Woman applying moisturiser to face

Everyone is obsessing over a flawless skin, aren’t you? The beauty industry is therefore thriving with inventions of new skincare products and routines taking the center stage.  ‘Get a Perfect skin’ is the marketing punch on most of them. Take a closer look at your skin care products’ label and retinol is one of the common ingredients that you are sure to find. So, should you add retinol in your skincare?

Whether to add or not to add retinol to your skincare is a personal choice. However, an informed decision requires you to be up to speed with everything concerning retinol. Below is what retinol is, its sources, what experts’ say about its use, and much more.

What is Retinol?

Retinol exists as a derivative of vitamin A. It exists both naturally in foodstuffs and synthetically. Natural retinol is a fat-soluble vitamin found in most fruits, vegetables, and oils. The main reason why retinol finds its way into beauty products is the fact that it boosts the production of collagen in the body. As a skin care ingredient, retinol has been available OTC since 1984.

DFrow Should You Add Retinol in Your Skincare infographic

Benefits of Retinol

Curious about what retinol can do for your skin? Here are some of its main benefits.

1. Has Anti-Aging Benefits

Aging is a process that occurs in two ways; biological aging also called chronological aging, which is inevitable, and photoaging, which happen due to exposure to ultraviolet rays for more extended periods; this is evitable.

After testing retinol’s ability to deal with photoaging, it is proven that retinol thickens the epidermis layer of the skin. A thickened skin takes longer to show any signs of aging.

2. Fights Wrinkles

Chronological aging deprives the body of its ability to synthesize collagen. Without collagen, your skin’s firmness and elasticity is compromised, leading to formation of wrinkles. Desiring to keep that youthful look? There is a need to supplement collagen. Topical use of retinol on the skin clears fine lines and wrinkles. The results are however not instant and most regimens call for application of retinol for at least 12 weeks continually.

3. Treats Acne

Do you struggle with stubborn, severe acne? Retinol has shown efficacy in its treatment. You will find relief in Isotretinoin, a variant of retinol. However, isotretinoin is a prescription-only drug.

To find the right skin care products for acne prone skin is tricky. Consider retinol for soothing your skin when inflamed and for reducing enlarged pores. Retinol also clears acne spots.

4. Evens Out Complexion

If combined with mild Hyaluronic acid or glycolic acid, retinol forms retinoic acid which is potent in the removal of dead skin and unclogging of pores. Retinol also reduces hyperpigmentation by normalizing cells production since it runs skin deep. When you combine these two properties, your complexion becomes more even.

5. Helps with Psoriasis and Warts

Retinol can slow cells growth. This especially so if the cells are concentrated in an area as in the areas affected by Psoriasis or Warts. The patches will not only grow smaller but also less painful.

Derivatives of Retinol

Upon exposure to light and air, retinol is biologically degraded and thus inactive. Owing to this fact, experts have improved retinol’s chemical stability by creating derivatives. These derivatives are:

  • Retinyl Palmitate
  • Retinaldehyde also called vitamin A aldehyde
  • Tretinoin or Retin-A
  • Tazarotene
  • Isotretinoin

The above list ranges from the weakest to the strongest. You can buy most of the retinol skin care products over the counter but not Tazarotene, Tretinoin, and Isotretinoin. The three are too strong and therefore require the guidance of a medic to use.

Should you choose to add retinol to your skincare regimen, here is a guide on how to choose a skin-friendly retinol.

How to Buy the Right Retinoid

In the beauty world, the proverb ‘’one man’s food is another man’s poison’’ is a reality. It would therefore be a foolish move to buy a product based on how well it looks on your friend. Often it’s said, “perform a patch test first to see if your skin loves the product.” If your skin reacts badly, drop it!

To what degree is your skin tolerable to retinol?

  • Gels or creams? Gels penetrate the skin faster, making them highly effective. They are also less likely to clog your pores. However, they also come with a drying effect.

Creams on the other hand, suit a dry skinned person better because they are oil-based.  They also penetrate the skin less, making them a better option for sensitive skin. On the down side, they may lead to build-up of dirt.

  • Retinoids are water-based, alcohol-based or cream-based with the strongest being alcohol-based.
  • Natural retinoids might seem the best fit especially to those with sensitive skin, but they are also weak. If your skin is not too sensitive, go with synthetic retinoids.

Woman browsing in cosmetics aisle

Is There Scientific Evidence for Retinol Use?

Beauty products come with promises of success, and retinol is no different. That said, a radiant glowing skin is something to desire but it should not come at a danger to your health or loss for your money. This is why it’s recommended to only use skincare products that are backed by scientific evidence. Here are some scholarly researches on retinol use on the skin;

  • In a bid to prove that Retinol fights skin aging, a group of professionals, carried a trial on 53 participants. These were 80 years and above, hence aged skin. The research was to study the effects of 1% Retinol, topically applied for seven days.

After the seventh day, it was observed that each of the participants had increased levels of collagen produced. The study concluded that, retinol is effective in treatment of aged skin and fighting off effects of photoaging.

  • A different study investigated the efficacy of retinol on skin tone. The study involved combining retinol with glycolic acid. The mix essentially helps in clearing out blemishes while normalizing cell generation for a fair complexion.

The study used retinol (0.1%) and glycolic acid (8%). The mixture was tested on blemished skin. In another experiment, each product was tried individually. The results were as follows; the retinol-glycolic combination delivered significant improvement, while individual products weren’t as effective.

