Is retinol a cure-it-all?

Is retinol a cure-it-all?


Maybe you’ve heard or read about retinol over the past year or so. Maybe you also think it could just be plain hype. But if there’s one skin care ingredient you should pay attention to, this might be it. Retinol hates bad skin as much as we do: it’s anti-aging, anti-acne, anti-inflammatory, and anti-dullness, a perfect combination.

Retinol is a type of retinoid, a vitamin A derivative. Vitamin A is essential to the body and a deficiency may lead to night blindness, dry skin, infertility, and more. It can be readily found in food, such as meat, dairy, and fish (called preformed vitamin A), and in green, yellow, and red fruits and vegetables, where the body transforms its carotenoids to vitamin A (called provitamin A). It is also used for food supplementation. However, its benefits for the skin weren’t found out until the 1960s, when a more stable derivative in the form of retinoic acid was first prescribed to patients suffering from acne. And when the US FDA approved retinoic acid (branded as Retin-A) as an acne treatment during the early 1970s, dermatologists and patients noticed that not only were breakouts disappearing, even fine lines and dark spots were fading too.

It wasn’t all good news for retinoic acid, however. Its all-too-good benefits came with a setback: it’s irritating and too harsh on the skin. During this time, retinoic acid wasn’t safe to apply during the daytime, so it would add to the skin’s sensitivity. And this is when the milder retinol came about. While retinoic acid is active upon application, retinol only converts to retinoic acid as needed by the skin. This eliminates the harshness and irritation that retinoic acid brings. And while it might take quite a bit longer than retinoic acid to see results, it still packs the same punch in delivering all the benefits, making retinol today’s gold-standard ingredient when it comes to skin care.

Retinol is the only skin care ingredient that has been proven to:

  • stimulate collagen production
  • even out hyperpigmentation
  • reduce age spots, sun spots, and freckles
  • encourage healthy cell turnover
  • smoothen fine lines and wrinkles
  • improve skin tone and texture
  • reverse photo aging and sun damage

And when using retinol:

  1. It is ideal to start using retinol in your late 20s or as you enter your 30s.
  2. To use retinol, introduce the product into your skin slowly and gradually. Some may experience initial redness, irritation, or dryness from using it every day, so start once a week, and build on it as your skin can tolerate.
  3. Remember to put on sunscreen—even if you apply retinoids at night. Because retinol aids in cell turnover, it is important to protect the new, fresh skin from sunburn and sun damage by applying sunscreen.

Retinol is definitely for real. If you’re thinking of a skin care overhaul, add retinol to your list. But before you do, it is best to get a recommendation from your dermatologist on the strength, formulation, frequency, and type of retinoid to start with. If you have acne, ask your dermatologist if adding a retinol to your current regimen will help, especially if you are already using other anti-acne products such as tretinoin (same as retinoic acid), isotretinoin, retinal, adapalene, or tazarotene, among others. If you have other skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis, or you have sensitive skin, or you are currently using peels and actives (such as AHAs and BHAs), seek your doctor’s approval as well. All things considered, you definitely can’t go wrong with retinol.