Retinol – the holy grail of skincare, used by pretty much all dermatologists and skin geeks all over the world. If used correctly, retinol is a powerful ingredient that effectively targets all signs of aging!
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Every human over 20 years should use the powerful skincare ingredient retinol. Why you say? Only because it’s one of the most well-documented and studied ingredients. And with the science supporting its crazy effectiveness, why not X. But, it’s crucial to use it correctly; otherwise, it might end up doing more harm than good…
Benefits of retinol
As briefly mentioned, this well-documented skincare ingredient is mainly an antiaging skincare ingredient, although it does have other benefits as well.
It’s safe to say that retinol (in addition to SPF) is the number one anti-aging product.
Benefits of retinol:
- Balances sebum production, which again reduces congestion, and some types of mild acne.
- Stimulates the production of collagen and elastin.
- Reduces fine lines and even deep wrinkles.
- Retinol increases skin cell production, which again reduces pores and scarring.
- Reduces hyper-pigmentation and melasma.
It’s literally good for everything and everyone!
How does retinol work?
Retinol is a type of Retinoid. It’s made from vitamin A. Simply explained, the small molecules go deep beneath the outer layer of your skin (epidermis), where it basically neutralizes free radicals, and make way for new cell growth. This results in all the benefits mentioned above.
If you want to read it in technical detail, check out this study.
If you have severe acne, ask your doctor for a prescription for retinoids/tretinoin (much stronger). However, retinol is the strongest non-prescription retinoid you can find.
At what age should you start using retinol?
The anti-aging ingredient is a preventative measure, which is why it’s ideal to start in your early 20s. For best results, don’t wait until you’re actually noticing wrinkles and other types of aging.
However, better late than never – If you’re in your 40s, 50s, 60s, or even older, you will still get wonderful results. Don’t worry!
How long does it take to see results?
According to this and this study, you can expect to see overall skin improvement and reduction of wrinkles within a couple of months, but only if you use your product correctly (we will get back to that).
Although you can expect pretty quick results with a good product, frequent use over time is still key. And don’t forget, we’re not only using retinol to reduce already visible damage, but we are also using it to prevent further damage!
How to use retinol
This is a strong skincare ingredient, so it’s important to use it with caution!
How often should I use retinol?
The skin needs to get used to the ingredient, that’s why we normally recommend starting out once a week, and then twice – slowly building up to using retinol every third night.
Only use at night
This step is very important! Retinol makes the skin extra sun sensitive, so if you use the product during the day you might end up with sun damage, which again causes aging… It’s also recommended to be a frequent “retinoler” during the winter, and maybe reduce the use during the summer if you are planning to tan and spend a lot of time in the sun.
How much retinol should I use?
You don’t need much at all, just a pea-sized amount. Use it as serums, not creams or masks. This is because a serum is lightweight and able to absorb deep into the skin, while creams just sit on the surface.
Retinoids come in many strengths and types of products. You should aim for a 1% stable retinol product.
Some people recommend starting out weaker than 1%, and then slowly building your way up to that 1% – This might be a good idea if your skin is sensitive, however, it’s much more economical to buy the 1% and instead just dilute it with a moisturizer in the beginning.
These are the most popular retinol serums worldwide:
Sunday Rileys High Strength Retinol is a best-selling mix of retinol and retinoids, it’s very effective and is oil-free unlike many other retinol products, which is a plus if you have acne! It’s also cruelty-free of course. If you have dry skin and would like oil-based serum instead, Sunday Riley Night Oil w/Retinol is a good choice. They tend to be more soothing. And, it’s great for facial massages.
Paula’s choice clinical 1% Retinol is another fabulous product. A plus with this is that it’s packed with other well-proven ingredients as well, like peptides and vitamin C. Several birds with one stone!
The Ordinary 1% Retinol in Squalane is a budget-friendly bestseller. It contains squalane oil, which is said to be non-clogging. It’s a great match for dry and sensitive skin. It’s a surprisingly good product despite the cheap price. The downside is that it has a pretty short shelf life (3 months – you won’t be able to finish the bottle in this time), and it should be kept in the fridge.
How to apply retinol?
Apply on dry skin after cleansing. Some people like to massage it in the Korean-way, or with a gua sha. Retinoids interfere with a lot of other ingredients, so it should be used alone just to be on the safe side. After the product has absorbed into the skin, you can use a moisturizing cream on top if you’d like!
Some people swear by using an SA exfoliating mask before applying retinol, for better absorption. This can be a little rough on the skin, so if your skin isn’t used to the ingredient yet, you should wait until it is. Don’t use exfoliating products (like mask or serum) at the same time as retinol, but before. Never during or after. The Ordinary’s salicylic acid mask is a great exfoliator and the TikTok-viral Paulas Choice BHA exfoliator is also just magic. Exfoliating 1-2 a week is crucial for beautiful skin.
Can I use my regular retinol in the eye area?
This is a hard question because dermatologists disagree on this subject!
Obviously, we want to use retinol around our eyes, as this is a wrinkle-prone area. However, the skin is very thin, so the question is if it can handle the rough retinol.
Some dermatologists say no, and that we should purchase a super gentle eye-retinol serum/cream, like the popular Le Roche-Posays R-cream.
Other dermatologist says yes, you can use your regular facial retinol under your eyes. (Some people, like skin-care guru Hyram, are skeptical towards eye creams, and suggests many eye creams are simply just a scam).
And, at last, some dermatologists suggest you use your regular facial retinol, but with a layer of moisturizer underneath, to reduce the strength. Let the moisturizer absorb before you apply your retinol! This is kind of in between the other options, and this is what I do!
The negative effects
Some people (around 10%) experience some irritation when first starting out with retinol. This can be redness, dry & flaky skin, and small breakouts. If this happens to you, take a break. Try again when your skin is back to normal, and if it still happens – this might not be the best ingredient for your skin.
Retinol is a little dying, so make sure to moisturize well after use.
Use SPF with a good UV-A filter
SPF is important regardless of your use of retinol.
A little “fun” fact – did you know most sunscreens have a pretty bad UVA filter? Sunscreens mainly focus on UVB, which is the rays that cause burning. UVA, on the other hand, causes skin aging. The chances of your sunscreen having little to no protection against UVA (aging from long wavelengths) are unfortunately quite high. Definitely research your favorite sunscreen’s UVA filter. Especially if you bought it in the US. Europe has stricter rules when it comes to this.
If you are a sunscreen hater like me (greasy, sticky, just awful…!) I highly recommend checking out the European best-seller La Roche-Posay 400 (the ultra-thin version) Product link to amazon here. It has NO white cast, and absorbs into the skin (can’t feel it on AT ALL). It has changed my sunscreen game. And, it probably has one of the best UVA filters on the market.
Can I use retinol if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?
Don’t use retinol when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, just to be safe.