How Does Retinol Work? Facts, Side Effects

How Does Retinol Work? Facts, Side Effects

Retinol, retinoids are derived from vitamin A and are one of the most effective and popular skincare ingredients for all ages. It also has several cousins with different degrees of efficacy. Some can be found over the counter (OTC) and some or not.

At first, it was used as treating acne but now so much science and technology are used on them. Now research says it is used to fade wrinkles, fine lines, treat actinic keratosis, photodamaged skin and also speed the turnover of superficial skin cells. “They’re a favorite because there’s so much science behind them.” says, New Orleans dermatologist Patricia Farris, MD.

Teen to mother and boys to father all can use them if you want to prevent acne and premature aging. Chicago dermatologist Carolyn Jacob, MD, says, “I recommend retinoids to everybody, It’s never too early to start using a retinoid product.

This article will help you to make a decision about which cousins of retinol you should choose according to your skin condition with so many possible FAQs and how properly apply it meeting fewer side effects as it can cause some side effects at the beginning stage. Here you will be informed which other active ingredients you can incorporate in your skincare routine and which are not while you’re using retinol or retinoid And get some pro tips at the bottom of the article if you already use retinol or going to start retinol or retinoid.

Let’s start…..

What is retinol for skin care?

What is retinol for skin care?

Retinol is derived from vitamin A. Retinol is a family of ingredients that include retinoic acid (also known as Retin-A or Tretinoin), retinol, Retinaldehyde. Retinol can be found in different forms like in serum, in gel, in oil, and in the form of cream. It’s very lightweight and liquidy can be found in more serum formulations. The third generation of Retinoid is Adapalene and Tazarotene. These all are actually the same kinds with different degrees of efficacy.

READ MORE: Drunk Elephant Lala Retro vs Protini Review, Comparison

According to dermatologists retinoid/retinol helps to increase cell turnover by exfoliating the upper layer of the skin and stimulating collagen production which will help you to unclog pores, reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and treat acne, acne scars.

It’s one kind of compound that naturally occurs in the body which helps to boost the immune system and helps to repair damaging tissue.

How does retinol work?

How does retinol work?

It exfoliates the upper layer of skin on the stratum corneum and at the same time triggers the skin cells to turnover that leads to regeneration of new skin cells which not only makes your skin thicker and plumper but reducing your fine lines and wrinkles.

As retinol is derived from vitamin A, it has anti-oxidant property too. Its exfoliating property gives you better skin tone and texture which makes your skin more firm and smooth.

Retinol vs Retin-a

Retinoid is also known as vitamin A. Vitamin A includes Retinol, Retin-A, or Retinoic acid. They are all like a family derived from vitamin A or Retinoid.

Retinol vs retin-a

Retin-a or retinoic acid is 100 times stronger than retinol. Retinoic acid or Retin-A should be prescribed by a dermatologist according to your skin condition. But you can get retinol over the counter from any drugstore as it’s very gentle and takes 14 – 21 days to be processed in the dermal layer of your skin. 

Retin-a directly helps to stimulate collagen production and skin cell turnover whereas retinol needs to be broken down by the enzyme to be turned into retinoic acid. But both do the same things and the target is the same. Just take more time than Retin-A. For that reason, retinol is a specialist for sensitive skin and new users.

Research in November 2010 demonstrated that severe photodamage (i.e alteration in the skin due to sun exposure) and wrinkles problems can be solved with 1% retinol or 0.02% tretinoin. Both are almost equally effective in reducing photodamage and wrinkles.  

Since Retin-A is more strong and powerful than retinol, so new users are strongly recommended to use retinol at first rather than using Retin-A or retinoic acid, or tretinoin. When users take retinol in their topical area, gradually it turns into retinoic acid. So it’s a little bit slow process but this process is good for new users to start.  

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Is retinol as effective as tretinoin?

Tretinoin is more powerful than retinol. That’s why retinol can be found over the counter. Tretinoin is prescribed for treating mild to severe acne whereas over-the-counter retinol is applied for the prevention of acne or oiliness. But 1% retinol is almost similar to 0.2% tretinoin.

What is better than Retin-A?

Retin-a is the second generation of retinoids. It is prescribed for severe or mild acne, but tazarotene and adapalene the third generation of retinoid is much better than Retin-A. Even adapalene can be applied to the body as well.

What should you not use with retinol?

