Learn skincare with me. Lesson 4: Retinoids

I first heard about the benefits of retinoids in my early 20s, and thought that’ll probably be something I need to start using soon.

But then I saw the price of retinol products and though SCREW that!

Fortunately, the skincare sphere has changed pretty fast and there are now brands that have made retinoid products far more affordable and more accessible.

Retinoids are a big, big player on the skincare field for a multitude of reasons, so I’ve been doing some deeper digging to really understand them.

We’re going to focus on the topically-applied retinoid: “Retinol”. This is thought to be the most tolerable form of retinoid that the average person can use to see improvements in their skin, and reap the benefits of the retinoid spectrum while minimising the risk of irritation.

Also known as:

Retinyl Palmitate (weakest form of retinoids)
Retinol (most tolerable, strongest after the above. The focus of this post)
Retinaldehyde (stronger than retinol)
Adapalene (strongest OTC)
Tretinoin and Tazarotene (prescription-only, extremely effective but more irritating in relativity)

What is it?

A vitamin A derivative, retinol is made up of molecules that burrow deep into the skin’s layers to work its magic. Where the majority of topical skincare products work primarily on the surface of the skin and just under, retinol provides a multitasking approach: penetrating the epidermis (the skin’s outer layer) to really change and improve what’s under the surface, whilst exfoliating the surface.

It’s developed a reputation throughout the skincare community for being a spectacular product because of what it can do.

What are the benefits?

I mean really, what aren’t the benefits of this? This has to be the number 1 skincare ingredient out there, but it doesn’t come without it’s problems. We’ll come on to that though… for now let’s focus on the positives!

One of the main reasons people use retinol is because of the immense anti-aging benefits. It is the best thing you can use to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, unveiling more youthful skin over time and benefitting from its firming properties. There is evidence that it actually slows down the body’s aging process as well, so it’s not just a ‘quick fix’; it pays off long term.

Unsurprisingly, it also smooths the skin as well, giving a healthy glow. It reduces redness and dark spots adding to an even complexion.

I was surprised to learn that it is also used for acne and spot treatments. Retinol helps to reduce spots as well as pores, so it literally seems to be a ‘does-it-all’ product.

So why don’t we all just use retinol all the time?! Well, you’re about to find out…

Things to be aware of?

Retinol isn’t just a slap-on-and-go type of product; there’s a lot to know.

The two most pressing, and important points are:

  1. Wear SPF after using retinol. To be honest, you should be wearing SPF anyway as we’re all aware of the impact of UV rays at this point, but this is especially important when using retinol. Your skin will be particularly vulnerable to further damage when it’s gone through the ringer with retinol. As we now know, retinol stimulates cell renewal, so do you really want to be exposing those brand-new, shiny cells to UV damage straight away? I would suspect not. That renewed skin is more sensitive and susceptible to sunburn, so it really is critical to use a broad spectrum SPF. Night time is believed to be the best time to use retinol, for this reason as well as the fact there can be a short period of irritation, so while you get your beauty sleep your skin can benefit from the application but also recover from it too. See my recently post “Learn skincare with me. Lesson 3: SPF” for more information on sun damage.
  2. Don’t go in full-throttle. You must go in easy when you start using retinol, because it can be so irritating to the skin. Your skin will need to build a tolerance to it, so it’s recommended that you start off small (1-2 times a week) before building the usage up over time. Take it easy at first so your skin has time to adapt, and it’s always a good idea to get advice from a dermatologist first, so if you’re unsure or just want an expert’s guidance on it then that’s probably the smart thing to do!

Unfortunately, you’re not going to see instant results the next morning after you apply it for the first time; it takes time to see the results. The general consensus is that the improvements will be noticeable in your skin after approximately 3 months. Interestingly, it is also stated that the cell-renewal benefits don’t tend to continue after 3 months of use, so it is often advised that you use retinol for 3 months, and then stop for 3 months as it will become futile after continuous use.

Retinol is known for drying to the skin. Some people’s skin may be too sensitive for use full stop, for example people with eczema and psoriasis may suffer from adverse side effectives more than the average. Again, it’s so important to consult with a dermatologist as it is, but especially if your skin is sensitive or has any condition. For anyone else, the best thing you can do it: moisturise, moisturise, moisturise!

In doing my digging, I learned that you shouldn’t use AHAs and BHAs when you are applying retinol. The reason for this is retinol will provide the exfoliation that you’re looking to achieve when using the acids, so in combining the ingredients you’re at risk of overdoing it, thus causing easily-avoidable irritation and damaging the skin barrier. Let’s not do that, let’s keep our barriers happy!

I was personally surprised to find out that retinol does so much more than what I initially would have thought. I hope you enjoyed reading and learned something new from this post, even if it’s just something really small!

I’ll end here by adding some of the retinol products I’ve been enjoying. Thanks for reading!

Elizabeth Arden, Beautypie, Medik8 and Pixi


2 responses to “Learn skincare with me. Lesson 4: Retinoids”

  1. Culture.blogger avatar

    Whoops! I didn’t know you should only use retinol for 3 months straight then discontinue for 3 months until you begin all over again. So skin tolerance, right? I didn’t know that. Well, I guess I know what I will be doing from now on.


    1. You’re not alone there! I hadn’t realised either until I started to do a bit of research into it. Although admittedly I do have a bit of a history of just using products without learning about them properly first (whoops!). Glad you could learn something new from my post!

      Liked by 1 person

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