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Why Retinol Is The Skincare Secret You Need To Start Sharing

by Ursula Dewey Published on 19 February 2014

Retinol is the magic beauty ingredient that your anti-ageing routine needs to wake up to. While its benefits were discovered over 80 years ago, it's still one of the most effective ingredients to boost your natural collagen. We got the low down from some of the leading cosmetic doctors to find out more about how to use retinol (it's not just a case of slapping it on) and what you can expect from this youth-inducing wonder.

The quest for perfect skin often leads us to some interesting treatments and ingredients. But one tried and tested number is Retinol. In basic terms this refers to the vitamin A molecule which has multiple benefits for your skin. From reducing fine lines to improving skin texture and preventing acne there's a whole load of reasons to get trying retinol for yourself.

Because of its potent nature, retinol is often found in serums and anti-aging creams. While you can absorb vitamin A through certain foods, applying retinol straight onto your skin instantly speeds up the process and you can expect brighter skin, smaller pores and fewer fine lines.

We spoke to Dr James Willis who is a member of the International Academy of Advanced Facial Aesthetics to find out more. Get ready for your retinol education... ​

What is Retinol?

Dr Willis says: "In the most basic terms, retinol is the whole vitamin A molecule, which is one of the best vitamins for your skin. It's a potent antioxidant, and works to protect your skin from free radicals, generates cell growth, and repairs damaged cells."

How does it help the skin?

"Retinol dramatically helps to minimize fine lines and wrinkles, improve your skin’s texture, and protect against dryness and redness.

"It does this by causing skin cells to turn over more rapidly. It shrinks dilated pores and improves cell turnover within the pores so they are less likely to clog and become blackheads and whiteheads.

"Retinol helps to boost collagen and collagen is what gives skin its structure, firmness and elasticity. Repeated sun exposure breaks down collagen and, with age, cells produce less and less collagen to repair the damage." Dr Willis says.

So with this potent anti-ager to protect your skin, you can expect a multitude of benefits.

Are there any associated risks in using Retinol?

You might have heard that retinol can only be used when prescribed, but while there are over the counter products available, they still need to be used with care, this is because they can make skin over sensitive as Dr Willis explains.

He says: "Retinol encourages skin cell turnover; this new skin is delicate and should not be exposed to the sun. That is why these ingredients should only be found in products intended for night use.

"Something else to consider is that retinol, like all vitamin A derivatives, is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding."

"To get the most out of your retinol he advises using it only in the evening as when retinol is used in daytime products they actually encourage ageing as the skin is more susceptible to the sun, even if you have and SPF within that product.

"A good rule of thumb is never buy a product with an SPF number and retinol in its list of ingredients – the two don’t make a good combination."

When should I start using Retinol?


​Dr Willis says: "Early use of products containing pure and stable retinol will help to combat fine lines before they start to appear, so skin continues to look years younger than its true age. Retinol works best when introduced gradually to your regime, once your skin adjusts to this effective ingredient, you'll be able to incorporate it into a daily skincare regimen with little chance of flaking or redness."

Dr Murad, another one of our favourite skincare experts, suggests using retinol products from the age of 30 to keep your skin looking its best.

Prescription retinol vs. over the counter beauty products?

If you've looked into retinol before it's likely you've heard it's prescription only if you really want the strong stuff. But many beauty products contain this magic ingredient now, so what's the deal?

Dr. Willis says: "While prescription formulas give the most impressive results, over-the-counter retinol can also improve lines and discoloration. Because retinol is gradually converted into retinoic acid (the active ingredient in the prescription creams) it is less potent, expect a longer time before seeing results."

How often should you apply retinol?

Dr. Willis says the amount of retinol you should use varies from person to person, dependant on their skin type and the product they're using. He says it also depends on strength and the other ingredients contained in the product.

"As a general rule," he says, "it is best to begin using retinol products every other night and work up to every night."

How soon can you expect results?

You could begin to notice changes anywhere from within a week to twelve weeks, this all depends on the skin condition, product quality, usage, strength etc.

What is the best thing about Retinol?

Anything that promises so many skin enhancing benefits has got our gold star of approval but what does the expert think is the best thing about retinol?

"Collagen manufacturing decelerates once we get older. This particularly leads to your skin to appear looser as well as facial lines start to appear, however by using retinol, which permeates to the pores and skin as well as inducing manufacturing associated with collagen. Ongoing use of Retinol will reduce fine lines and wrinkles and help the actual skin’s flexibility as well as tone." Dr. Willis says.

Firmer skin? Yes please.​

Are there some skin types which cannot tolerate retinol?

"Retinol suits most skin types, however, as we covered before – we always recommend a good SPF and follow a professional’s advice on use. I would always advise a consultation with a skincare specialist as Retinol is not for everybody. Patients with hyper-sensitive skin like rosacea or eczema could possibly benefit from using an alternative product."

What advice would you give to someone who is considering using retinol?

Dr Willis has some pretty concise advice for the retinol curious amongst us.

He says we should always seek professional advice for skin care concerns, and also research and review where and whom you are seeking advice from.

He also suggests never buying products before having had an official skincare consultation. Many department stores and skincare clinics offer skincare consultations free of charge so this is definitely something worth having, so you can start your journey to younger looking skin in the right way.

So if you're convinced, curious or currently addicted to retinol, here's our recommendations for retinol products to try. Just be sure to get yourself booked in for a skincare consultation first.

Check out these Retinol products...

MediK8 Retinol 3 TR © Medik8

Have you used Retinol before? Tweet us @sofeminineUK

by Ursula Dewey

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