Ingredient Spotlight: Retinol

By Misty

  • Retinol/retinoids is the skincare ingredient with the most legitimate research behind it
  • Many retinoids require a prescription and are proven to be potent, but also can be harsh and irritating
  • Retinol is over the counter and perhaps a more sustainable solution for your daily skincare routine 

If you’re into skincare and want to invest in products that have actually been proven to work, then you should probably give retinol or retinoids a try.

To start out with the basics, retinol and retinoids are essentially derivatives of vitamin A, which is one of the body's key nutrients for boosting cell turnover.  Dermatologists recommend retinol more than any other non-prescription skincare ingredient today.  It’s known to combat depleting collagen, improve skin texture and even fight against dark spots and hyperpigmentation.  Almost sounds too good to be true, right?   

It’s not though – unlike many other skincare ingredients out there that haven’t been sufficiently researched in legitimate clinical trials by serious scientists, retinol has been and that’s why so many doctors are eager to put it on the top of their highly recommended list. 

To get a little more specific, retinol is a type of retinoid.  The reason you’ve probably heard the word “retinol” more than the word “retinoid” is most likely because retinol doesn’t require a prescription and can be found in over the counter skincare products.  Other forms of retinoids, such as retin-A, require a prescription and you need to go to a doctor to get it. 

Both retinol and retin-A have been proven to be effective in fighting unnecessary wrinkles and maintaining supple skin.  The main difference, and you probably can guess from the fact that one requires a prescription and the other doesn’t, is the strength and potency.  Obviously, anything that requires a prescription are likely to be stronger and more potent.  However, on the flip side, they are also much harsher and irritating than retinol-based products. 

So in deciding whether to go with retinol-based products or prescription retinoids, it really becomes a personal decision.  For me, my skin isn’t sensitive and I’m always looking for products that pack a punch, so retin-A works well.  Even if it takes some easing into and there are some initial problems like drying and peeling skin, I’m all for it. 

For my friends like Minji who have normal to dry skin and are looking for a more holistic, sustainable and long-term solution, retinol is the way to go. 

If you choose to go the more subtle and gentle way with retinol, make sure you understand that not all products are created equal and it’s still very important to look at the ingredients list and packaging. 

Retinol based products generally contain anywhere between 0.01-2% retinol content.  Again, the higher the percentage the stronger, but it could also be irritating for your particular skin.  In terms of packaging, retinol is a highly unstable ingredient so you want to look for opaque air-tight packaging that will keep the ingredients safe from air and light damage.

If you decide to incorporate this amazing ingredient into your regular skincare routine, make sure you start slow and work your way up and most importantly...remember to be patient.  If you’re going the non-prescription route, most experts say it can take up to 3-6 months to really see any effects. 

You might start out using small amounts every other day at first and then gradually work up to nightly applications.  If you decide to apply retinol during the day, make sure you wear extra sunscreen because the sun can reduce the efficacy of retinol.  Best to avoid if you’re pregnant too!