Retinol is a form of vitamin A (vitamin A₁, to be exact),well-known for its ability to reduce fine lines and acne and promote beautiful skin.

Retinol’s History

A form of vitamin A called retinoic acid also known as Tretinoin was being experimented with in Europe by the 60s. In 1967, Dr. Albert M Kligmanan, a Dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania and controversial figure sold the patent to a specific dosage formulation to Johnson & Johnson who began selling the drug (Retin-A) in 1971. 

Like what? you might ask. Dr. Kligman’s older patients came back reporting smoother skin and fewer wrinkles; even hyper-pigmentation issues went away. Dr. Kligman eventually realized that his formula was combatting sun-induced damage, which he called photo-aging.

But retinoic acid had one big downside: it could be hard on sensitive skin. In some cases it even causeddermatitis. To really benefit the masses, something a little gentler was needed...and that’s where retinol emerged within the skincare scene. 

How Retinol Works

Many of retinol’s health benefits stem from the role it fulfills as an antioxidant. For those unfamiliar, antioxidants combat the oxidation — that slow-but-steady wear-and-tear — of daily life by ‘eating up’ harmful molecules known as free radicals. 

Chances are you already take antioxidants like vitamin C for your immune system. Think of retinol as the go-to antioxidant for your skin! Retinol’s free-radical-fighting properties mean it’s anti-aging. 

Retinol works through other pathways, too. It’s a precursor, or building block of retinoic acid, which means it’s able to convert into a more active form once applied — it just does so slowly.  

Retinol’s Many Benefits

Retinol has  been studied extensively since Dr. Kligman first pioneered retinoid use back in the 70s, and new and exciting benefits continue to be uncoveredRetinol may:

  • Repair damaged skin 
  • Increase skin cell turnover 
  • Improve overall skin health
  • Regulates skin cell function
  • Protect against free radicals
  • Prevent collagen breakdown
  • Reduce fine lines and wrinkles
  • Help the skin create new collagen
  • Promote smooth skin (esp. the stratum corneum)

Can You Benefit From Retinol?

Glorious skin benefits aside, it’s only natural to ask: is retinol right for you? If you can relate to any of the following points, then probably so. Consider retinol if you:

  • Want glowing, smooth skin
  • Want to reduce fine lines & wrinkles
  • Want to prevent fine lines from becoming wrinkles
  • Want to increase your skin’s natural collagen production
  • Want to set yourself up for many, many years of skincare success! 

How to Use Retinol

Retinol is used in a topical form.  The more concentrated version available via prescription is a retinoid (that's what Tretinoin is)—Retinols, contain a lower concentration of the active retinoic acid ingredient and are available over the counter in different skincare products.

A more holistic approach can be taken by using products that use regular retinol. Look for products that contain 0.5-1% retinol; that’s all that’s needed to maximize your benefits. And while you should apply an even layer of retinol cream or serum over your entire face (and neck, if so desired), try not to get it too close to your eyes. 

The timing of your retinol use is also important. For best results, gradually introduce into a consistent routine and monitor. Apply at night once or twice a week just before using your moisturizer. You can also use retinol during the day...just be sure to follow it up with some natural sunscreen! 

Potential Side Effects

As effective as retinol is, it’s not for everybody. Those with sensitive skin may experience redness or mild irritation. It’s always good to spot test a new product prior to using it everywhere, and retinol is no exception.