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Every Question You've Ever Had About Retinol, Answered.

Welcome to the fast track to really, really, really good skin.

It's herald as skincare's 'saviour' ingredient, but what the hell is it? 

While a few basic skincare ingredients have become household names, one is constantly part of the conversation: retinol. We’ve all heard of it, but after discussions both in and outside the office, it’s clear that many of us still aren't exactly sure about what it is—or how it works.

If your current skincare concerns include fine lines, wrinkles, pore size, uneven skin tone and texture, then you may want to consider adding a retinol cream or serum to your routine. Retinol is a form of Vitamin A, an ingredient that promotes skin renewal and enhances collagen production (which starts to decline in your 30s). As well as lessening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, retinol can also reverse some of the side effects of sun damage.

In an effort to get educated (and, of course, live your wrinkle-free best life), keep scrolling for all you need to know about what retinol is, how it works and who it’s best suited for. Plus, the best retinol-rich products to load up on for plump, youthful skin.

what is RETINOL?

Technically speaking, retinol is just one of the many different types of retinoids (the umbrella term for all vitamin-A derivatives, including retinol) that are on the market. 

Retinol has a multitude of benefits. It is able to enhance the production of collagen and stop it from being broken down. This leads to firmer, plumper skin with diminished fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol can also speed up the skin cell regeneration cycle, which encourages a smoother, more even complexion. Finally, retinol can stop the process which makes pigment in the skin, reducing hyperpigmentation for a bright and even skin tone. You should start to notice a difference after 4 weeks, but significant skin changes could take up to 3 months.

what does retinol do?

Many refer to it as the only proven anti-ageing ingredient and that’s kind of on the money.

Retinol sinks into your skin and speeds up cell turnover, causing your body to churn out fresher smoother skin. It essentially tricks your body into thinking it’s younger than it is, effectively creating a real-life Benjamin Button scenario. Granted, you won’t see results overnight—it’ll take at least three months of consistent nightly use to notice some reduction in fine lines, dark spots, and acne—but you will see young Brad Pitt–level results eventually.

who is retinol suitable for?

While retinol is suitable for everyone, different strengths are appropriate for different skin types. 
You should steer clear from retinol if you have sensitive skin or if you suffer from rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis as retinol can make you more vascular - meaning that you will end up with more inflammation and thereby worse symptoms of whatever it is you are suffering from, (though clinical trials have shown PHAs to offset some of the negative sides of using a retinol).

Note: retinol can be quite drying, so it is recommended for those with dry & dehydrated to seal the product in with a moisturiser at the very least.

when should i start using retinol? 

While there is no set time to use retinol, most dermatologists advise introducing the product in your mid-twenties, particularly if you suffer from breakouts or pigmentation. It is suggested that one uses retinol for 3 months, then takes a three-month break. This is due to research that suggests cell turnover is no longer increased after 3 months of retinol usage.

when do i apply retinol? 

Retinol can cause redness, dryness and even flaking - however, this can easily be avoided or minimised by gradually introducing the ingredient into your skincare regime and building a tolerance to the ingredient.

Apply a pea-sized amount of retinol at night time to clean and dry skin, always avoiding the eye area. Wait three minutes and apply a small amount of moisturizer, if needed. Use the retinol serum for two nights on, one night off, alternating with an exfoliating acid serum and a nourishing treatment serum.”

Here’s what that weekly routine with a retinol serum might look like:

Monday and Tuesday: Retinol
Wednesday: Exfoliating acid serum 
Thursday and Friday: Retinol
Saturday: Hydrating serum 

NOTE: If using retinol during the day, it’s imperative that you wear a high-SPF broad-spectrum sunscreen daily.

WHERE CAN I BUY retinol?

In short, everywhere. But to help you on your quest for glowy, healthy skin, we've rounded up the absolute best hyaluronic acid serums, all of which are prepared to brighten, soften, and plump the skin with moisture.

Retinol Ceramide Capsules, from 50, Elizabeth Arden

Ideal Resource Youth Retinol Oil Concentrate, approx. €87, Darphin

Plantscription Retinol Night Moisturiser with Alpine Flower, RRP: €65, Origins

Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream, €85, Murad

Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream, approx. €72, Cult Beauty


Perfectionist Pro Rapid Renewal Retinol Treatment, €76, Estee Lauder

R-Retinoate INTENSE, approx, €244, Medik8

The Treatment:  Retinoid Facial, RRP €99, Juliette Armand

Main image by @selenagomez on Instagram

READ: Beauty School: A Beginner's Guide To Hyaluronic Acid

READ MORE: Beauty School: A Beginner's Guide To Eyebrow Laminationh