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All about retinol

What it is, what its benefits are, and how to introduce it into your skincare routine

All about retinol What it is, what its benefits are, and how to introduce it into your skincare routine

It’s the superstar ingredient of recent times in the realm of skincare. More than hyaluronic acid or peptides. A must-have in the formulation of serums and creams from the best brands, it is loved for its multiple anti-aging benefits and its ability to regenerate the skin, improve its texture, and give it a younger and more radiant appearance. We are talking about retinol, the best ally for those who want smooth and luminous skin. Every self-respecting beauty fanatic considers it an almost magical elixir, so much so that on TikTok there are over 6 billion videos tagged with the hashtag #retinol, where the pros and cons of this powerful active ingredient are discussed. But are we sure we know everything necessary to use it most effectively? Here is everything you need to know about retinol.

What is Retinol and How Does It Work

Retinol is the alcohol form of vitamin A, belonging to the broader group of retinoids. Loved by beauty addicts and celebrities like Naomi Watts and Eva Longoria, it is ideal for a variety of skin issues, from aging to dark spots. Its main merit is that it renews skin by penetrating the intermediate layers of it, encouraging the shedding and removal of dead cells, neutralizing free radicals, and stimulating the production of elastin and collagen, speeding up the cell renewal process. Additionally, by penetrating the skin through the sebaceous glands, it has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects, making it optimal for those suffering from acne.

Retinol's Benefits

Retinol is particularly loved and popular in skincare formulations because it is multifunctional. Its benefits are many and range from helping to improve the appearance of acne-prone skin to minimizing wrinkles and signs of aging, not to mention its ability to strengthen the skin barrier, protecting it from water loss and the impact of external agents. Here are the benefits of incorporating retinol into our skincare routine:

  • Refines skin texture: retinol accelerates cell turnover, which means it stimulates the growth of cells from the inner layers of the epidermis, resulting in smoother and more even skin.
  • Minimizes fine lines and wrinkles: along with cell renewal, it triggers an increase in collagen and elastin production, essential proteins for keeping the skin elastic and firm, which also help reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Helps combat acne and reduces enlarged pores: thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to regulate sebum production, retinol is effective in treating oily or acne-prone skin.

Retinol, Retinoids, Retinal: What's the Difference?

There are different forms of retinol, each targeting a different issue, making it ideal for one skin problem or another. Let’s clarify. Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that belongs to the family of retinoids, a generic term that refers to various vitamin derivatives, including pro-retinol, a milder but very effective anti-aging ingredient; retinoic acid, a topical medication useful for severe acne, available only by prescription; and retinaldehyde or retinal. This derivative has greater skin tolerance, faster results, and is 11 times more effective than retinol.

How to Introduce Retinol into Your Skincare Routine

Retinol is suitable for all ages, from 25 years onwards. In case of sensitive skin, it is better to choose a retinol-based product with a low concentration of the active ingredient and test it on a small area to check for a reaction. Since it is very potent, it is normal to experience redness, some dryness, and tingling at the beginning of the treatment. Therefore, it is recommended to introduce it into the night routine (if in the morning routine, it requires a medium/high SPF sunscreen) with 0.01% and in small steps, starting on alternate nights, then gradually using it daily. If we notice that the skin becomes dry, irritated, or too flaky, we should stop using it and consult a doctor (it is always a good idea to ask a dermatologist before starting treatment!). If everything goes well the first results depend on the frequency of use, the concentration of the product, the type of skin, and we may even have to wait up to 8-12 weeks.

Myths About Retinol

There is a lot of conflicting information about retinol. Let's clear up some doubts by debunking the false myths and confirming the true statements:

  • Retinol does not exfoliate the skin: in reality, retinol contributes to cell renewal but does not act as an exfoliant. If peeling occurs, it may be due to a product that is too strong or applied too frequently.
  • Using AHA and BHA acids in the same routine with retinoids is possible because chemical exfoliants act on the surface and work differently, allowing them to coexist in the same skincare routine. However, during the adjustment phase, it is better to avoid introducing additional actives, including AHA and BHA.
  • It is advisable to start using it from ages 25/30, depending on skin type and its needs. There is no need to wait until over 50 to enjoy its benefits.
  • A rich cream is recommended to support the action of retinol and help the skin barrier. Look for formulations containing balancing actives like ceramides, niacinamide, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, and soothing natural extracts.
  • It is possible to use retinol and hyaluronic acid in the same skincare routine since the latter has soothing properties that can reduce the risk of retinol irritation, as well as keeping the skin hydrated and plump.
  • Retinol can also be a useful ingredient in a specific eye cream.
  • Autumn and winter are the best times to start using retinol, as UV rays and hours of sunlight exposure decrease.

The New Regulations on retinol

The boom in retinol-based products has attracted the attention of the European Commission, which, concerned about the potential risk of overexposure to vitamin A that could cause skin disorders and bone weakening, sought the opinion of the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS). The decision is that the maximum concentration of retinol, retinyl acetate, and retinyl palmitate in cosmetics should not exceed 0.05% in body creams and 0.3% in other skincare products. From May 1, 2025, it will no longer be possible to market non-compliant products. The new restrictions do not seem to affect either retinaldehyde or bio-retinol or phytoretinol.