  • An open clinic trial of was conducted to investigate effectiveness of retinol in fighting wrinkles. Retinaldehyde (0.05%) was tested on 32 photoaged females for a period of four months. At the end of the four months, there was a considerable decrease in wrinkling and skin roughness. The product was also found to be irritable to the skin as compared to other derivatives like Isotretinoin.

When Should You Start Using Retinol?

Ideally, dermatologists suggest that you start using retinol at the age of 40. At this mature age, your body is straining to produce collagen. This does not however mean you can’t use the product earlier than that. That said, if you are below 40 years of age, you should use retinol sparingly.

To begin with, use retinoids with lower concentration to observe your skin’s reaction. If the response is positive, then continue use and only increase concentrations after dermatologist’s advice.

How to Apply Retinol for Lasting Results

If not used properly, your use of retinol can cause more harm than good. Additionally, being a stickler to application guidelines will help you reap maximum benefits. Here is more on how to use retinol;

  • Step 1: Wash your face and the neck. To protect your eyes, gently apply an eye cream around the eye sockets.
  • Step 2: Give time for the skin to dry up completely. Damp skin will facilitate absorption of retinol deep into the dermis triggering a burning sensation. Retinoids are known to cause flaky skin due to drying. Therefore, dampen the surface with a thin film of serum or moisturizer.
  • Step 3: Squeeze pea-sized retinol and apply with your fingers from the chin upwards. Your fingers should be moving outwards.
  • Step 4: Add a layer of moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated.
  • Step 5: Ask any dermatologist what product should never lack in your make-up arsenal, and the answer will be sunscreen. Don’t leave the house in the morning without wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen.  Here is why; Retinoids increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, hence the need for protection.

Additional Information for Retinol Results

  • You are what you eat. Your skin’s current state is a reflection of so much that’s happening in your life. Remember: there are natural sources of retinol. Increase your intake of vegetables, fruits and natural oils that are rich in vitamin A.
  • It will be futile investing in a good skincare routine only to create more damage. How many hours of sleep do you have every day? Depriving yourself of sleep will lead to dark circles. Yes, those dark patches under your eyes.
  • Retinoids dry up your skin hence you should drink plenty of water during use. This will keep your dermal layers well hydrated.
  • Change your lifestyle for the better. Living sedentarily increases your stress levels and builds up toxins in your body. Flush the toxins out by being active, otherwise the effects of retinol will just be cancelled out by the toxins.
  • Be consistent with the regimen that you have chosen, consistency guarantees positive and lasting results.

What Are Side Effects of Using Retinol?

1. Retinoid reaction

This is a skin reaction identifiable by itching, burning, thinning skin, redness, scaling, and peeling.  Present in the retinoids is a free compound called carboxylic acid which is the root cause of retinoid reaction. It is especially familiar in tazarotene, Isotretinoin, and tretinoin.

The side effect starts two or three days after retinol use. The reactions can last up to three months during product use.

2. Photosensitivity

Retinoids function by removing the top layer of the skin. This increases skin sensitivity to the sun. Failure to use sunblock during the day while using retinol will badly scar your skin through severe sunburns.

3. Pregnancy Contraindication

Using retinoids when you are pregnant is a huge risk. For both oral and topical retinol, there is some degree of absorption into the body. The absorbed elements may cause defects to your unborn baby.

How to Counter the Side Effects of Using Retinol

  • Upon developing skin reactions and photosensitivity, you could reduce the frequency of use. Instead of daily application, switch to alternate days.
  • Change to a less irritating retinoid. Replace isotretinoin for example with Retinyl palmitate. If the irritation persists, discontinue its use altogether.
  • To counter the drying effects, invest in moisturizing soaps, creams, and even lip balms. Preferably go for those with high sun protective factor (SPF).
  • Since the skin is too sensitive, keep practices like waxing and microblading for when your skin recovers fully. Otherwise, you will make a bad situation worse.

Should You Combine Acids With Your Retinoids?

Acids are a common ingredients used in treatment of acne, scarring, photodamage and hyperpigmentation. Examples are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), for example lactic, citric, glycolic and mandelic and beta-hydroxy acids (BHA), which include salicylic acid.

Acids make great remedies for cleansing, peeling, and unclogging pores. Essentially, they serve mature skin best. The underside of this is they have a drying effect on the dermis. Combining them with retinoids may increase the degree of drying. To reap maximumly from both the acids and the retinoids, use each independently of the other.

Retinol is 20 times less potent compared to retinoic acid. Improve retinol’s potency, by mixing with glycolic acid through hydrolysis. The combination, which has a neutral pH, is known to be more effective for the skin.

The case of retinol and glycolic acid mixture is unique. Attempting to mix a retinoid and other acids will not only be a waste but a grievous mistake. You’ll have to endure the shame and pain of extreme flaky, scarred, sensitive and itchy skin.

On your next visit to the cosmetic shop, you may notice the attendant mixing retinol and an acid, just be sure to confirm that its glycolic acid.

Should you add retinol in your skincare? Retinol is a gem with so much good hidden in it. The benefits therein belong to the patient, consistent, and those whose skins are tolerable. One wrong move in the choice of the retinoid or the application, and you’ll pay dearly. To ensure that you reap its benefits, source retinoids from reputable brands and engage a dermatologist before use. To add on to that, always do a patch test to determine the product’s suitability.