once or twice a week.
  • You shouldn’t apply retinol around your eyes. The thin skin around the eyes can quickly and easily absorb retinol, which may trigger reactions like skin inflammation and reddening. This doesn’t mean you can’t use retinol around your eyes, though. You just have to moisturize and use sun protection on that area.
  • Retinol exfoliates the skin. Another side effect commonly and mistakenly attributed to retinol is that it removes dead skin cells, similar to an exfoliant. Retinol, however, works differently from exfoliants. While exfoliants remove the topmost layer of your skin, retinol penetrates deep into the skin’s layers to encourage faster cell turnover.
  • Retinol must be high-strength to deliver results. Stronger prescription retinoids are deemed more potent in targeting specific skin issues than OTC products, so some users tend to go heavy with their retinol dosage. But you can use retinol even without a prescription, and these low-dose products will still give you the anti-aging and acne-fighting benefits you want.
  • Retinol is primarily an anti-aging product. The use of retinol minimizes the effects of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles. As such, the anti-aging solutions offered by retinol are typically given more prominence than its other benefits, but this ingredient is also proven to even out skin tone and texture and treat acne.
  • All retinol products are created equal. Retinol falls under the retinoid class of compounds, so it’s common to think of it as the same as other derivatives like retinal and retinoic acid, as well as tretinoin, a synthetic synthetic retinoid. These derivates, however, affect the skin in other ways and deliver different results.

Retinol Facts:

  • Retinol is safe for daily, all-around use. Retinol’s antioxidant properties make it ideal for daily use, whether daytime or nighttime. Just make sure to use retinol products with the right dosage. For example, Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Serum won’t give you flaky skin, even on the most sensitive areas of your face, because it uses a specialized micro-dosing technology to gently yet effectively deliver all-around benefits.
  • You can and should start using retinol as early as possible. Waiting for the first signs of aging before adding retinol as a skincare staple is counterproductive. By then, your skin is already regenerating more slowly, making retinol work harder. It is best to start with low-concentration retinol in your early 20s and gradually adjust to more potent formulations.
  • There is such a thing as “too much retinol.” Excessive or improper use of topical skin products is never recommended. In the case of retinol, irritation can occur with prolonged, high-dosage use. Skin discoloration, swelling, or acne flare-ups also happen in less than 10% of patients. To prevent these, apply retinol only once in the morning and evening, starting with a low dose.
  • Retinol requires patience and consistency. There’s no quick fix to good skincare, more so with retinol use. Since retinol acts at a deeper level by supporting cellular growth and collagen production, it can take a long 12 weeks to see results. Also, consider the first two to four weeks as an adjustment period for your skin, which could be marked by the skin feeling tight or dry.
  • You can go out in the sun with retinol on. How to use retinol and optimize its benefits boil down to taking the proper precautions, including applying sunscreen. Even if retinol doesn’t play a role in making you prone to sunburn, you still need to apply sunscreen religiously, especially since your skin will likely be more sensitive during the first few weeks of using retinol.
  • Retinol should be avoided during early pregnancy. Because vitamin A is vital in fetal development, using topical and oral vitamin A products like retinol may interfere with the development of the fetus. Although the risk is low, as suggested by recent studies, it’s still best to avoid it, especially during the early stages of pregnancy. 

What Does Retinol Do?

A list of the skin benefits of retinol

Retinol’s versatility in addressing different skin issues is backed by science and data.

  1. Minimize fine lines and wrinkles by creating a plumping effect.
    When applied, retinol penetrates and stays in the epidermis and dermis, triggering the skin’s collagen production. As a result, the skin appears full and firm, and the signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, become less prominent.
  2. Refine skin texture through increased skin cell turnover.
    Retinol promotes a faster turnover of skin cells. As new skin cells grow, dead skin cells are removed and replaced by younger, healthier ones. As such, the skin becomes smoother and softer.
  3. Clear clogged pores in oily and acne-prone skin.
    Retinol’s presence on the skin’s outermost layer helps remove dirt and oil from pores, resulting in blemish-free skin.
  4. Fade sun spots and other signs of sun damage.
    Healthy skin is characterized by an even tone, and here, retinol scores high. The consistent application helps minimize skin pigmentation, as was the case with the participants of a 2020 study who used retinol serums for eight weeks.
  5. Brighten complexion as a result of cell renewal.
    With cellular turnover happening faster because of retinol, your skin brightens and looks more youthful.
  6. Improve skin elasticity by improving its cellular structure.
    As a vitamin A derivative, retinol has tiny molecules that attach to DNA and stimulate cellular activities in healthy skin.
  1. Treat acne through its anti-inflammation properties.
    Besides removing impurities on the skin’s surface, retinol prevents inflammation-causing molecules from entering the pores. Acne treatments that use retinol have been the subject of several studies, and the findings are consistent: retinol is safe and effective.

Achieve Younger-Looking Skin with Retinol

The effects of retinol on the skin are far-reaching. When used properly, retinol can be an anti-wrinkling agent, blemish and pigmentation fighter, cell regenerator, and so much more. Of course, it’s always safer to visit a dermatologist to ensure the effectiveness of this well-acclaimed skincare ingredient for you.

Most likely, your doctor will advise you to start with a gentle retinol product. Kiehl’s retinol serum fits the bill, as it has just the right strength of dosage for your daily retinol needs. Get a free skin consultation by messaging Kiehl’s on Facebook!