Retinol – everyone’s favourite anti-ageing treatment cream… but a lot of questions about how, what, when, where and why…
If you’re interested in adding retinol to your routine, or have heard about it but want to know more, here is my guide on all things retinol which will hopefully answer some of your questions.
So, how does retinol actually work?
Retinol belongs to the Vitamin A group of ingredients, which all work by:
- Increasing collagen by creating more and preventing its breakdown, which means fewer lines and wrinkles
- Improving elasticity of the skin by repairing damaged elastin fibres
- Regulating oil production
- Help keep pores unclogged
- Improving the protective function of the skin by thickening the lower layers of the epidermis
- Improving hydration by reducing water loss
- Preventing excess pigment from being transferred to the skin cells
I mean… talk about a hero product!
When should add retinol to my skincare routine?
There is no right age to start using retinol, but most people find their 30s and 40s a good time to start.
If we try to improve the collagen in the skin early, we can prevent the formation of deeper lines and wrinkles.
It is worth remembering that you need to be patient and consistent with your retinol. You won’t see changes overnight, or even in a few weeks.
But, in 5 years, if you compared you using retinol to you not using retinol, you would see a huge difference.
This is future proofing your skin.
Which retinol should I choose?
This is one ingredient where formulation matters.
So many high street retinol products do not say what strength they are, and often they use retinol derivatives, but label it as retinol!
Stick to trusted brands, where the strength is visible, so you know what you’re getting
- Low-strength retinol – 0.3
- Medium-strength retinol – 0.5
- High-strength retinol – 1.0
Then you are into prescription-grade tretinoin, which is much more potent.
How to use retinol
- Use retinol at night only.
- For the first few months of using retinol, your skin can become more sensitive to UV light, but the evidence is that after this time the sensitivity reduces.
- However, I always recommend using high-SPF sunscreen during the day!
- Apply a pea-sized amount to your finger.
- Dot the retinol over the face and neck after you have cleansed and dried the skin.
- Gently massage into the skin.
- Be careful around the under-eye area as the skin is delicate here and more prone to irritation.
- Allow to absorb and then apply your night moisturiser.
What if my skin becomes irritated?
Retinol is a skin irritant. We know this, but it doesn’t mean you can’t effectively use it without irritation. Your skin often needs a period of adjustment.
Start slowly, so one of two nights a week and build up gradually.
Use a lower strength to start with (0.3-0.5).
If you get irritation then follow these steps:
- Moisturise straight after your retinol
- Moisturise before AND after your retinol
- Reduce how many nights a week you are using retinol
- Change to a weaker strength retinol
- Get in touch and we can discuss options
My spots seem worse after I started using retinol
Retinol is a product which can increase cell turnover.
When new skin cells are made at the junction of the dermis and epidermis, the speed at which they reach the surface of the skin is increased.
This also increases the rate at which breakouts and spots appear on the surface.
This is called purging, and it is a temporary condition we see when people start retinol or other active ingredients.
It will improve, it just takes a bit of time, but it is worth persisting with the retinol.
If you feel that your skin is not developing more spots, but redness, irritation, itching etc.. then it may be wise to stop using and check with your practitioner in case you have an allergy.
When can't I use retinol?
All vitamin A products and medications must be stopped during pregnancy as they have the potential to cause problems with the baby.
I recommend that my patients stop using retinol if they are trying to conceive.
For some more potent vitamin A products, we will discuss contraception as well, to make sure we are not causing more harm by using these products.
Retinol is safe to use when breastfeeding, but if you would rather wait until you have finished then that is absolutely fine too.
Other than that, we may ask you to briefly pause retinol before and after chemical peels or microneedling tor reduce downtime after the treatment.
Retinol is safe to use all year round, as long as your skin is happy and you use a good sunscreen in the sunnier months.
My favourite retinol products:
Skinceuticals 0.3, 0.5 or 1.0 Retinol
Obagi 0.5 or 1.0 Retinol
Skinbetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream (Retinol combined with an exfoliating ingredient)