What is retinol?

What is retinol?

Retinol came along to the skincare party kind of late, but soon we were all obsessed. It’s hard to ignore an ingredient that is lauded by dermatologists, skincare experts and bloggers alike. But the science-y nature of the ingredients on the back of our skincare products leaves most of us bewildered and wanting answers. So what exactly is Retinol, and why have we gone so crazy for it in our skincare.

What is Retinol?

Put simply, Retinol is a form of Vitamin A, and when it is converted into retinoic acid it is essential for skin health and bone growth too. So Retinol is incredibly useful!

Why do we use Retinol and Retinoids in acne treatments?

Vitamin A is essential for skin health and is a super ingredient for treating a variety of skin conditions. Just one of the ways Vitamin A can help those with acne-prone skin is by exfoliating the skin and helping it appear smooth. This powerful vitamin also repairs cellular structures, decreases sebum production, and reduces marks and pigmentation. By restoring the epidermal barrier and thickness, Vitamin A also protects our skin from future problems.

Retinoids can help to reduce spots by altering the oil chemistry on the skin and stopping dense sebum from getting stuck within pores. Without the sebum clogging up pores bacteria cannot grow and cause blemishes. The keratolytic action of retinol makes it ideal for treating acne-prone skin. Keratolytics act as exfoliants by removing the dead skin cells that linger in blocked pores and cause blemishes. Due to its cellular communication abilities, retinol is also able to improve pore function and size by instructing cells on how to act. As a result pores will appear smaller and new blemishes should stop forming.

How to use retinol:

Retinoids increase your skin's sensitivity to sunlight, therefore you are increasing the chances of sun damage by wearing it on your skin during the day. The way Retinol works is by exfoliating the skin from the inside, out. Of course, as a result of this exfoliating, skin can become super sensitive and irritation can start to occur. To lessen irritation start by spacing out your usage until your skin adjusts to the treatment.  Begin by using your treatment every few days until your skin adapts, once you feel comfortable you can start using your treatment once a day.  Due to skin’s heightened sensitivity on Retinol treatments you must be extremely thorough with your sun cream application. Use a sun cream with a high UVA and UVB protection during the day to protect your skin.

Side effects:

 If your skin is becoming irritated when using a Retinol treatment, do not fear! This is the most common side effect of the ingredient. You may notice your skin becoming flaky, red, and dry, this is all to be expected.

Another side effect of using Retinol treatments is ‘purging’, which basically means things could get worse before they get better. If you are seeing your existing acne spots getting worse initially, this is most likely purging. If you see new blemishes forming, this could be an indication of an allergic reaction to the product. In either case seeking advice from a dermatologist is advisable to see if you should persist through the purging or try an alternative treatment.

Minimising side effects:

Whilst there is nothing to fear from a bit of flaking, if you find your skin becoming overly dry and uncomfortable there are ways to minimise these side effects. Little and not very often is the best approach to those trying Retinol for the first time. Ease your skin into the treatment and it is less likely to react so extremely.

For those trying to figure out the best time to start their treatment, summer is definitely your best bet if you're fretting about side effects. Starting the treatment in winter could mean that any dryness and irritation is made worse by cold winds, indoor heating, and long hot baths.

This article is intended as general information only. You should seek advice from a professional before starting any new regime or course of conduct.