Retinol: The Lowdown

All you need to know about the ultimate skin-perfector
by Anjana Gosai 

Posted: 27.02.13

Trendy skincare ingredients come and go, but dermatologists continue to back retinol as the gold standard for smoothing wrinkles, sweeping away dead cells, fading sunspots and obliterating acne. 
‘Retinol is one of the best anti-ageing ingredients around - its molecules are small enough to penetrate into the lower layers of the skin, where it can stimulate production of skin-plumping collagen and elastin,’ says consultant dermatologist Dr Varun Katyal of the Skin Clinic in New Delhi. ‘It also eliminates dead skin cells and stimulates new cell turnover, so the complexion looks instantly brighter and with regular use, discolouration can also begin to fade,’ he adds.

However, despite its skin-perfecting properties, the vitamin-A derivative can’t be tolerated by all. ‘In some cases retinol can leave the skin red, dry and flaky, and since Asian skin is relatively more sensitive, you should use it with caution,’ warns Dr Katyal.
With a slew of new retinol-infused skincare products hitting our shelves, there are plenty of products to choose from.  But before you start slathering it on, here’s how to make retinol work for you.

Start early

You’ll know your skin is ready for retinol if it is showing signs of ageing or sun damage. The skin’s collagen production and rate of cell turnover begins to slow down when we hit our 30’s, making lines more prominent and the complexion duller.

‘The late 20’s and early 30s is a good time to introduce retinol into your regime, within a few weeks, your skin will look brighter, tighter and smoother, and the appearance of new lines will slow down,’ says Dr Katyal. 
It should be packaged right
Both air and light can cause retinol to break down and lose its effectiveness, so make sure it is packaged properly. ‘Retinol based products should be packed into a dark, non transparent tube or pump bottle - these stop air from getting in and keep the ingredient stable and potent,’ advises Dr Katyal.

Pick the right type

There are several forms of retinol and some are less effective. ‘Derivatives of retinol like retinyl palmitate, retinyl linoleate, retinyl acetate and retinyl proprionate are usually mixed with buffering agents to reduce irritation, but this also makes them less effective,’ explains Dr Katyal. Experts recommend products containing stabilised retinol – a form of the vitamin that won’t break down in the bottle, or be affected by light or heat. 

Use it sparingly 

Some skin types can be more sensitive to retinol, so if you’ve never used it before, start by applying a small amount until your skin builds up tolerance. ‘Use a pea sized amount of a cream containing 0.15 per cent retinol for three nights a week, until your skin adapts to the product, then gradually build it up to 1.0 per cent and use it more frequently,’ says Dr Katyal.

‘If your skin still reacts, dilute the retinol cream with a gentle cream containing ceramides or moisturising ingredients like hyaluronic acid, which will strengthen the skin barrier and reduce the chances of irritation,’ he adds.
Those with sensitive skin should also look out for words such as ‘micro encapsulated’ technology on product labels, this smart delivery systems delivers and releases the encased retinol into the lower layers of skin without it coming into contact with the top layer, where irritation can occur.

Apply it at night 

Retinol can make the skin sensitive to the sun, so is best used before bedtime. 'Applying retinol at night ensures less exposure to UV light and it will also absorb more effectively at this time, since our body's temperature is highest at night,’ says Dr Katyal. And remember to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 in the morning to prevent sun damage. 
Be careful what you layer it with 
‘Retinol needs a neutral pH to work, so it doesn’t mix well with products containing salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or vitamin C, which can reduce the efficacy of the ingredient and cause irritation,’ says Dr Katyal.
If you use other products like cleansers, serums or moisturisers containing these ingredients, don’t use them at the same time as your retinol cream.

When using a retinol, experts also advise against the use of grainy scrubs, ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or chemical peels and waxing treatments – all of which can cause irritation. 

Products to try:

StriVectin Advanced Retinol Night Treatment (£79, improves skin tone, texture and radiance while you sleep. It also contains hydrating ingredients to reduce irritation. 

The Murad Time Release Retinol Concentrate (£65, has a concentrated retinol formula that is ideal for those aged 30 plus. 

Specially designed for the delicate eye area, the Eve Lom Eye Lift (£48, contains retinol microspheres to gently lift, firm and reduce crow’s feet.

Great for first time retinol users, the RoC Retin-Ox Wrinkle Correxion Daily Moisturiser (£20.99, also contains hyaluronic acid to plump and hydrate the skin.


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