Retinol- How Does it Work? Facts, Uses, & More

Woman is using retinol on face

If you’re researching how to improve your skincare routine, there’s a fair chance that you’ve heard of something called retinol. There seems to be a huge amount of hype surrounding it. From the looks of it, there’s some solid evidence backing up that hype. But what exactly is retinol, how do you use it? how can you tell if it’s right for you?

What Is Retinol?

Retinol is a chemical compound (C20H30O for our science and trivia enthusiasts!) and a specific type of vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for our bodily functions, and supports vision, immune function, and several organs, most notably the skin. It’s typically found in foods like meat and dairy. But can also be taken as a supplement or applied to the skin through creams or serums.

How Does It Work?

oil in hand

So, how does it work? According to Stanford University dermatologist Hanae Armitage, retinol boosts the proliferation, or rate of reproduction, of skin cells, as well as collagen production. This leads to a thicker, more robust epidermis that appears more youthful and is less prone to issues like inflammation and acne.

It is worth noting that you may suffer some unpleasant side effects when you first start using retinol products. But don’t be discouraged! Retinol needs some time to really start working its magic. This initial period is what allows it to lay the groundwork for healthier skin. As cell proliferation begins to accelerate, your pores will start unblocking. As they unblock, you may begin to break out in acne. At the same time, old skin cells may become dry and start flaking off, while the new skin below becomes irritated. This is known as the purge period, and while it is certainly unpleasant. It’s extremely temporary, and the benefits that come after make it all worthwhile.

How Do You Use Retinol?

Woman taking retinol in hand

As with all skincare products, be sure to start after you’ve washed your face or gotten out of the shower and have dried off your skin. Apply a small amount of the retinol serum or cream you’re using to your face. Spread it out evenly, and rub it in until it’s fully absorb. Then, finish with your moisturizer of choice, and you’re good to go! Doing this regularly will help you to have healthier, more youthful skin that you can feel confident about!

Should I Use Every Day?

It’s best to start small when introducing a new skincare product into your routine, and retinol is no exception. Everyone’s skin is different. So it’s best to be absolutely sure that retinol agrees with your skin type before you start applying it frequently. We recommend applying once or twice a week for a brief trial period. This will allow you to start enjoying the benefits of retinol without committing to it fully. It will minimize any adverse reactions in case they happen to occur.

Assuming your skin takes to it well during the trial period, you can start slowly ramping up the frequency of applications. Add an extra day or two per week as you feel comfortable until you’ve worked your way up to either every day or every other day. This final decision is largely up to personal preference, so choose what works best for you. If you’re uncertain, though, it never hurts to ask your dermatologist for a bit of advice. Working your way up slowly like this and listening to the cues your body is giving you will allow you to minimize the impact of the purging phase, and in time, will allow you to gain the full benefits of regular retinol applications. 

Are Retinol Products Right for You?

Seeds and oil is on table

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how do you know if retinol products are what your skin needs? As mentioned before, everyone’s skin is different, and that means that retinol isn’t the best choice for everyone. Some may have adverse reactions to it, while others may just stand to benefit more from other products. 

If your skin tends to be more sensitive, retinol may cause redness and inflammation, so it’s best to look for a gentler anti-aging cream with a different active ingredient. This is especially present in skincare patients who suffer from preexisting skin conditions like eczema, which may be exacerbated by retinol. For the vast majority of people, though, retinol is a powerful anti-aging tool, and a valuable addition to your regular skincare routine. As always, consult your dermatologist if you have any questions or concerns, and enjoy your revitalized skin!

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