New to Retinol Skincare? Here’s a Complete Guide to This Well-Aging Ingredient

by elmt Lab on May 19, 2023

New to Retinol Skincare?

Welcome back to elmt Lab’s Ingredient Cabinet, today we’re opening up the world of retinol - an ingredient well known for its powerful anti-aging effects, as well as its terrifying side effects such as skin irritation and peeling. Because of this, this ingredient is one many are curious about, but hesitant to approach.

But did you know? Retinol is in fact a part of a family of compounds called "retinoids," which derive from vitamin A and come in many forms. While on one hand, there are retinoids that are so powerful a prescription is absolutely necessary, there are also retinoids that are less irritating and are suitable for daily care.

First, let's take a closer look to see if retinol is truly an effective ingredient based on its representative benefits.

Complete Guide to Retinol

Improves Fine Lines & Wrinkles

Retinol helps to promote cell turnover and induce skin cell regeneration and collagen production, maintaining skin moisture and elasticity. Retinol is even found to be effective on skin that already has formed deep wrinkles.

In the following study targeting elderly individuals with an average age of 87, a noticeable improvement in the appearance of wrinkles was observed. For 24 weeks, a lotion containing 0.4% retinol was applied to the forearm three times a week. The visible improvement started to become significant from the 4th week and continued to increase until the 24th week.

Complete Guide to Retinol

Prevents Acne through Sebum Control

Among the various factors that cause acne, 'microcomedones' are a risk factor that can develop into severe acne. Microcomedones are small blisters that occur inside the pores due to excessive secretion of sebum from sebaceous glands. When an inflammatory reaction occurs here, it can turn into a large pimple.

Retinoids are effective in reducing the size and number of sebaceous glands, while simultaneously inhibiting the activity of sebocytes, which are the cells that regulate sebum secretion control.

In addition, they suppress the occurrence of inflammatory cytokines, effectively reducing inflammation within the sebaceous gland.

In a study of 577 men and women aged 18 to 20 who experienced inflammatory acne, applying retinoids such as adapalene, tazarotene, and tretinoin helped to improve symptoms of their acne.

Complete Guide to Retinol

Furthermore, retinoids can help improve skin tone by naturally inducing the shedding of skin cells in pigmented areas, promoting skin cell regeneration, and restoring skin damage from ultraviolet rays - this all contributes to maintaining healthy skin condition.

As mentioned above, retinoids have many positive effects on the skin. However, many often hesitate to use them due to the risk of skin sensitivity. If those that are hesitant to use retinoids, we put together a guide for safe use below. Read on to learn more.

Tips to Safely Use Retinoids:

  1. Give yourself enough time to adjust for 1-2 weeks. Due to the cell turnover promoting properties of retinoids, the arrangement of keratin cells within our skin becomes temporarily irregular. During this period in which each cell finds its place, skin irritation may occur. Irritation is typically most severe within the first 1-2 weeks after initial use, during which symptoms such as dryness, peeling, and redness may occur. Such symptoms naturally disappear once this period is over.

  2. Start with low concentration, and gradually increase. If you are using retinoids for the first time, start with a product with a low concentration of 0.1-0.3%. Rather than beginning with everyday use, use it once every 2-3 days to adjust, and then once a day thereafter.

  3. Use during the night instead of the day. Retinoids are the active form of vitamin A and can become unstable and oxidized when exposed to UVB. Therefore, it is recommended to use at nighttime. In addition, use of retinoids may increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV rays, so be sure to apply sunscreen to protect your skin if used during the day.

  4. Add skin soothing ingredients to your routine. To reduce symptoms of irritation caused by retinoids, additionally use products that contain soothing ingredients such as ceramide, niacinamide, or centella asiatica. And, avoid using AHA, BHA, and vitamin C products, which can increase skin irritation.


[1] Kafi, Reza & Kwak, Heh & Schumacher, Wendy & Cho, Soyun & Hanft, Valerie & Hamilton, Ted & King, Anya & Neal, Jacqueline & Varani, James & Fisher, Gary & Voorhees, John & Kang, Sewon. (2007). Improvement of Naturally Aged Skin With Vitamin A (Retinol). Archives of dermatology. 143. 606-12. 10.1001/archderm.143.5.606.

[2] Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L. & Weiss, J. Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb) 7, 293–304 (2017).


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