What You Need to Know About Retinol and Anti-Aging


Retinol is the hot topic when it comes to skincare. Just the mere mention of anti-aging can spawn countless conversations and recommendations about the stuff.

And with good reason — it’s touted as the ultimate miracle worker. If you slather the stuff on before bed, you’ll wake in the morning with perfectly glowing and smooth skin. It will magically minimize wrinkles, prevent dullness, and even treat acne… at least if you believe all the claims on the box.

Does retinol really do all of that? And what is it, exactly?

So, What Is Retinol?

I’ve found that most people, even those who actually use retinol, don’t know much about it. I mean, dermatologists consider it pure magic, and we’ve all been told we should be using it, but what is it? Do you really know what it does, and why it works?

Before we climb into our 30s, our cells turn over about every 28 days. That’s what help keeps us looking young and fresh. But once we get into our mid-30s, cell regeneration slows down, and our skin starts showing signs of aging.

That’s where retinol comes in. It actually helps speed up cell turnover, leaving you with younger-looking skin.

Retinol or Retinoids?

Of course, not all products are the same, or actually contain retinol. We’ve actually started using the term retinol as a kind of catchall term for anti-aging topicals that contain any type of retinoid.

Wait… what’s a retinoid? Retinol is actually just one of the many different types of retinoids, an umbrella term for all vitamin A derivatives. So while retinol is a retinoid, not all retinoids are retinol. Regardless, they’re all effective for anti-aging.

Some anti-aging formulas contain retinyl palmitate, which is the weakest — but, to be clear, it’s still effective. Others actually contain retinol, which is the next strongest and most tolerable. Both of those are available in plenty of over-the-counter products.

There are stronger retinoids available, too. These can be found in over-the-counter and prescription products. They include retinaldehyde, tretinoin, tazarotene, and adapalene.

It may seem like a no-brainer to choose the strongest retinoid products right off the bat, but don’t be fooled. They may work faster because they’re stronger, but they can also be extra irritating and cause unsightly peeling.

It’s important to remember that all retinoids are effective in the long run. Low-strength retinoids still provide the same long-term anti-aging effects over time, just with less irritation and other side effects.

Choosing the Correct Retinoid Product for Your Skin

So how do you go about finding the right product for your face?

Ideally, you would sit down with your dermatologist to figure out the exact best option for your skin. However, not all of us have the time or funds for that, so I’m going to do you a favor and make a few suggestions.

It is best for everyone to start at the bottom, with the gentlest retinoids available. That means retinyl palmitate if you’ve got sensitive or dry skin. Or, you can jump up to retinol or retinaldehyde if you have normal skin. Oily, acne-prone skin may benefit more from adapalene, which is specifically formulated to treat acne.

It’s easy to get impatient, but don’t expect to see immediate results. While retinoids are magical, they do require patience. It will take around three months of consistent use before you start seeing serious anti-aging effects.

Skip other harsh products, like strong acne products, acids, or peels on your face the same night you use a retinoid. You could irritate your skin, or even give yourself a chemical burn.

Definitely do not skip the sunscreen, though. Retinoids will make your skin extra sensitive to sun, leading to sunburns and discoloration.

Don’t jump in with too much all at once, either. Start by only using it once or twice a week. From there, you can gradually move up to every other night or every night, depending on the product.