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The Magic of Retinol


What is Retinol?

Retinol or Vitamin A belongs to the larger ‘class’ of retinoids. Retinoids have long been considered the gold standard of anti ageing skincare and as such should be a part of any anti ageing skincare regimen. Retinol applied to the skin is converted to retinoic acid (tretinoin) in skin cells which is the active form. There are various other forms of retinoids including retinaldehyde and retinyl esters. Retinol is vital to cellular processes but is depleted with age and sun exposure.

Retinoids can be divided into therapeutic retinoids which are prescription, and cosmeceutical retinoids.

The most well known prescription retinoids are:

-Tretinoin (Retin-A, Retacnyl, Ilotycin-A )
-Adapalene (Differin gel, Dapta gel)
-Isotretinoin (Roacutane, Oratane, Acnetane, Acnetret)

Skincare products contain cosmeceutical retinoids in the form of retinol, retinaldehyde and retinyl esters.
A few studies have shown that regular long term use of an adequate concentration of retinol in skincare offers the same benefits as topical prescription tretinoin but with less irritation.

What does Retinol do?

Retinol regulates the differentiation and proliferation of cells.
In skin cells retinol is converted to retinoic acid which binds to DNA receptors, correcting cell defects and promoting cell turnover. The quicker shedding of dead surface skin cells leads to overall brightening of a dull complexion, and aids in the treatment of acne as the follicles are unblocked.
Retinoids increase the expression of p53 in skin cells which prevents the formation of skin cancer.
Retinoids are anti-ageing as they increase the thickness of the epidermis and promote collagen production in the dermis thus reducing fine lines and wrinkles and repairing sun damage.
Retinoids also treat hyperpigmentation by increasing the turnover of the epidermis. They are usually combined with ingredients that inhibit the production of melanin.

At what age should I start using retinol?

Prescription tretinoin is used in teenage patients for the treatment of acne. Retinoids are used to treat psoriasis, scarring and hyperpigmentation. It is therefore safe to use retinol for anti-aging even in your 20’s especially if you have sun damage. Remember to stop using retinoids once you start planning to fall pregnant.

Does retinol make your skin sun-sensitive?

Yes they do, but retinoids mop up free radicals giving them antioxidant properties. They prevent and reverse sun damage and repair DNA to prevent skin cancer.

As mentioned retinol is depleted by sun exposure, so if you do have frequent sun exposure you should in fact use a retinoid on the skin.
However because of the irritant potential of retinoids, they are usually recommended for night time use and it is essential to use a sunscreen during the day.

Are there different strengths of retinoids?

Retinoic acid (tretinoin) is the most potent form, followed by retinaldehyde, retinol and the weakest, retinyl esters. The most commonly found form in cosmeceutical skin care is retinol. The concentration is important to ensure good results. Adapalene is a third generation retinoid with minimal potential to irritate the skin. You will have to wait 3-6 months to see the benefits of retinol on the skin, so be patient as the results may be worth the wait.

What’s the difference between retinols and retinoids?

Essentially, retinol is just a specific type of retinoid. With Retinoids being the ‘class’ or group of Vitamin A

Can you use retinol on acne-prone skin?

Yes. Retinoids in the form of tretinoin was actually first used to treat acne. It was then noticed that the older patients had improvement in skin texture, skin thickness and pigment marks. Topical tretinoin, and adapalene are first line treatment in the acne treatment guidelines. Retinoids help shed dead surface skin cells, unblocking the follicle. They are also antibacterial and decrease the amount of propionibacterium acnes on the skin.
Oral isotretinoin is the best treatment for severe acne as it is the only retinoid known to shrink sebaceous glands.

Can I use retinol while pregnant?
The oral retinoid ( Isotretinoin ) is teratogenic (an agent that can disturb the development of the embryo or fetus).
So pregnant women should avoid retinol and derivatives while pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a pregnancy.


As with any other skin care product, the key to seeing results is consistency. Improvements in textural changes take about two to four months to start to become visible. With continued use, you’ll see more and more positive changes that come with the magic of retinol.

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