You should not use retinol with AHAs like glycolic acid, BHAs like salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide. Because these all are exfoliating type ingredients.

Benefits of retinol for skin retinol

Retinol or retinoid has been the most demanded skincare product almost among all ages and all skin types. It is effective for teenagers to control excessive sebum production and to treat acne, on the other hand super effective for mature skin to prevent the signs of aging. That’s why general public to dermatologists all like to add retinol or retinoid in their beauty regime.

Regulate sebum production

Retinol controls the production of excessive sebum. Since retinol is an exfoliating type ingredient, it exfoliates the upper layer of the skin and helps to remove the dead cells and unclog your pores and thus control oil. 

Treat the acne-prone skin

Treat the acne-prone skin

Retinol is widely recognized for the power of treating acne. The third generation of retinoid name Adapalene in the form of gel is extremely good for acne-prone skin that can be added to your skincare routine according to Dr.Dray a board-certified dermatologist based in Houston. It should be applied with pea-size, she says. Even adapalene can be applied to the other part of the body also in a very low dimension and it is absolutely safe.   

“For patients with severe acne that is resistant to other treatments, oral isotretinoin (also a family of retinoids) may be the best option,” says Dr. Nada Elbuluk a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor at the USC Keck school of medicine, department of dermatology.

Treat actinic keratosis

Actinic-keratoses appear as small dry, scaly patches of skin. They look like red, light, or dark tan, flesh-toned, or a combination of colors. It can drag your skin even in the skin cancer. A study demonstrated that adapalene gel between 0.1% – 0.3 % can improve actinic keratosis, solar lentigines, and photodamaged skin. 

Minimize pores

When sebaceous glands underneath your skin produce excessive sebum and your sebum and dead cells become stuck in the pores then your pores look more noticeable and large. Since Retinol has exfoliating properties, it removes dead skin cells from the upper layer of the skin and at the same time helps to regulate sebum production and also stimulates collagen production which makes your pores less visible.

Reduce fine lines and wrinkles

Reduce fine lines and wrinkles

It helps to exfoliate the upper layer of skin on the stratum corneum and at the same time, it helps to increase the skin cell turnover that leads to rejuvenate and regenerate new skin cells which not only makes your skin thicker and plumper but reducing your fine lines and wrinkles faster.

By increasing cell turnover, retinol dispatches a signal to the lower layer of skin to produce new skin cells and collagen which helps to make the fine lines and wrinkles invisible.

Besides, research shows that applying 0.4% retinol up to 3 times a week for 24 weeks provides an outstanding result for improving fine lines and wrinkles.

Protect skin from photodamage

Retinol helps to regenerate new skin cells in the deeper layer and push the healthy skin out to the upper layer of the skin. It actually helps with skin cell turnover and exfoliates the upper layer that turns your inanimate, pigmented skin into resilient and youthful skin.

Moreover, retinoid or vitamin A is an anti-oxidant. It helps to protect your skin from free radical damage and helps to promote collagen production which helps to increase skin elasticity.

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Can you mix hyaluronic acid with retinol?

Yes, you can, if the humidity is more than 50%. The combination of hyaluronic acid and retinol is one of the most popular ones. But hyaluronic acid helps to transepidermal water loss if the humidity is less than 50% and thus makes your skin dry otherwise it helps to hydrate your skin. So this combination with more than 50% humidity is absolutely good otherwise it may cause irritation and redness in the skin.

Check out Which is better for wrinkles retinol or hyaluronic acid?

How long does it take to see results from retinol?

Retinol takes 12 to 14 weeks as it needs to be broken down by the skin’s enzyme and then converted into retinoic acid, while retinoic acid directly stimulates cell turnover which takes 7 to 10 weeks and sometimes takes more since all skin type is not same.

Why is retinol good for your skin?

Retinol actually helps to increase skin cell turnover that means it helps to produce new skin cells or healthy cells at the deeper layer and push these healthy cells out to the upper layer. And finally exfoliates the upper layer of the skin which helps to rejuvenate your skin, increase radiance, smooth skin texture, and make your skin more firm and plump.

Can retinol help with acne?

Yes, over-the-counter retinol can help with acne. But tretinoin or Retin-A (family member of the retinoid) can help you more for treating acne as they are more powerful than retinol.

How long does retinol take to work for acne?

It takes 6 to 8 weeks to work for acne if you use it consistently (2 to 3 days a week) at night. After 2 to 3 weeks later problem may increase which is called post retinol phase, but you shouldn’t discontinue it before your see the actual result.

