The primary form of vitamin A, retinol may benefit acne-prone or sun damaged skin.

The primary form of vitamin A, retinol may benefit acne-prone or sun-damaged skin. However, it’s most commonly known as a powerhouse anti-aging skincare ingredient for its ability to prevent and reduce fine lines and even deep wrinkles with continued use. Technically, it’s a type of retinoid, of which there are several variations that work at different levels.

“Retinol binds to receptors in skin cells and tells them to increase cell turnover and rev up collagen production,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC and consultant. This process is known as retinizing the skin. Preventing dullness, promoting plumper, firmer skin, the minimized appearance of pores and decreased signs of aging are the reasons why retinol can be found in varying quantities in serums, face cream, eye cream and spot treatments. Many of these treatments are found over-the-counter, with those with higher doses of the active ingredient — meaning its uses have been scientifically proven — usually prescribed in gel or cream form.

Because of its potency, irritation and overall skin sensitivity is common, especially when first incorporated into one’s skincare routine, but there are precautions one can take. “To minimize irritation, use just a small amount and start applying it every other night,” says Dr. Zeichner. It’s best to use retinol at night since the sun’s UV rays can inactivate it before it has time to exert its beneficial effects. 

Dr. Zeichner also advises using SPF every morning after applying your retinol the night before. “While retinol thickens the deeper skin levels, it thins the outer layer. This explains the retinol glow patients experience but also increases your risk for a sunburn,” he says.

Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

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