Retinol: 7 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About the Anti-Aging Beauty Ingredient

Chako S. on 6 Jun 2014 at 7:00am

Is Bar Rafaeli's beautiful skin due to retinol use?
Written by: Antonia Mariconda

Though you may not know it, you’re probably already well acquainted with retinol — it’s an ingredient found in many skin creams and cleansers. Retinol, which is a derivative form of Vitamin A that comes from animal sources, is a vital nutrient that is essential for vision and the immune system, as well as for healthy bones and skin. It is primarily used in beauty products to fight and the signs of aging by improving skin elasticity and stimulating collagen production.

How much do you know about retinol? Test your knowledge with these 7 need-to-know facts!

1. Retinol and Retin-A are not the same thing. Though they are both within the vitamin A family and both used for their anti-aging benefits, one is stronger than the other. Retin-A is the more powerful of the two and can only be obtained with a prescription. Retinol is the weaker (and some say less irritating) over-the-counter version.

2. Retinol slows the aging process. Though retinol isn’t as strong as Retin-A, it still encourages skin cell turnover and decreases fine lines and sun spots.

3. Retinol prevents acne. Vitamin A helps to cut down excess sebum (oil) production, unclogs pores, and prevents dead cells from clogging pores. Because the ingredient unclogs pores, it can also help other acne-fighting medications you might be using get in to fight off potential pimples.

4. Retinol may not be the best option for sensitive skin. You’ll need to build up your tolerance for retinol, so starting out using it daily may result in red, irritated, and/or flaky skin. Start slowly (like every other night) until you’re skin gets used to it, and if you’re experiencing a lot of irritation, you might want to try something gentler. Those with eczema, rosacea, or who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use retinols.

5. Start using retinol in your 30s. Dermatologist Dr. Howard Murad recommends starting retinol products in your 30s because "by your 40s, it’s time to add a retinol product in your night care routine."

If you're using retinol, use sunscreen to protect your skin.

6. Sunscreen is essential if you’re using retinol. Retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so proper protection is required! New skin revealed by retinol use is “delicate and should not be exposed to the sun,” according to dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman. She continues, “That is why these ingredients should only be found in products intended for night use.”

7. Retinol is best used at night. The ingredient is photosensitive, so is most effective at night. Dr. Jaliman says, “In daytime products, retinol will have the opposite effect and actually make skin age faster because it is more susceptible to the sun, no matter the amount of SPF protection promised on the foundation or sunscreen.”

8. Retinol doesn’t thin your skin. According to Dr. Leslie Baumann, this is only partially true. Retinol actually makes your skin thicker, but it also thins out the top layer of dead skin cells. Dr. Baumann explains, “Retinoids may thin out that dead superficial layer of epidermal skin, but they actually help thicken the living dermis underneath. The dermis is the important layer when it comes to skin aging because wrinkles occur in the dermis.”

As you can see, retinol rocks! However before you do invest in a good retinol product, please be sure to consult a qualified medical expert who can guide you on what is suitable for your own skincare and health needs.

Antonia Mariconda ( is an award-winning beauty blogger, author,
beauty TV presenter and journalist, and industry beauty expert.

Want more RealSelf in your life? Follow us on Facebook!

Photo credits: barrafaeli on Instagramexodusdanceco on Instagram