What You Need To Know About Beauty Products That Contain Retinol

It's the kingpin of anti-ageing.
One tiny tube can pack a potent punch.
One tiny tube can pack a potent punch.

When you're relatively young you are probably blissfully unaware of just how plump and bouncy your skin is.

Then, as you get into our late 20s and move into our 30s, things start to change. A few fine lines creep in, a bit of hyper-pigmentation or discolouration pops up, and your complexion doesn't look as fresh as it used to.

The good news? That's totally normal and all part of getting older. The even better news? At this stage, retinol can come to the rescue.

"This has to be one of my favorite ingredients right now. Retinol is considered to be one of the best performing ingredients to effectively address the signs of premature ageing and photo damaged skin," Emma Hobson, Education Manager for the International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica told The Huffington Post Australia.

Here's quick science lesson from Hobson:

  • Retinol is part of the Vitamin A family and it is known as the 'normalising vitamin' as it's fantastic at supporting the skin's functions. Our clever skin has the ability to convert Retinol into another form of Vitamin A called Retinoic Acid, it does this by virtue of enzymes within our skin;
  • Retinoic Acid is the active form of Vitamin A that triggers our cells to stimulate collagen and elastin and normalise and repair the healthy functioning of our skin cells. Retinol works by 'cell communication', meaning it instructs living skin cells to 'ramp up' the production of more healthy, younger cells, and this in turn speeds up the entire process of skin renewal;
  • Retinol also helps reduce the breakdown of healthy collagen from UV exposure, whilst in tandem it stimulates the production of new collagen. Retinol also inhibits the production of the skin pigment melanin, which means it's very effective on improving skin discolouration and lightening brown spots;
  • Retinol works from the deeper layers of the skin upwards, unlike Hydroxy Acid exfoliants. The result of the action of Retinol on the skin being a much denser, plumper, more hydrated skin with reduced wrinkle depth, improved skin tone and an overall healthier, luminous glow.

Before we sing retinol's praises any further it's important to understand that this is a powderful, potent ingredient. It needs to be used sparingly at night, in conjunction with a good quality daily SPF, and introduced into the skincare routine slowly.

It's also handy to understand the difference between retinoids and retinol.

"Retinoids is an umbrella term for all vitamin A derivative ingredients. While prescription formulas, usually called retinoids, have a stronger chemical structure and higher concentrations of retinol, you can also get retinol in over-the-counter forms," Ella Baché's National Training Manager Carly Bennett told HuffPost Australia.

So, what products in your regime should contain retinol? Good question. Only one face product at a time should have it in it, as with retinol less is absolutely more. Layering on a serum and face cream containing retinol, or overusing in any sense, can cause skin to peel and flake.

"Facial serums and creams are very popular. I'd suggest starting with a 0.5 percent cream that allows you to build your skin tolerance. By mixing a buffer cream with it initially this will ensure you're preventing any sensitivity. Once tolerance is built you can then start to increase the usage and strength on a week to week or day to day basis, according to what your skin is happy with," Hobson said.

You can also find eye creams which contain retinol, but tread carefully.

"If you're eager to use Retinol around your eye area, and who wouldn't be, you'll need to be cautious. The skin is very delicate and fine in texture and easily prone to sensitisation. Therefore ensure you use products specifically designed for this purpose."

When you first start shopping for retinol products you'll see that a percentage of retinol is stated on the packaging. This can be a little confusing.

"With regard to strength, the strongest non-prescription product available is 1 percent,but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's more effective or more active than a product containing say, 0.5 percent. Why? Because retinol is extremely volatile in nature and is not easy to stabilise within a product when it is being formulated. Great care needs to be taken to protect the ingredients integrity and keep it active. It's for this reason retinol needs to be housed within a protective carrier system."

This means you need to do some research and purchase a product from a reputable brand that's known for quality skincare.

"It's also vital to ensure retinol has minimal exposure to air, therefore it needs to be packaged within a nozzle nosed tube versus being in a jar which ensures its potency. Retinol can also be damaged by sunlight, which is why it's recommended as a night time use product, which also happens to be the best time to apply retinol as it assists the skin during its repair and regeneration mode, which includes the creation of new collagen and elastin," Hobson said.

When you first start introducing retinol products into your night time skincare routine it can become a little addictive. You wake with such a great glow which makes it tempting to use more, and more often, but too much can actually cause damage to the skin and accelerate ageing. It's very important to following the specific instructions the product you choose.

"The key with retinol is building tolerance. Your skin needs to get accustomed to the product, allowing it time to build the mechanisms within the skin which allow the retinol to work, but without causing any associated skin redness, irritation or dryness -- all of which can result if you go into hard too soon. It's important to start with a small amount, ideally controlled by adding a buffer to ensure it's the perfect 'fit' for your skin, used every second or third day," Hobson said.