Here’s what you need to know about retinol

Here’s what you need to know about retinol

Are you concerned with lines or wrinkles, pigmentation or ageing?  Retinol might be the answer.

Retinoids (a form of Vitamin A)  are THE ingredient in anti-ageing skincare right now.  From creams to serums to oils you’ll find these in products everywhere.

But do you know what it is, and how to best use it?


Retinoids is the collective name for Vitamin-A derivitives.

Retinoic Acid (the strongest form of retinoid, only available by prescription) has been prescribed since the 1950’s to treat acne, and in the 1980’s it was starting to be used for its anti-ageing benefits.  Because it was very strong it started to get known as a product that would increase skin irritation and to cause issues such as burning and skin peeling.

Dermal scientists then produced retinol, which is a milder (but still effective) retinoid.

Retin-A (retinoic acid) is still used to address acne, while the retinol and its derivatives are used for its anti-ageing benefits.

Retinoic Acid is the active ingredient that works on the skin.  All of the other forms of retinoids are converted by the skin into retinoic acid when they applied.  The strength of the formulation depends on how many conversions the formula needs. 

The stronger the retinoid the less number of conversions it needs.

Super confusing, I know.


The retinoids in over-the-counter skincare products differ in strength and in the amount that is added to the formulation.

A lot of the products that you can purchase do not disclose the % strength of the active ingredients, which can make it difficult to make an informed purchasing decision, however you can tell by the type of retinoid that is in a formula how gentle, or strong, it probably is.


Helps to boost collagen and elastin production in the skin, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, smoothing the skin and helping to minimise new lines from forming<
Helps speed up the production of new skin cells, and helps the old cells shed faster,  so that fresher, younger skin comes to the surface

Addresses uneven skin tone and dullness by stimulating the production of new blood vessels in the skin, which improves skin colour

Slows down the production of melanin, and this, in conjunction with the increased cell turnover, can help with hyperpigmentation (age spots, freckles).

Helps reduce the appearance of large pores


Retinol increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so you should always use a broad spectrum sunscreen if  using retinol products

It can also cause some stinging,  peeling, redness and flaking (known as retinization) – although these symptoms do not always occur, and generally disappear after a few weeks.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or trying to become pregnant, you should stop using any retinol products.

When used on sensitive skin for a prolonged period of time or in concentrations that are too high, retinol can cause dermatitis, although this does not always happen.


Always use a broad spectrum SPF when using retinol products, as your skin will be more sensitive to the sun and more likely to burn.

For the first few weeks that you introduce retinol your skin may be more sensitive and you should change up your skincare routine accordingly.  Use a gentle cleanser that doesn’t strip your skin of its natural oils and add extra moisturising products while you are using retinoid products.  I love Marula Oil and Squalane Oil for an extra boost of moisture

Avoid using any products with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid as they can be too harsh on your skin during the first few weeks of using retinol.

You should make sure that you choose the right strength for your skin – start with more gentle formulations, then move up once your skin has acclimatised.


When first introducing a retinol product follow the 1-2-3 rule.  Use it once a week for 1 week, twice a week for 2 weeks, three time a week for 3 weeks, then you can consider incorporating it into your nightly routine.

  1. Start with the gentlest formula. You don’t need prescription-strength formulations to see results when using retinols. You might see results a little faster with a higher strength product.  But you could cause irritation  that can take months to correct, too.
  2.  Only use a small amount on clean, dry skin. A pea sized amount is plenty.  Start at your forehead where your skin is (generally) more resiliant, just in case you go a little heavy handed.  Then smooth the rest over your face, starting in the centre and moving out. Wait 15-20 minutes before following with the rest of your routine
  3. Make sure that you are following the 1-2-3 rule above.  I’m totally guilty of jumping straight in with my treatments, so I get the appeal, but take if from my experience, overdoing retinol when you first use it is easy to do, and can take months for your skin to recover from.

If you are using a retinol product and experience extreme redness, flakiness or irritation you should stop using the product and see your doctor

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