Retinol: what, why and how?

The world of skincare can sometime seem like a jungle. You know where you want to be, but there are obstacles in the way; the variety of treatments is infinite; and most confusingly of all, it’s populated by products that appear to speak another language.

Which brings us to retinol. It’s one of those buzz words you’ve probably heard bandied around – from dermatologists to celebrities, it’s the skincare ingredient du jour.


Let’s begin at the top. Retinol is a small molecule of pure Vitamin A, which performs a number of biological functions. Particularly beneficial for the skin, retinol can also be produced synthetically.

It comes in a few different forms, ranging from Retinyl Palmitate (the weakest version of topical application) to Retin-A, the strongest derivative that’s usually only available via prescription. Other names you might hear are betacarotene, retinoic acid, and retinaldehyde. Basically they’re all Vitamin A with slight variations to chemical structure.

So what has all of this got to do with beauty? Joanna Karpinski from SkinCeuticals explains.

“As human skin ages, it experiences deficiencies of retinol. It is a great metaboliser and stimulates cellular mitosis, helping the complexion to look and feel fresher. Retinol also assists with collagen synthesis.”

Like any new ingredient, it’s best to introduce it slowly to your skin. Experts recommend a regulating program, such as application twice during the first week, every other night in the second week and then daily as of week three. The ideal time to use retinol is in the evening, as it’s while you’re asleep that your skin is most active.

“The superficial results can show after one month and the deeper results can take between 3-6 months,” La Roche-Posay‘s Rachel McAdam points out. “The longer the skin is dosed with retinol, the better the results.”






What you may expect to see after using retinol-based skincare, such as Redermic R

Sound amazing? Here’s our guide to which products are just right for you.

I’ve never used retinol before:
La Roche-Posay Redermic R – contains 0.1% pure retinol, with a boost of 0.2% retinol linolate for a slow release form

I’ve dabbled in retinol:
Skinstitut Retinol – contains 0.25% retinol
Medik8 Retinol 3TR – contains 0.3% pure retinol
Alpha-H Vitamin A 0.5% – contains 0.5% retinol

I’m a hard-core retinol fan:
SkinCeuticals Reservatrol BE – contains 1% pure retinol, partially encapsulated for better results.
asap super A serum – contains 1% retinol