Confused by Retinol? Read our breakdown

Along with SPF, retinol is widely considered to be one of skincare’s most efficacious ingredients. In short, retinol promises to improve the appearance of skin, making it look plumper, smoother, and more glowing. However, with potential side-effects and a pamphlet full of suggested precautions, navigating the world of retinol is no mean feat. Luckily, we’ve got everything you need to know so that you can reap retinol’s benefits without any of the stress. 

What Is Retinol?

A powerful skincare active, retinol is a derivative of vitamin A (and a form of retinoid) that is considered to be one of the most proven ingredients in skincare. When applied to the skin, it promotes cell turnover to help improve a number of different concerns.  

The term retinoid is an umbrella term for skincare ingredients derived from vitamin A. There are many different forms of retinoid, all varying drastically in strength. While some forms of retinoid (like retinoic acid and isotretinoin) are only available on prescription, other forms such as retinol can be found in many skincare products.  

How Does Retinol Work?

Retinol is one of the most common forms of retinoid found in over-the-counter skincare products. Through accelerating the rate of cell turnover (this makes way for ‘new’ skin to appear on the surface quicker than it normally would), retinol helps treat a number of concerns including dullness, pigmentation and skin texture. On top of that, retinol is also thought to help boost collagen and elastin production to help improve the appearance of fine lines.  

However, in order for any retinoid to start doing its job, the skin must first convert whichever derivative into retinoic acid. Retinoic acid in its most potent form can be prescribed by medical professionals, whereas retinol and retinoid esters that are found in common skincare products on the shelves, must first go through conversion processes within the skin in order to form retinoic acid. The more conversions that have to take place within the skin, the more time it takes for the vitamin A formula to get to work—but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

What Are The Side Effects?

This is where things begin to get a little complicated, and why it is very important to know exactly what form of retinoid you are using. The speed up in cell turnover in the skin can cause adverse side effects to your skin’s natural moisture barrier, which can cause dryness, redness, irritation and even flaking. This process is sometimes referred to as “retinisation,” and is a stage that causes many to halt their usage of Vitamin A.  

However, the retinoid that you use will have a drastic effect on the severity of these side effects (the more conversions that have to take place in order to form retinoic acid, the milder the side effects). While retinol certainly has fewer side effects than prescription-strength retinoic acid or isotretinoin, it can still cause sensitive and reactive skin upsets.  

How To Use Retinol

The key to avoiding some of the nasty side effects of retinol and over-the-counter retinoids is to slowly increase your skin’s natural tolerance. Typically, we recommend starting once a week in the evening, and slowly building up the frequency of application as your skin gets used to it. With incorrect use of retinol causing the skin barrier some serious damage, we prefer to recommend products that contain a retinoid ester, especially if you’re dipping your toe into retinoids for the first time.  

Because we believe that all hoomans deserve to enjoy the smoothing, glow-boosting benefits of retinoids, Skin Protein contains retinyl palmitate, a fatty derivative of vitamin A. From a chemistry point of view, Skingredients’ cosmetic chemist Gabriela Duffy Morales explains Retinyl Palmitate is “an ester of retinol and is the major form of vitamin A found within the skin’s epidermis. This compound is widely used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic formulations. For retinyl palmitate to be active it needs to be enzymatically converted in the skin to retinol and must then be converted to tretinoin (retinoic acid) through oxidative processes." As this Vitamin A derivative requires more conversions than retinol, it is therefore much gentler on the skin. With prolonged use, your skin will reap the benefits of retinol without compromising skin’s barrier function. Plus, Skin Protein also contains a plethora of antioxidants to help protect your skin from any environmental aggressors that might contribute to premature skin ageing.