Retinol before and after

Retinol before and after

Now, the question is how to apply retinol or other members of this group on the face. As it is a very powerful active ingredient it can dry out your skin after applying for one or two weeks. So it is better to prepare your skin one or two weeks before using it.

Don’t worry, I will give you a solution. Follow me

Step 1: cleanse your face properly. (Beginner should know: How To Apply Serum On Face Properly)

Step 2: apply a branded moisturizer around your eyes and face also. The application of moisturizer is very much important so that retinol can’t penetrate into the deepest layer of the skin, especially around the eyes as this area is very much thin.

Step 3: wait for one to two minutes, let your skin dry completely before applying retinol or retinoid. Never apply retinoid or retinol to your damp skin. Damp skin helps retinol to penetrate into the deepest layer of the skin that may cause irritation and dryness. Now take pea-size retinol and apply it to the face except around the eyes.

Step 4: again apply moisturizer. If you want, you can mix lightweight oil with your moisturizer. Get the best moisturizer that really works with retinol and shows no irritation.

Step 5: must wear sunscreen if you go out the next day. Because it makes your skin sensitive to sun exposure. But be sure to wash off sunscreen before bedtime otherwise it may cause acne, spots, blackheads, whiteheads. To know more facts about sunscreen, you may read it.

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Do you apply moisturizer after retinol?

Yes, it is most important to apply moisturizer as retinol is exfoliating type ingredient. Another important thing is that you must wear sunscreen before going out since retinol makes your skin a little bit sensitive to sun exposure.

What happens to your skin when you start using retinol?

First 2 to 3 weeks you may feel a little bit of dryness, redness. Let your skin give some time to be adapted with this active ingredient. Once it is adapted, it must wonder you. It is better to apply it with a very lower percentage like tretinoin 0.2% or adapalene 0.2% or retinol 1%.

Can I use retinol everyday?

If your skincare routine is a little bit complex and you are a new user of it, don’t use it every day. Apply 0.2% adapalene or 0.2% tretinoin or retinol 1% two times a week. Once your skin is adapted to this ingredient, you can apply it every day and sometimes it’s better to let your skin break so that it can regenerate itself.

Do I use niacinamide before or after tretinoin?

Apply niacinamide during the daytime as it helps to control excessive oil production and protect your skin from free radical damage whereas tretinoin is the exfoliating type and also produces new skin cells. The combination of niacinamide and tretinoin is absolutely good, friendly, and gentle for the skin.

People also want to know on about How to use niacinamide and retinol serum?

Is retinol safe to use while breastfeeding?

There is no strong evidence on topical retinol but most dermatologists suggest not to use them during lactation. but if I talk about Oral Isotretinoin, it (family of the retinoid) is known to cause birth defects. So it should be avoided during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

What age should you start using retinol?

You can start it mid to late 20s (25-29). Because your skin produces less collagen as you get aged. And this is the perfect moment to stimulate collagen production by using it. Let your skin be adapted with a retinol at first, not with retinoic acid. After applying it for 2 to 3 months you can proceed with Retin-A or retinoic acid.

Well, now let’s consider what does retinol or retinoic acid do for skin one last time.

  • It helps to skin cell turnover
  • Helps to decrease oil production, inflammation
  • Unclog the pores, as well as reduce pigmentation, dark spots
  • Removes fine lines, wrinkles by stimulating collagen production.
  • Helps to firm and smooth over textured skin by resurfacing the top layer
  • Also, make your pores less visible
  • Even out skin tone as it provides a rapidly shedding to the top layer of the skin
  • Very much effective for acne-prone and sensitive skin
  • Improve photodamaged skin
  • Protect skin from free radical damage

Now it’s time to get special tips

What should do

  • Moisturize your skin and protect your sensitive area before applying retinol
  • Must wear sunscreen before going out, otherwise, skin could be damaged
  • It is better to prepare the skin one week before using retinol by moisturizing your skin
  • Slowly incorporate over-the-counter retinol or prescribed retinoic acid into your skincare routine, don’t be hurry
  • Apply at most two times in a weak if you are new user
  • Take a little break for one week after 3 months regular use of it. Let your skin regenerate itself

What should not do

  • As it is one kind of chemical exfoliant, don’t use any other chemical or physical exfoliant like a scrub
  • Don’t go to the beach the next day of applying it
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t use it


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