Wellness trends

What Is Retinol and How Does It Fit Into My Skincare Routine?

February 21, 2024

For most skincare-conscious patients, the days of simply washing your face once a day with soap and water are long gone. The skincare and medical esthetics industry has exploded and nowadays it’s not uncommon to see multi-step skincare regimes for both day and night.

A popular part of these modern skincare routines is retinol! This active ingredient within both over-the-counter and prescription products has quickly become a darling of the skincare community because of its many upsides — but it's important to understand exactly what it does and if it's safe for you to incorporate into your routine.

Let’s dive into exactly what retinol is, what benefits it has, and which patients should consider adopting it as part of their regime. As always, no two patients are the same and you should consult your dermatologist or healthcare provider before buying any new products.

What Is Retinol?

The retinol found in skincare products is a concentrated form of vitamin A. Retinol can be found in both over-the-counter and prescription varieties depending on the concentration of vitamin A. Because retinol can be harsh on the skin, you do need to visit a doctor in order to get a prescription for higher concentrations of retinoids.

All concentrations of retinol for use in skincare routines are topical treatments, which means they’re used directly on your skin (as opposed to being ingested in pill form). There are many different kinds of topical treatments that include retinol like gels, lotions, creams, serums, ointments, and some cosmetic products.

What Does Retinol Do to Skin?

Retinol can promote the proliferation of skin cells, which can possibly aid in the unclogging of pores. Additionally, it can exfoliate the skin and boost collagen production, which can potentially diminish the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles and plump the complexion.

When first using retinol many patients do not see instant results and for most users, it can take weeks to notice positive results. Also, some patients may even experience irritation before any noticeable improvements can be seen.

Because retinol is said to boost skin cell production, it’s used in over-the-counter and prescription treatments to improve the general appearance of the skin. Clinical studies have shown that more specifically, topical retinoids can help with acne, acne scars, and other skin discoloration like stretch marks. Retinol has also been shown to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Are There Drawbacks to Using Retinol?

While products with retinoids can be very effective in treating acne, scarring, and signs of aging it’s not the best solution for everyone.

If you have a history of allergies to skincare products or have generally sensitive skin, retinol may be too harsh for your skin. Also, if you’re someone who spends a lot of time outside, you also may not fare well — retinol can make the skin very sensitive to sunlight. 

For patients with typical skin, the potential side effects of retinol are often only temporary. They may include:

  • Irritated or dry skin
  • Itching or stinging on application sites
  • Flaky or peeling skin
  • Redness of the skin
  • Skin becomes more easily sunburnt 

If you’re considering using retinol you’ll need to become very conscious with your sun exposure as your skin will become more easily damaged. There is also a possible link between using high-dose retinol and an increased risk of developing skin cancer. It’s important to follow good skin-safe practices like wearing sunscreen, avoiding direct sunlight, and covering up with clothing and hats.

Please consult with your healthcare provider before incorporating retinol into your routine — and make any changes gradually and safely!

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