Why retinol?

Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that is a potent anti-oxidant with the ability to interact with receptor cells.

So, what does that mean, exactly?

Anti-oxidants fight free radical damage caused by the elements – pollution, sun, and pretty much everything bad around us.

As a cell communicator, retinol is able to relay messages to receptor cells to do things like speeding up keritinisation (which can ultimately reduce pore size) and increasing collagen production (which reduces wrinkles).

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What does retinol do?

Studies show that applying retinol topically improves the appearance of wrinkles. In fact, a 2016 study went so far as to say there was a “significant facial anti-aging effect observed” AKA, it really, really works!

If you’re not contra-indicated, retinol is something you definitely want to introduce from around 30 onwards. Here’s how to start using retinol in your skincare routine.

How to start using retinol

Starting to incorporate retinol in your skincare regime requires a little patience. Start with a low percentage – 0.2% if your skin is ultra-sensitive or 0.5% for normal skins that already tolerate active ingredients.

Higher percentages are not better in this case. If you overdo it in the beginning, you’re likely to go through a period of retinisation – this includes redness, flaking, dryness and itching. While it’s temporary and not detrimental to your skin, it’s not particularly pleasant and it can definitely be avoided.

Go slow

Along with the low percentage, it’s also advised to start using retinol gradually. It’s best used at night as retinol degrades in sunlight and you should apply retinol products under your night cream. Start with an application once a week, and add another application day every two weeks.

Ideally you should work up to nightly application of retinol, but some people find that every second night is enough for them.

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When to increase your retinol dose

When you’ve finished your first bottle, you can move up a dose when you repurchase – 1% is a good dose to end on. You’ll only need a higher dose to treat serious skin conditions. Remember to start the gradual application process again every time you level up a dose to prevent an uncomfortable retinisation process.

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Barrier protection

Retinol thins the outer layers of the epidermis, which can contribute to redness, tightness and discomfort. Aside from following the process above, the best way to counteract this is to soothe and moisturise your skin.

Applying a soothing serum followed by a moisturiser (or moisture mask) a couple of minutes after applying your retinol serum will calm irritation, moisturise your skin and reinforce the protective barrier function.

What to avoid when using retinol

Contrary to popular belief, retinol does not make your skin more UV sensitive. But because it does thin your epidermis, it can make you more prone to sunburn so it’s more vital than ever to use SPF daily.

Since your skin may be more sensitive initially, avoid known irritants (alcohol, fragrance, colourants).

Keep exfoliators to a minimum as retinol speeds up cell renewal already, and keep your skin cleansers gentle for the same reason.