Everything You Wanted To Know About Retinol, Explained.
Beauty & Fashion

Everything You Wanted To Know About Retinol, Explained.

The art of building a skincare routine has become very complicated because there are so many options these days. However, even with companies beating down your door or, in this case, email and social media feeds working overtime to sell you a new must-have product, there is one tried-and-true addition everyone should be using—retinol. As someone who has used retinol, also known as vitamin A, for at least ten years, I can vouch for its benefits (think: smoother skin, less hyperpigmentation, and fewer hormonal breakouts). But, if you're new to building a routine, you should know a few things before you add this to your cart.

First, let's discuss the difference between retinol vs. retinoid.

For expert info, I tapped Dr. Erum Ilyas, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group, for guidance on all things vitamin A. The difference between the two boils down to science. "Retinoids work by targeting specific cell receptors regulating gene expression," Ilyas shares. "They increase the rate of cell turnover and collagen production and decrease the rate at which collagen is broken down."

So if you're looking to address fine lines and wrinkles, retinoids can help. In addition to those benefits, retinoids help the skin retain water. Alternatively, retinol, Ilyas says, is inactive when applied to the skin but is converted by the skin into retinoic acid, which is considered an active retinoid. "It is the active retinoid that can actually benefit the skin, not the retinol directly."

So what does all this mean for hyperpigmentation and dark spots?


As someone who struggles with hyperpigmentation, adding vitamin A to my skin routine has been a game changer. I can wear less makeup, and my skin looks healthier. And there's a reason for this, Ilyas tells xoNecole. "Retinol is proven to inhibit the tyrosinase enzyme, an enzyme responsible for producing pigment in the skin and promote cell turnover to help reduce excess pigment in the skin." But sometimes cell turnover means the retinol uglies, aka flaky, dry skin. So it's essential to start slowly.

Ilyas recommends chatting with your dermatologist to get advice on your skin needs if you experience irritation. "In general, it helps to reduce use to every other night instead of every night," she explains. "Work your way up to every night as tolerated. Some retinoids can be used by applying a moisturizer first with the retinoid on top, [but] check with your dermatologist as for some retinoids, this will not affect the potency of the product while for others it may."

What should newbies start with to ease skin into using a vitamin A product or retinol?


"If you have sensitive skin or eczema-prone skin, be cautious with the use of retinol," Ilyas advises. "It may just aggravate your dryness and make it hard for you to appreciate its benefits." Alternatively, if you don't have skin sensitivities and your skin can tolerate it, she suggests nightly use or every other night application until your skin gets adjusted. "All too often, people will use retinol daily, experience irritation, stop using it for a week or so, and then forget to use it again. It is far more beneficial to develop a routine with your retinol and balance the benefits with the potential for dryness."

If I find my skin is flaky, with the application of my vitamin A, I layer a hyaluronic acid serum. That helps a lot. I also cleanse my skin in the mornings with an oil cleanser and muslin cloth to gently slough away any flakes. If you can't deal with the dryness, there is an alternative—bakuchiol. The plant-based ingredient is clinically proven to have similar positive effects on the skin sans the irritation.

Additionally, a critical skincare do to remember if adding vitamin A to your routine is that SPF is a must because the ingredient can make skin more sensitive to UV exposure. Also, sunlight can undo all the work you're putting in with a disciplined routine and great products.

Now here are a few of my favorite vitamin A-rich products:

ROSE Ingleton MD Retexturizing Retinol Booster Serum

Dr. Loretta Concentrated Firming Serum

Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform

Paula’s Choice 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment Serum

RANAVAT Renewing Bakuchi Crème - Eternal Reign

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Featured image by miniseries/Getty Images

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