Retinol is one of the most popular and widely used skincare ingredients. But not all retinol is created equal, and with so many products on the market, it's hard to know how to choose the best retinol product or serum. There are a few things you should look for when shopping for retinol treatments. For example, did you know that your retinol should be yellow? If your retinol treatment isn't yellow, it doesn't have the potency to yield noticeable change. Let's explore why the color and packaging of your retinol treatments are vital to getting the best results for your money.
We've covered retinol quite a bit on our blog, so we won't go into the ABCs, but let's do a quick review.
Retinol is a form of vitamin A. When researching retinol, you may have heard of different derivatives of vitamin A, such as Retinal, Retinyl Esters, and Tretinoin, which is only available by prescription. All forms of vitamin A convert into retinoic acid once they soak into the skin, but non-prescription versions take a bit longer to convert than the prescription form you get from a dermatologist. Retinol is a common form of vitamin A found in over-the-counter skincare products. With the right dose, this powerful antioxidant is clinically proven to reduce wrinkles, fine lines, sun damage, and uneven skin tone. Retinol can also help treat acne, as it helps reduce sebum production and clear away dead skin cells. It's often touted as the "gold standard" of active ingredients for its ability to transform the skin from the inside out. Retinol penetrates the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) to the dermis (the middle layer of skin), helping neutralize free radicals, boost collagen production, and exfoliate dead skin cells. This transformative ingredient is a one-stop shop for most common skin concerns.
Why The Color Matters
Retinol is yellow in its purest form—it cannot be bleached. It is a challenging ingredient to work with in skincare and can quickly lose potency in the formulation process. Many retinol creams on the market are white, which likely means they lack enough active vitamin A to work. This can be because the retinol has already broken down or because there wasn't enough in the formula to begin with. Although paying attention to the color of your retinol is a good litmus test when looking for the best, you shouldn't choose a retinol treatment just because it's yellow.
Packaging is also important...
Making sure your retinol treatment is stable is key. It can break down and become ineffective when exposed to light or heat. That's why looking for retinol that comes in an opaque, airless container is also essential. Skincare can sit on shelves for weeks, even months, at a time, and since retinol is highly delicate and deactivates quickly, the best of the best are packaged to protect the formula and ensure its effectiveness. The moment retinol is exposed to oxygen, it begins to lose potency. A retinol treatment in an airless container is your best bet to ensure that your retinol doesn't lose efficiency.
The percentage of retinol in a formula is also a popular topic of conversation. So your first question (after ensuring that your retinol checks all the other boxes) is, what percentage should I be looking for? There is no one-size-fits-all magic number when determining what percentage is best. Everyone's skin is different, and what may work for your bestie may not work for you. The best general practice is to increase the potency of your retinol formula gradually so you can safely see how your skin reacts. This will help minimize the potential for skin irritation and ensure your skin can tolerate retinol before increasing the dosage.
Now that we're up to speed on ensuring you're getting the best retinol product for your money, let's talk tips and tricks to get the most out of your treatment.
- Only use retinol at night since it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
- Always make sure you're using good sunscreen during the day (SPF 30 or higher).
- Avoid high-powered AHAs (e.g., glycolic or lactic acids) and BHAs (salicylic acid) when using retinol—the combination can trigger irritation. AHAs may also oxidize vitamin A and make it less effective.
- Avoid layering multiple retinol products. You want to avoid inflaming skin by overloading it with various retinol-based products.
- Invest in a good moisturizer; retinol can dry the skin, so a good moisturizer is key to minimizing irritation and keeping your skin healthy and hydrated.
Retinol is a powerful ingredient and should be used cautiously. The best retinol is the one that's right for your needs, so always be sure to do your own research and talk to your dermatologist to determine what works for you. Ready to add retinol to your routine?