Long before skincare products were infused with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, or niacinamide, there were other “must-have” ingredients. Creams and lotions with varying concentrations of alpha-hydroxy acids were everywhere. Beta-hydroxy acids soon followed, and it wasn’t long before our attention turned to natural enzymes and topical antioxidants.
Retinol was first introduced in the 1970s. Back then, retinol was a prescription acne treatment. But something rather unexpected happened. Over time, it was clear that this acne treatment also had considerable anti-aging potential. Today, retinol is still considered one of the best options for stalling, or reversing, some of the most troubling skin concerns.1
But retinol is not universally kind. Many people stop using retinol creams, lotions, and serums soon after they start. Once you know what retinol is and how your skin might respond, it’s much easier to decide if the possible benefits outweigh the potential risks.
What is Retinol?
In many respects, retinol is a virtual superstar, a darling of the skincare industry. This form of vitamin A changes the way skin cells function. But if you’ve done any reading on the topic, you’ve likely found numerous sources using retinol and retinoids interchangeably. That oversight can be a bit misleading. When you’re planning on applying anything to your skin, the details matter. So, let’s start by clarifying the similarities and differences.2,3
- How Retinol and Retinoids Are the Same
Retinoids and retinol are both derivatives of vitamin A and must be converted to retinoic acid to be effective. They both activate specific enzymes in your skin. While either could be helpful for acne or the signs of skin aging, they also have similar side effects.
- How Retinol and Retinoids are Different
Retinol and retinoids have slightly different molecular structures. Those structural differences make retinol less efficient because it’s slower to convert to its active form. Unlike retinol, retinoid treatments are only available by prescription.
What Could Retinol Do for My Skin? What Are the Benefits?
Although retinoids can be more potent than retinol, retinol can be just as effective as its prescription counterpart. You’ll just have to give your products a little more time to produce results. But that’s not entirely negative.
Most experts recommend starting with the lowest retinol concentration you can find. If you’ve never used retinol (or retinoids) before, you may also want to begin with once-weekly use. Over time, retinol has the potential to produce some impressive benefits. The following observations are among the most noteworthy.4
Retinol is a chemical exfoliator. When applied topically, the vitamin derivative breaks the bonds holding dead, depleted cells that could otherwise become trapped in your pores. With less debris, there’s also less opportunity for acne-causing bacteria to linger. Your pores may also appear smaller.2
Boosts Skin Cell Turnover
Retinol-infused creams, lotions, and serums also alter the way your skin functions. Its speeds the rate at which cells divide and make new cells. Retinol also speeds up the rate that new skin cells make their way to the surface, their turnover rate. Since older cells are discarded sooner, your skin could look smoother.
More Even Skin Tone
There are many reasons you might get dark spots on your skin. But most are caused by sun damage. Retinol helps smooth discolorations by increasing the rate of skin cell production and reducing the amount of melanin produced in your skin, the pigment that gives your skin its color.5
Fewer Lines and Wrinkles
Retinol also has the potential to help minimize lines. Those skin-smoothing possibilities are a direct result of an increase in collagen production stimulated in tissues below the surface. The impact can help fortify the layer of skin where your wrinkles form and might help keep new lines from emerging.6
When Can I Start Using Retinol?
There’s no ideal age or stage of life to start using retinol-infused skincare products. They can be just as effective to clear acne or prevent breakouts for teens as they can at reducing the signs of aging for those of us who might be a little more mature. So, the best time to start using retinol would be anytime you think your skin might benefit.
However, some skincare experts suggest integrating retinol into your skincare routine by your mid to late 20s. Others remain more conservative, suggesting retinol use at the first sign of fine lines or skin discoloration.7
Can Retinol Harm My Skin? What Are the Side Effects?
Retinol use can have unpleasant side effects.Topical application is known to cause visible irritation, redness, flaking, and peeling. That’s why so many skin experts recommend starting with the lowest concentration of retinol you can find, using a small amount, and limiting initial usage to once a week. Then, if your skin is not overly reactive, you can move up to twice each week, and so on. To reduce the risk of irritation, you should apply retinol products to clean, dry skin. You may notice less irritation once your skin adapts.
The most important risk to be aware of is the potential for increased sun sensitivity (photosensitization) because of the increased cellular turnover rate. While using retinol, sunscreen is a must, and you should apply your product of choice only at night. You may also want to keep in mind that prolonged use of retinol can make your skin thin and more susceptible to injury. If you have mature skin, less is more. Too much retinol could make your skin look older.8
Can I Revive My Skin Without Retinol?
There’s something quite compelling about the idea of using vitamins to improve the health and appearance of your skin. Especially when concentrated doses of a specific vitamin show potential for clearing blemishes, smoothing uneven texture, or preventing wrinkles. But there are also plenty of reasons to stay away from skin care products that can irritate your skin, damage its lipid barrier, or increase your risk of sunburn.
If you’ve determined that the possible benefits of retinol aren’t worth the risks, consider investing in botanical skincare products infused with the many potential skin benefits of hemp-derived CBD.
CBD (cannabidiol) molecules are small enough to penetrate the surface of your skin. Once absorbed, the cannabinoid interacts with influential receptors found on nearly every type of skin cell. That includes the receptors regulating skin cell formation, turnover rates, oil production, and collagen synthesis.
To learn more about how your skin might benefit, visit BOTA™ hemp to browse our Complete Guide to Natural Skin Care. All BOTA™ toners, serums, and moisturizers are cruelty-free, made without harmful chemicals, and fortified with the best elements nature has to offer.
- American Spa. (2006 January 17) History of Skincare in the 1990s.
- The Derm Review. (2019 April 24) Retinol vs. Retinoid: What’s the Difference and Which is Better.
- Advances in Dermatology and Allergology/Postepy. M Zasanda, E Budzisz. (2019 August) Retinoids: Active Molecules Influencing Skin Structure Formation in Cosmetic and Dermatological Treatments.
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2019 October 22) Do Retinoids Really Reduce Wrinkles?
- Bustle. R Lapidos. (2021 March 29) What Derms Want You To Know About Using Retinol for Dark Spots.
- Leaf.tv. J Nied. (2021) Retinol vs. Collagen.
- Up On Beauty. H Mehrez. (2021) At What Age Should You Start Using Retinol?
- Not Just A Penguin. (2017 March 17) Retinol and Retin A and Sun Exposure.