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All About Retinol: Uses, Benefits + Side Effects

All About Retinol: Uses, Benefits + Side Effects

There probably is no skin care ingredient on the market that is as talked about as retinol.

It is used to help aid with so many different skin care issues, from age-related concerns to scarring.

And the hype doesn’t stop there. 

Retinol is backed by scientific study after study, so you know you can believe in its potential. When we were designing our skin care line, we didn’t want to leave it out! Part of our main goal at Skin Pharm is to create quality skin care products that really work for you. 

But what is retinol and what makes it so incredibly powerful? Let’s discuss this fantastic, game-changing skin care ingredient. 

What is retinol?

The power of retinol starts at a chemical level. 

It usually surprises people to find out that retinol is actually a derivative of vitamin A. We all know the power of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients when it comes to helping our bodies work and function at their best, but that all happens from the inside, right?

Not always! 

For such a simple ingredient, retinol can have a huge impact on the skin from the outside. The true benefits of retinol come from what it turns into when it enters the skin. 

Retinol itself isn’t biologically available to the body. To work, it has to be broken down further into a product that the body is far more comfortable with - retinoic acid. We’ll discuss more about how this works later in this article. 

Retinol is also a member of the retinoid family, which is where things can get tricky. Retinoids are the overall category that retinol gets put into and a category all on its own. 

The term ‘retinol’ is used for retinoids that are able to be purchased over the counter without a prescription, and retinoids also refer to the prescription varieties, such as Tretinoin. 

How does retinol work?

Instead of just simply removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, like most exfoliants claim to do, retinol works on a much deeper level. Because of the size of the retinol molecules, they can penetrate their way through the epidermis to reach into the middle layer (or dermis) of the skin. 

Once retinol is able to reach your dermis, that’s where the magic starts. Retinol works as an antidote to one of the more destructive molecules that can occur in your skin, which are known as free radicals. 

Free radicals are so dangerous because they are naturally unbalanced, as they are missing one of the eight electrons they need to feel balanced. Because they feel out of whack, so to speak, they tend to bounce all around the body in a search for a single electron that they can use to get back into a natural state of balance. 

That process leads to oxidative stress, which is the negative cumulative effect of free radicals on the body. With enough time to run rampant, oxidative stress caused by free radicals can lead to all kinds of problems in the body. 

Retinol is happy to share with free radicals, though, which is why it is so beneficial. That effectively neutralizes them, which also holds off the way that they have been able to impact the skin. 

With less energy spent fighting off free radical damage, the skin can naturally produce more collagen and elastin. 

What are the uses for retinol?

The question that is probably at the front of your mind now isn’t what retinol is, but what it can do for you. The answer to that question is a lot!

Retinol is probably best known for its abilities as an anti-aging ingredient. In fact, of the many different uses for retinol, it is easily the one that most people turn to it for. It is also likely the most studied of its benefits, so you can feel confident that you’re spending your money wisely. 

Retinol's ability to trigger the skin to produce additional collagen and elastin is responsible for its anti-aging abilities, like plumping up the skin and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It can also help to resurface and even out the skin tone, which can reduce the appearance of large pores, too!

What is retinol good for other than anti-aging, though?

The second most popular use for retinol or retinoids is to help manage acne and the scarring that it often leaves behind. Its ability to get deep into the skin means that it can help open up the pores. 

That leads to a decreased risk of clogging, which is one of the most common triggers of acne. While it doesn’t work immediately, you’ll likely be amazed at how different (and great!) your skin can look with consistent use.

How to use retinol

If you’ve been convinced that retinol is the product that you’ve been missing in your skin care routine, we’re happy to help you get started! That’s one of the major reasons we formulated our Night Watch retinol serum. 

Meant to be used as part of your evening routine, our serum supercharges your skin while you’re fast asleep. It combines 0.2% pure retinol with a calming agent known as bisabolol to help reduce the risk and severity of retinol-related side effects. 

We also added vitamin C, a potent antioxidant with its own amazing benefits. The end result is a balanced sense of oil production, increased collagen production and a reduction in the appearance of both fine lines and pore size.

Just apply half of a dropper of Night Watch serum onto your face and neck after you have cleansed and dried your skin. Allow it a few minutes to thoroughly absorb, then follow with a supportive moisturizer. We recommend using it every other night, especially at first. 

Are there any side effects from using retinol?

The potency of retinol is a major part of why it has the potential side effects it has. In fact, expecting to experience common side effects. There is even a name for this, the “retinol uglies,” to describe the way that the skin panics when you first start to use it. 

However, as long as you know what to do to help reduce the severity of the side effects and keep your skin hydrated, you can continue enjoying the benefits without feeling quite as uncomfortable.

Because retinol has the ability to dive deep into the skin, it tends to cause some irritation when you first start using it. This results from the speeding up of the skin cell turnover process and can also lead to redness, tightness and itching. 

When you start using retinol-based products, especially for the first time, make sure to start slow. Once a week is a good idea at the beginning, then add in additional days as your skin starts to adjust. 

Always make sure to let your skin dry thoroughly before applying, as well, as wet skin can amplify the impact retinol has on the skin. 

With the right information, the side effects from retinol usage tend to fade within a few weeks. However, every time that you increase your dosage, the process is likely to start all over again. 

Always remember your sunscreen!

The most important thing that you can do for your skin, no matter how old you are and what skin care products you do or don’t use, is to wear sunscreen. Not only is the sun potentially dangerous for your overall health, but it can also wreak havoc on your skin. 

In fact, studies have shown that the vast majority of what we consider to be age-related issues are more likely to be triggered by the sun.

When you use a retinol product, you’re making your skin even more vulnerable to the ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Because your skin is so focused on renewing and replacing its cells, it isn’t as capable of protecting itself. That’s where you come in. 

Make sure that you protect your skin with the right sunscreen – such as 30+ SPF, broad-spectrum and water-resistant – every time you leave the house. 

To sum it up...

So, what is retinol? Although this skin care ingredient has been around for decades, it continues to prove its skill at helping with all kinds of different issues. If you’re looking for a product that can help with age-related concerns or acne, look no further than a quality product with retinol. 


Oxidative Stress and Cancer | PubMed

Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety | National Institutes of Health

Assessing the impacts of lifetime sun exposure on skin damage and skin aging using a non-invasive method | ScienceDirect


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