Cover Apply retinol at night and be sure to put on sunscreen in the morning (Photo: Courtesy of Unsplash)

Smoothing fine lines, softening wrinkles, improving skin texture and fading hyperpigmentation of the skin, retinol is considered magic in a bottle to many

Part of the Vitamin A family, retinol can be found in food and is most often used as a dietary supplement.

Known as one of the most powerful ingredients you can add to your skincare routine, we spoke with skincare experts, Dr. Luigi L. Polla and Dr. Howard Sobel to learn more and asked for the best retinol product recommendations to try. This is everything you need to know about retinol.

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What is retinol?

“Retinol (a form of vitamin A) is the gold standard ingredient in anti-aging, having been extensively studied and shown to help increase the production of collagen in the skin, leading to a visible reduction in fine lines and wrinkles. It also promotes cellular turnover to reveal brighter, smoother skin,” says Dr. Luigi L. Polla, a Geneva-based dermatologist and founder of anti-aging skincare line, Alchimie Forever

What are some of the other benefits of using retinol?

“The benefits of retinol include a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles, as well as an improved appearance of the texture of the skin,” explains Dr. Polla. “By helping to accelerate cellular turnover, retinol helps to refine the appearance of the skin, minimise pores, and remove dead skin cells which make the skin look dull. Retinol promotes a more even tone and complexion.”

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Who should use retinol?

Just like the importance of eye cream or building the habit of wearing sunscreen everyday, retinol is something you should start using before your skin cell turnover rate slows down. 

“Start using retinol in your mid to late 20s. It is ideal to start before age 30 as your skin cell turnover slows down as you enter your early to mid 30s, says Dr. Howard Sobel, founder of Sobel Skin and Attending Dermatologist and Dermatologic Surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “Retinol speeds up the cell turnover process and tricks the skin into acting like its younger self. If you have early signs of ageing it is even more important to start earlier.

How can we add retinol into our skincare routine safely?

“One of the most common mistakes people make when starting to use retinol is using it every single night—start slow!” says Dr. Sobel. 

“For many people that’s too often especially as your skin adjusts so start with a day or two a week, in the evenings. After a few weeks you can start using it almost every day, but skip the day before exfoliating. Use your retinol at night after you moisturise,” instructs Dr. Sobel. 

Dr. Polla also recommends using a product containing a retinol derivative, or retinal for those with those with more sensitive skin as they’re much gentler compared to pure retinol serums.

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How should we apply retinol?

“The best way to apply retinol is on clean, dry skin, in the evenings, with nothing underneath and nothing over the retinol product. I recommend avoiding the eye contour area, because the product will typically “travel” (which may lead to skin peeling in the eyelid area). The frequency of application will vary between once per week or once per day depending on the type of retinol product used,” said Dr. Polla. 

For the actual retinol application, first, make sure the skin is completely dry when applying the product as moisture can accelerate the penetration of retinol, which may lead to additional irritation. Secondly, if you feel like the product is too strong, apply buffer products such as moisturiser on top to be gentler to your skin.

What should you look out for while using retinol?

If you’re excited to include retinol in your daily skincare routine, be aware of its side effects and lather on moisturiser afterwards. Dr. Polla explains that people with more sensitive and dryer skin types may have a harder time tolerating a retinol product, causing flaking, redness and dryness. 

“Aside from nursing and pregnant women, everyone can benefit from retinol,” says Dr. Polla. 

Studies have shown that high doses of vitamin A may be harmful to an unborn child during pregnancy. To reduce the risk of birth defects, it’s recommended to stop using all retinol products one month before trying to get pregnant.

Dr. Polla’s final tips and summary for using retinol products

  1. One should never apply a retinol product in the morning, as retinol makes the skin more photosensitive
  2. Because of the skin’s extra photosensitivity, use sunscreen every morning
  3. Dilute the retinol by applying moistuiser afterwards if the product is too strong
  4. Remember to start slow when adding retinol into your skincare routine. Start by 1-2 a week and slowly build your skin’s tolerance up over weeks
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