Retinol: The Essential Do's & Don'ts

The wild world of skincare is rife with  confusion, question marks and fake news and we’re on a wee mission to bring some clarity to the conversation.  


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Skincare actives in 2020 are like Dior Saddle Bags were in the early 2000s: highly sought after, there are lots variations available, some are quality and some will ruin your look.

Retinol, or Vitamin A, is one of the most popular skincare actives du jour, with brands adding this ingredient to serums, masques, cleansers, moisturisers, oils… you name it.

Formulators love this retinol because it’s a powerful ingredient that can deliver real results. However, with power comes great responsibility, and bathing (not literally) in retinol isn’t right for everyone.

So, what’s retinol good for? Who should be using it? Who shouldn’t? What are the watch outs and how often should you use it?

In this article we’ll explore the remarkable world of retinol, so you can use (or not) responsibly.


What is retinol and what’s it good for?

Retinol is a type of retinoid, which is a derivative of vitamin A.

In skincare circles, ‘retinoid’ is used as an umbrella term to refer to powerful, prescription-strength forms of topical vitamin A. Whereas ‘retinol’ is a weaker (but still highly effective!) form, found in regular skincare products that you might buy from your local beauty store.

Retinoids are punchy little molecules that are celebrated for their effectiveness against a range of skin conditions including acne and pigmentation; and their ability to reduce wrinkles, firm the skin and even out skin tone.

One of the ways they do this is by encouraging faster production of new keratinocytes (fancy word for skin cells) which can lead to lots of goodness including:

  • Reduced inflammation which helps to soothe acne prone skin,
  • Increased collagen and hyaluronic acid production,
  • Smoother and more even skin.

Great, right? However, retinol does have some drawbacks too…


The Watchouts

Retinol doesn’t agree with us all. “Retinol can be highly irritating” says Natalie Earles, Clinical Naturopath and skin health expert. “Retinols can really be helpful for the skin” she says, “however I find they are not the best option for those with actively irritated skin conditions. You must focus on repairing and hydrating the skin barrier first, before use of retinols can be most effective.”

This means that those of us experiencing the following should think twice before reaching for retinols:

  • Dry skin;
  • Irritated skin;
  • Active acne;
  • Eczema;
  • Rosacea;
  • Redness, or
  • Sun damage.

“Retinol can be irritating, does tend to be quite drying on the skin and can cause further inflammation and damage if used on already inflamed skin” clarifies Natalie.


7 Tips For Responsible Retinol

We want your skin to thrive, so if you’re keen to give retinol a try, here’s some tips:

1. We were serious when we said not to use retinol on angry, red, inflamed, sensitive or dry skin. We know you want great skin, but if you tick any of these boxes retinol just isn’t for you right now, hon.

2. Before using, you’ll want to repair and balance your skin’s pH, so ensure that you use a suitable cleanser for your skin type and that your skin is well hydrated.

3. Retinoids break down in sunlight, which is why they are only recommended for use at night time.

4. There is conflicting information out there about whether retinoids increase photosensitivity (sensitivity to sun damage). To be on the safe side, we strongly recommend using SPF alongside your retinol, and using retinol only at night time.

5. Start slow and build up. “I suggest not using daily”, says Natalie. “Start with 1-2 times per week, and build up to no more than every second day.

6. There’s research to show that using moisturiser before using retinols can help to reduce risk of irritation, while having no negative impact on the efficacy of the retinol. Just be careful not to use a moisturiser with actives in it. Actives are often best when left alone to do their thing, rather than layered with other actives.

7. There’s a new kid on the retinol block, called Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate - otherwise known as a retinoic acid ester - which has performed well in trials when looking at reduced inflammation. This means that for sensitive skin, this is the form of retinol you’ll be wanting to reach for.

So there you have it. 

We hope that gives some insight into the remarkable and confusing world of retinol.

Remember though, skin health is a reflection of your inner health so it’s important to support your skin both topically and internally.

We love to focus on whole sources of collagen and collagen building for healing. Check out our Collagen Beauty Milk to give your skin a boost from the inside out.