Cosmetic Ingredients Class: Retinol 101

Class is in session! Part of a healthy skin care journey involves understanding which cosmetic ingredients will actually help your skin.

Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A. It’s a powerful antioxidant and cell communicating ingredient. Theoretically, cell-communicating ingredients can tell a skin cell to look, act and behave better, more like a normal healthy skin cell, or to stop other substances from telling the cell to behave badly or abnormally. They do this by either direct communication with the skin cell or by blocking damaging cellular pathways or other cell-communicating substances.

To benefit the skin, retinol has to be converted to retinoic acid.

What are the Benefits of Retinol?

  1. Retinol increases skin cell turnover. This contributes to healthier, radiant skin, making retinol an essential to aging well.
  2. Retinol clears inflammation. Using retinol clears inflammatory skin conditions like acne and eczema.
  3. Retinol lightens dark spots. It helps to even the skin tone by lightening dark spots and/or photodamage i.e. skin darkened by the sun.
  4. Retinol smooths the skin by increasing glycosaminoglycan content. Glycosaminoglycan is an important skin-protecting substance found in young skin, resulting in firmer skin with an improved texture and enhanced barrier function.

How to Include Retinol in Your Skin Care Routine

There are different forms of retinol available on the market to address different needs. There are low (0.01-0.03%), moderate (0.04-0.1%) and high (0.5-1%) strength retinol treatments.

Natural forms of retinoids in order from the strongest to the weakest include:

  1. Tretinoin/Tretinoic acid
  2. Retinaldehyde
  3. Retinol
  4. Retinyl palmitate

Synthetic forms of retinoids, strongest to weakest include:

  1. Isotretinoin
  2. Tazarotene
  3. Adapalene

When using a skin care product with retinol, do not forget to patch test. Retinol can be irritating, ease into it to build your skin’s tolerance.

Initially retinol may result in purging, a condition where after introducing a new product, your skin gets worse before it gets better. The skin could break out, flake and/or dry. Moisturize your skin to soothe and restore the moisture barrier. After purging, your skin will reap the benefits of using retinoids.

If your skin starts to tingle or turn pink/red, becomes hot when you topically apply retinol, stop using that particular retinoid immediately. That is not purging, it’s an allergic reaction.

A Suggested Schedule to Introduce Retinol into your Skincare

The following schedule is courtesy of FutureDerm. It’s suggested for those with sensitive skin who would like to introduce retinol into their skin care. If you have non sensitive skin, adjust the schedule to suit your skin type, reducing the 4 week periods to 2 weeks.

  • Start off using a concentration of 0.5% or less once a week for 4 weeks.
  • The next month, use 0.5% twice a week for another 4 weeks.
  • Every 4 weeks, increase the frequency of use and by the time you hit month 5, you will be using it every night. Then it is time to increase the concentration.
  • In month 6, start using a concentration of 1% once a week for 4 weeks.
  • Once again, every 4 weeks, increase the frequency of use and you will be using it every night in month 12.
  • Continue using retinol every night ad finitum, unless you’re pregnant. After pregnancy, you can restart the schedule.

Try it in…

Sweetsation Therapy Bio’Sensiya Rejuvenating MultiVitamin Night Time Serum

FutureDerm Time Release Retinol 0.5

SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5

Specific Beauty Skin Brightening Serum

Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum


Please note that I can’t guarantee that all of the make-up and skincare products I recommend will suit you. Everyone’s skin is different and it’s possible to be allergic to anything. Wherever possible, patch test your products before purchasing.

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