Our Guide To: Retinol

We tell you all you need to know about this wonder ingredient



It’s called the gold standard ingredient for anti-ageing by experts and yet many of us don’t really know what it is or what it does. Keep reading to get clued up about this key ingredient…


Retinol is the ingredient you need in your skincare routine to really see a difference in your skin, so what does it do? As a derivative from vitamin A, retinol and its skincare properties were discovered when doctors found those being treated with the ingredient for acne were then experiencing newly soft, less pigmented, line free skin. When applied to the skin, enzymes in the body convert it to retinoic acid (an active form of vitamin A), which does super things for our skin such as: boosts cell turn- over, increases collagen production and fades pigmentation.


As dermatologist Dr. Emma Wedgeworth explains: “It increases cell turnover and stimulates the skin’s natural collagen formation as well as targeting pigmentation, brightening and evening-out your complexion. Because of this, it’s excellent for a whole host of people, including those who are blemish and acne-prone, those who are suffering from sun-damage or scars and for anyone who wants to tackle the signs of ageing.”


Sounds like everything we are looking for from our skincare, but it’s important to note that Retinol needs to be applied with more caution than your daily serum – as described by The Sunday Times Style Beauty Director, Sarah Josell as “a diva molecule, because you have to give it a lot of attention to see the benefits.”


But don’t let that put you off, once you know how to use it (and if you’re patient) you really will see results. We’ve compiled what’s vital to know prior to use as well as our round up of the best retinol formulas on the market…


Why should I use Retinol?

“The skin loses about 1% of collagen (a protein which gives skin its structural support) each year from your mid twenties.” says Dermatologist, Dr Anjali Mahto. This is what causes fine lines and wrinkles and your complexion to appear dull – retinol increases collagen production and skin cell turnover and therefore helps to restore fresher and tighter skin.


How should I use it?

Begin with a lower strength formula that contains 0.1% of retinol and introduce it gradually, Dr Emma Wedgeworth advises: “starting slowly: using a pea-sized amount twice a week. If you can tolerate that, you can bring it up to every other day after a couple of weeks.”

Once you’ve got through a whole tube of a lower strength formula (0.1%) and your skin is not reacting, then you are ready to up the strength. If you’re unsure what to purchase, see below for our recommendations.



1 – Make sure that you only apply retinol in the evenings because it causes the skin to be more sensitive to the sun as its speeding up your skin cell turnover. When using retinol, use SPF 50 every day, even when it’s not sunny.

2 – Don’t apply too much or more frequently in the hope it will work faster, as this is what could cause inflammation and flaking of the skin. If your skin isn’t reacting in the way you hoped, don’t panic as this may occur in the beginning due to the increase in cell turnover. “It could get worse before it gets better, if you are peeling or flaking it doesn’t mean it’s not working it means your skin is learning to tolerate it. Stop it for a few days and then get back into it even more gradually.” Josell explains.

3 – Ensure that you wait 15 minutes after applying your retinol product before layering your moisturiser or serum on top, to allow it to properly sink in to the skin.

4 – Be patient – don’t expect your skin to change over night. Results can take time at upto 3 months so stick with it unless experiencing irritation.


The best retinol products to try:


La Roche Posay Redermic Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Treatment 0.3%, £29.50 – 

La Roche Posay is the dermatologist approved brand that strives to deliver effective products to those with sensitive skin. What’s great about this product is that as its designed with sensitive skins in mind it’s not too harsh or irritating, and so is a good retinol product to start with for all skin types.


The Ordinary retinol 0.2%, £4.25 – 

Another good beginner’s option with the low percentage formula from an outstanding brand that delivers high quality ingredients for an extremely reasonable price. Don’t let the medical appearance of the bottle put you off as this is a ‘no frills’ product that delivers on what it promises.

Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum, £72 – 

Whilst not cheap, this product takes away all worries about applying too much or too little as each capsule contains just the right amount to cover a full face. As well as this, the retinol in each capsule is 76% more potent than an un-capsulated formula as retinol is sensitive to light and air. An award winning formula for a reason.



Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream 1%, £62- 

Whilst 1% may not seem high, in retinol terms, it is – so it’s best to build up to this strength once your skin has become acquainted to retinol. A super-charged, silicone free formula with a potent amount of retinol combined with firming peptides, fatty acids and fruit extracts that will become a welcome addition to your night time skincare routine. Drunk Elephant is a brand that is worth the hype with its ‘clean clinical’ approach.



The Inkey List Retinol Serum 1%, £9.99 – 

A brand whose aim is to break through beauty jargon, to deliver a straightforward take on skin care’s most wanted ingredients, at reasonable prices, has certainly delivered with this retinol serum. Its slow release formula minimises irritation and maximises results – for the price of under £10, you can’t go wrong with trying this, once your skin is accustomed to a lower strength formula.



Medik8 Crystal Retinal Stable Retinal night serum £59 – 

Not a typo, Medik8’s ‘Retinal’ formula is a revolutionary new form of vitamin A that is proven to work 11 times faster than retinol. This serum is also packed with firming and plumping ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, vitamin E and glycerin. Available in 4 strengths this formula is about as strong as retinoids get so proceed with caution and only build up to the next level when you feel your skin is ready.