Skincare Active Ingredients

Retinol in skincare – The Ultimate Guide

There is a huge difference when it comes to both retinol and retinoids, retinol or Vitamin A is a type of retinoid. It is an over-the-counter product you can buy and there are many other forms of retinoids ranging from weak to strong formulations. Medical prescriptions retinoids are more powerful than retinol and can be very irritating, but they perform the same function that helps with anti-aging and acne.

Benefits of using Retinol:

  • Stimulate collagen, elastin production, and increase cell turnover.: It helps to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. It also improves the overall skin texture.
  • It helps to prevent clogged pores: prevents the formation of acne.
  • It helps to control sebum production: Controls acne and reduces pore size.
  • It inhibits tyrosinase synthesis: It helps to prevent hyperpigmentation.
  • Antioxidant: helps to fight free radicals, anti-inflammatory, and photodamage.
  • Other benefits: Helps with acne scars.

Different types of Retinoids

1st Generation of Retinoids

The conversion is Retinol esters to Retinol to Retinaldehyde to Retinoic acid. The conversions take place from least irritating to most irritating. Results are from slowest to fastest.

  • Retinol esters (conversion 3): Retinol esters also known as (Retinyl acetate, Retinyl palmitate, Retinyl propionate). This retinol is safe for sensitive skin and is the slowest and weakest form of retinol.
  • Retinol (conversion 2): This retinol is safe for sensitive skin and is widely available over the counter. This is the most common type of retinoid people mainly because it’s available OTC and safe for sensitive skin. Since it’s a safer form of retinoid, it will take time to see results.
  • Retinaldehyde (conversion 1): Retinaldehyde is also known as (Retinal, Retinyl-aldehyde). This is the most effective one and it can be irritating. The effectiveness of this conversion will depend on the consistency of use, packaging type, exposure to sunlight and oxygen, overall formulation, and skin condition.
  • Retinoic acid (conversion 0): Retinoic acid also known as (Tretinoin, Retin-A). These retinoids are only obtained by prescriptions. They are very effective, fast, and can be very irritating to the skin especially if you have sensitive skin.

2nd Generation Retinoids

  1. Retinoic acid esters (No conversion needed): Retinoic acid esters also known as (Hydropinacolone Retinoate, Retinyl retinoate, Granactive retinoids). These are less irritating than active retinoic acid.

3rd generation Retinoids

  • Adapalene: Adapalene is also known as Differin. This form of retinoid is mainly used for acne and not for anti-aging, it has better sebaceous gland penetration and is less irritating than tretinoin. It is safe to use with benzoyl peroxide.
  • Tazarotene: It is effective for acne, photo-damaging, and other skin conditions like psoriasis. It is similar to tretinoin and can be more irritating.

4th generation Retinoids:

Trifarotene: Trifarotene can help to treat acne vulgaris.

Ethyl lactyl retinoate:

Ethyl lactyl retinoate is a double-conjugated retinoid. It is made by combining lactic acid and retinoid. Studies are limited on this retinoid but available data shows promising results. It can increase skin hydration.

Encapsulated retinol or retinoids:

The main problem with retinol is that they are very unstable and cannot be tolerated by normal skin. Encapsulation can help with that.

Retinol is encapsulated in tiny particles and incorporated into a cream. When we apply the cream to our skin, these particles collect in the nooks and crannies of the skin and slowly release the entrapped drug, as the skin needs it.

Retinol is released in response to stimuli like rubbing, temperature, or equilibrium shift. There is a pH shift between the retinol in the particle and in the rest of the product. As the skin absorbs the retinol from the product, the particle releases more retinol caused by the shift in the pH. This leads to a continuous and slow release of retinol onto the skin.

These particles can prevent irritation of retinol.

The particles can act as a reservoir and release the product from time to time, whereas non-encapsulated retinol is released all at once and can cause irritation.

The two main encapsulation systems used are polymeric particles and liposomes. Liposomes can increase the stability of retinol, but they have limited chemical stability.

Who can use Retinol?

It’s better to start using retinol in your 30s as a part of your skincare routine.

For Dry Skin:

If you have dry skin, you should make sure to repair your skin barrier. You can also combine Retinol (0.5 concentration) and Niacinamide to repair the skin barrier of dry skin.

For Oily and Acne-prone skin:

Retinol is also safe to use for oily and acne-prone skin as long as you use retinol at a low concentration.

For Sensitive Skin and Skin of Color:

It’s better to use low concentrations of retinol like 0.5%. Using more % of retinol can lead to skin irritation causing hyperpigmentation. Make sure to moisturize and use sunscreen.

Note: it’s compulsory to use sunscreen for skin of color as 50% of pigmentation can be treated with sunscreen

  • Retinol should not be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding. You can substitute retinol with azelaic acid which is safe for pregnancy.

What is the best time to apply it?

The best time to apply retinol is at night. Make sure to moisturize 30 min before if you have sensitive skin. Tretinoin should also be used at night time.

Other retinoids such as adapalene, tazarotene, micro-ionized tretinoin, and retinol esters can be used during the day and night.

If you are still unsure of when to use your retinol you can just read the packaging or contact the manufacturer, but it’s better to use retinol at night.

What other skincare ingredients can I combine them with?

You can combine Retinol with:

  1. Hyaluronic acid
  2. Peptides
  3. Azelaic acid
  4. Tranexamic acid
  5. Ceramides
  6. Arbutin
  7. Vitamin E
  8. Ferulic acid
  9. Niacinamide

Mix with caution:

  1. Vitamin C
  2. AHA/BHAs

How to use retinol in my skincare routine?

