What Is Retinol Used For?
When it comes to skincare, all I have been hearing lately is about retinol and how amazing it is. But, it gets me wondering… what is retinol and what is retinol used for? What some call “the ultimate anti aging miracle worker”, skin-thusiasts from all over the world have been praising retinol for years thanks to its ability to treat acne, prevent dull skin, promote plump skin, firm skin, and diminish fine lines and wrinkles. If you are curious about how you can get glowy, smooth skin with retinol, we are here to answer your biggest questions about the beauty industry’s most talked-about ingredient.
- Retinol is a type of retinoid which can increase collagen production and help treat acne, blackheads, and clogged pores all while speeding up the rate at which the skin turns over and regenerates.
- Adding retinol to your skincare routine can be a great way to rejuvenate your skin, but it requires extra care and commitment.
What is Retinol?
So, what is retinol and what is retinol used for? While retinol is often used as a term for topical products containing vitamin A, it is technically a type of retinoid, of which there are several types that work at different rates. Retinoids not only work by increasing collagen production, but they also increase the rate of skin cell turnover. They also help treat acne, blackheads, and clogged pores all while speeding up the rate at which the skin turns over and regenerates. Because of this, retinoids are ideal for improving your skin's overall texture, minimizing fine lines and wrinkles, evening out skin tone, and decreasing pore size.
If you research retinol, dermatologists will say that retinoids are the backbone of a great skincare routine. In fact, many dermatologists recommend using both a vitamin C serum and retinol daily since they work together to treat your skin. While vitamin C protects your skin from free radical damage in the daytime caused by the sun and pollution, retinoids are great to slather on before bed so your skin can start repairing itself overnight. However, this can be too harsh for some skin moods, so it’s important to try new products, perform patch tests, and see what works the best for you.
What is Retinol Used for?
Since we defined retinol, now we can answer: “What is retinol used for?” Retinoids have been considered the gold standard for antiaging and for treating acne because they increase the cellular turnover rate of cells on the outermost layer of our skin, which keeps younger, plumper cells closer to the surface. Some other skin benefits of retinol are:
- Help exfoliate older skin cells at an increased rate, which helps to unclog pores, keep your skin refreshed without the need for harsh exfoliators,
- Lighten brown hyperpigmentation like melasma, acne scars, dark age spots, and sun spots
- Regulate oily skin
- Brighten dull skin
- Helps neutralize free radicals to boost the production of elastin and collagen
- Keeps your pores unclogged by creating comedolytic agents to help prevent the formation of acne or blemishes.
If you continue to use retinol over a long period of time, it can also increase the production of collagen and elasticity in the dermis—the second, deeper layer of skin. This makes retinol special because there are not a lot of products out there that work and are so reparative in terms of treating so many aspects of skin health all at the same time. Even if you don't experience acne or currently have fine lines and wrinkles, retinol can help you maintain an even skin tone and give your skin a stunning glow.
When you begin using retinol, it can take a little time to see the significant results, which is why retinol is considered such a commitment. You will most likely see results in four to six weeks on average. For acne, it can take up to 12 weeks to see full improvement.
Now that you know the answer to “What is Retinol used for?”, it’s time to talk about how to use retinol. After all, retinol's side effects can include flaking, peeling, dryness, retinol burn, and increased sensitivity to the sun, which means impeccable sunscreen application is a necessity (1). Why? Retinol is super potent and it involves commitment.
As mentioned above, there are a few different types of retinoids you will find in your face creams, eye cream, and serums. Over-the-counter retinoids are available in almost every product form on the market, while most prescription forms are a cream or gel. Before you purchase, it’s important to note that retinoids are difficult to manage for people with easily irritated or sensitive skin. If you have rosacea, a dry skin mood, contact allergies, or any general sensitivity, you should opt for products with a gentler effect on skin. Also, if you are using retinol specifically to fight acne or clogged pores, it is recommended to not layer retinoids with benzoyl peroxide, as they can cancel each other out.
Pay attention to what percentage of retinol you're using too. Anywhere from 0.02 percent to 0.05 percent is a good place to start if you do not have sensitive skin, and you can work up to retinol products with stronger amounts over time.
On the other hand, you can visit a dermatologist if you would like to try a more concentrated retinol product or a prescription retinoid. Getting a second opinion from an expert about the strength of retinol you use can be beneficial, since using too high a strength or applying retinol more frequently than you should can lead to further irritation, like itchiness and scaly patches (2). Dermatologists also recommend using acids like AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs sparingly when using a retinol product while you avoid treatments like chemical peels and lasers.
As for a skincare ritual, it’s crucial to stick with gentle cleansers and to always follow your retinol with a moisturizer, especially moisturizers with hyaluronic acid and ceramides. Most dermatologists also recommend easing into using retinol in your daily ritual by starting with application once a week, and working up to every other or every night, depending on how tolerant your skin is.
No matter what, you should be sure to wear sufficient sunscreen to ensure that your skin does not become increasingly sensitive to sun exposure. A horrible sunburn is one of greatest risks of using retinol and not keeping up with your SPF ritual. This can further exacerbate acne and other skin conditions, thus reducing the work you put in to treat your skin.
Written by Selena Ponton