10 Popular Retinol Questions Answered
The golden child (and often confusing) ingredient, retinol, is the umbrella term for the four types of Vitamin A that encompass both over-the-counter and prescription forms. Here are the questions we hear the most, and maybe a few to ask yourself next time you’re shopping for a retinol-based product.
How do I know if my over-the-counter retinol product has enough retinol to be effective?
Read the full ingredients list—not the marketing claims on the bottle or package—and sleuth out what type of retinol it contains. Chances are you’ll see “retinyl palmitate” and/or “retinol,” two of the most widely used forms on the market. (You’ll never see “retinoic acid” in an OTC product because that’s the prescription-only type.)
Remember that retinoic acid is 20 times more potent than retinol. That means if you want .05% retinoic acid, you’ll need a product with about 1% retinol. (Who knew beauty could involve so much math?)
Check the color of the formula. This is actually a more reliable litmus test than looking for percentage claims. Why? Let’s say a product contains a blend of retinol and retinyl palmitate and the label states the formula contains 1% retinol. There’s no way to know how the percentage was achieved (how much of this 1% is retinol and how much is retinyl palmitate?) Retinol in its raw form is yellow, so if your OTC product isn’t yellow, it doesn’t contain enough retinol to do anything.
Keep in mind, if you’re getting a prescriptive retinol product from your dermatologist, they will advise what percentage of retinoic acid it contains and how often you should use it.
What Kind of Packaging Should Retinol Be In?
Find retinol products packaged in airless containers; these reduce oxidation and prevent bacteria from entering the formula. Anything you have to manually scoop out with your hand is a no-no.
When Should I Use Retinol?
Retinol’s benefits are maximized when applied at night. Vitamin A works to heal and restore damaged skin including repairing uneven tone, texture and wrinkles. At night, when the body is cycling through its natural circadian rhythm and repairing itself, the application of retinol amplifies this reparative process.
Does Retinol Have Side Effects?
A straight dose of retinol without titrating concentrations can be drying for many people, resulting in irritated-looking skin that’s red and flaky. Give skin extra hydration and drink plenty of water to counteract the drying effects. Retinol increases skin’s susceptibility to damaging UVA and UVB rays, so suit up with a daily broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30. Need one?
Are there other ingredients that can be mixed in with retinol to make it more effective? What and how?
Retinol is fantastic when used as a “formula workhorse” in combination with other potent and proven actives. For example, pairing retinol with Vitamin C magnifies Vitamin C’s abilities to even out skin tone. When paired with hyaluronic acid, skin more easily holds hydration, which can help counter some of the drying effects of retinol.
Retinol Creams Versus Serums? Is One Retinol Form More Effective?
Retinol is retinol no matter how you dress it up. Potency is the same across creams and serums, don’t be fooled!
How Do I Pick the Best Kind of Retinol Product?
Opt for a serum or cream over mask and peel delivery methods because the latter two only sit on the skin for a short period of time. Find a multi-step serum or cream that increases retinol concentration throughout the product’s lifespan. We call this “Titration Therapy” and use it in R45 The Reversal. This graduation approach allows the skin to adapt and “train” without forcing it to run a marathon in a day. Why does this matter? Because retinol is notorious for causing dryness on most skin types.
Can I Use Retinol with GloPRO® Microneedling or a Dermaroller Tool?
Absolutely! Retinol can be used with GloPRO® to enhance absorption. But as a rule of thumb, always listen to your skin. When you’re using something as potent as retinol, it’s OK to back off for a day or two if your skin is feeling sensitive.
What Ingredients Should I Avoid When Using Retinol?
Avoid high-powered AHAs (e.g., glycolic or lactic acids) and BHAs (salicylic acid) when using retinol—the combination can trigger irritation. On top of that, AHAs oxidize Vitamin A and make it less effective. Also, avoid layering multiple retinol products. Remember, retinol works cumulatively in the skin. You don’t want to inflame skin by overloading it with a cocktail of various retinol-based products. There IS such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Can I Use Retinol While Pregnant?
We recommend avoiding retinol in any form while pregnant or nursing.