Some things to consider before applying retinol:

  • Make sure to conduct a patch test.
  • For normal skin, you can go from Vitamin A (retinol), B (niacinamide), and C (ascorbic acid). For sensitive skin, you can from Vitamin B, A, and then C.
  • Chemical exfoliants are to be used at night only and should be used 1-2 times a week.
  • Use retinol only at night.
  • Make sure to use it in low concentrations. 0.5 retinol is best for sensitive skin and skin of color.
  • Sunscreen should be the last step in skincare.
  • Read the packaging and instructions on how to use the product.

Morning routine:

  • Cleanser
  • Toner is optional
  • Apply your skincare actives such as niacinamide or Vitamin C.
  • Moisturize and then apply sunscreen.

Night routine:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner
  3. Use your AHA/BHA/PHAs
  4. Wait for 30 mins and then apply your niacinamide, retinol, and then Vitamin C
  5. Moisturize

Note: using retinol with hydroxy acids and Vitamin C can irritate your skin, especially for sensitive skin and skin of color.

  • Tip 1: you can try to use derivatives of Retinol and Vitamin C to reduce irritation. Or just use niacinamide with retinol at night. This can reduce irritation.
  • Tip 2: Since you’re using AHA/BHA/PHAs 1-2 times a week, you can modify your skincare actives such as Retinol or Vitamin C. For example:
    • Alternate nights: on 1st night you can use your AHA/BHA/PHAs with retinol. On 2nd night you can use your AHA/BHA/PHAs with Vitamin C.

Sandwich method to apply retinol at night

  1. Use a gentle cleanser. You can use a non-foaming cleanser if you have sensitive skin.
  2. Toner of choice.
  3. You can then apply your AHA/BHA/PHA’s. PHAs are safer for sensitive skin.
  4. Then apply a layer of thin moisturizer followed by the retinol.
  5. The last step is applying another layer of moisturizer. This method is called the sandwich method.
  6. This helps to reduce the effects of irritation and Retinization.
  7. You can use the same method for your eyes by combining retinol with a hydrating eye cream.

Other ways:

  • You can also choose to moisturize for 30 mins before using retinol.
  • Another great tip is you can dilute retinol in a moisturizer to reduce irritation, but it’s not a great idea because it will lead to uneven application and you might miss some areas.
  • You can buy a product containing both retinol and niacinamide to avoid complicating your skincare routine.

Important note:

This routine is mainly an example and how basic skincare is and how you can combine all the skincare actives with your hydroxy acids by avoiding irritation. There are many other methods and ways on how you can layer these ingredients. You just have to listen to your skin.

It can take about 3-6 months to see real results when using retinol and retinoids.

Make sure to consult a dermatologist about your skincare routine and also ask about the products you’re planning to use.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How often should I be using Retinol?

It’s better to use retinol twice a week because using too much retinol, too soon can lead to Retinization (redness, stinging, dryness, flakey skin, and purging). This is quite normal when using retinol and the reaction will subside within 28 days or more depending on the individual.

Can retinol exfoliate the skin?

No. retinol does not exfoliate the skin, it only helps with acne and anti-aging. AHA/BHA’s are the only ingredients that can remove dead skin cells and exfoliate the skin.

How do I know if my retinol has expired?

Retinol has a yellow colour, if it has any other colour it means that it has oxidized.

Does retinol cause purging?

Yes, retinol and retinoids can cause purging. Purging is a temporary worsening of acne after you introduce a new product that increases cellular turnover. This is more common in acne-prone skin and can last for a maximum of 4-6 weeks.

What is the difference between retinol and retinoid?

Retinol is an OTC product that is formulated in low concentrations, whereas retinoids are medical prescriptions that are really strong and can irritate the skin depending on the different generations of retinoids.

Does retinol thin the skin?

No, retinol and retinoids do not thin the skin. They actually thicken the skin by stimulating collagen production.

Does retinol help sagging skin or jowls?

Retinol has anti-aging benefits like reducing fine lines, and wrinkles and increasing collagen production, but it won’t help with sagging skin. Sagging skin develops as we age and there is nothing we can do about it, the only way to remove saggy skin is with the help of surgery (neck lift or platysmaplasty). A neck lift is a plastic surgery procedure that removes excess fat and skin from the neck. This helps to provide a smooth and simple face.

Can retinol be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Retinol cannot be used during pregnancy, but it is safe to resume topical retinoids during lactation (vitamin A is found in breast milk), assuming most are applying a limited amount to the face and neck, systemic absorption is none to minimal.

Can retinol cause perioral dermatitis?

Yes, retinol can cause perioral dermatitis if you have really sensitive skin because it is a powerful antioxidant. It also damages the skin barrier causing dryness, irritation, redness, and scaling.

Can I use retinol with winlevi?

Yes, retinol can be used with winlevi and might work for some people with acne.

Can you use retinol with soolantra?

Yes, you can use retinol with soolantra and it won’t irritate or burn the skin as long as you’re using them both at separate times of the day. You can use soolantra in the morning and retinol at night, but do make sure to consult a doctor about this.

Can I use retinol with epiduo?

No, you cannot use retinol with epidou because epidou already contains another retinoid called adapalene and also a compound called benzoyl peroxide. Both of these ingredients are effective for reducing acne. Adding two retinoids can only irritate or burn your skin.

Can I use retinol with duac?

Yes, it may be safe to use retinol with duac as long as you’re using it at separate times of the day, but do make sure to consult a doctor about this.

Can I use retinol with lymecycline?

Yes, It may be safe to use retinol with lymecycline as there are studies showing that a combined treatment of oral lymecycline and a topical retinoid like adapalene has shown to reduce acne, but do make sure to consult a doctor about using retinol or other retinoids with lymecycline.

Can retinol be used for sebaceous filaments and sebaceous hyperplasia?

Yes, retinol can be used for sebaceous filaments and sebaceous hyperplasia but won’t be as effective as tretinoin and Differin.