Does retinol actually work? A dermatologist weighs in — ODE Dermatology

Does retinol actually work? A dermatologist weighs in

Everything you need to know before trying the darling of anti-ageing skincare

Does retinol actually work? A dermatologist weighs in

As seen on Vogue Australia

By Isobel Larkin •

Revered for its wrinkle-reducing and texture-improving properties, retinol is regarded as one of the most effective anti-ageing skincare ingredients available. It’s said to smooth fine lines and wrinkles, boost the skin’s elasticity and improve the appearance of pores and pigmentation.

In other words? This darling of the skincare world is considered nothing short of a miracle.

But does retinol really work? How does it work? And how can I determine whether retinol is suitable for me?

From the effect it has on the skin to how to use it for best results, and all the best retinol products to try… find all the answers to everything you’d like to know about retinol, below.

What is retinol?

Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that’s available in different strengths from over-the-counter skincare products to more potent prescription-only formulas.

Does retinol actually work?

It certainly does and the hype around retinol also has the science to back it, according to Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan, Dermatologist and Founder of ODE Dermatology.

“Retinol has been used in cosmetics since 1984. It is the most used and most studied anti-ageing and anti-acne compound. It is the gold standard in many ways,” says Dr Gunatheesan.

How does retinol work and what is its effect on the skin?

When applied to the skin, retinol “regulates epidermal cell turn over, increases collagen and elastin production, regulates pigment production, stimulates vessel growth and improves overall skin hydration,” says Dr Gunatheesan. To put it another way, it kicks the skin’s natural regenerative process (which slows as we age) back into high gear.

What are the benefits of retinol?

From smoothing the skin to reducing pigmentation, and increasing the skin’s luminosity, retinol has a slew of benefits that are helpful for a variety of skin concerns.

Does retinol reduce wrinkles?

Yes, retinol is ideal for combatting signs of ageing as it “works at the cellular level to stimulate fibroblasts to produce more collagen and blood vessel thereby improving the scaffolding of the skin,” says Dr Gunatheesan.

Does retinol help acne?

Yes, according to Dr Gunatheesan, retinol is excellent for improving the appearance of acne, blackheads and breakout-prone skin as it reduces sebum production, helps clear pore congestion, and reduces inflammation.

How can you tell retinol is working?

Once you begin consistently using retinol, you may start to see some results within just a few weeks with more dramatic improvements visible after a few months.

“In the short term (few weeks) your skin will be less congested, pores minimised and sebum production minimised. The full effect of collagen plumping, luminosity and hydration will be evident in two to three months – hence the importance of consistency and patience,” says Dr Gunatheesan.

What’s the best way to use retinol?

1. Ease it into your routine

When adding retinol to your skincare regimen, Dr Gunatheesan recommends starting out by using it two to three nights a week in combination with skincare containing niacinamide (vitamin B3), ceramides and antioxidants.

2. Monitor changes in your skin

Keep a close eye on your complexion and if you start to notice excess dryness, flaking or redness, it might be time to pare back your retinol usage or look for a lower strength product.

3. Amp up the hydration

Using a nourishing moisturiser in combination with your retinol product will help stop your skin from drying out and experiencing flaking.

What’s the best type of retinol product for me?

Retinol is topically applied to the skin and can be found in a variety of skincare preparations including serums, moisturisers and other creams. And it’s not just for the face, there are now a variety of retinol products for the body available, too.

When choosing your retinol product, consider the particulars of your own visage including whether you’re prone to sensitivity or have any underlying skin conditions. Dr Gunatheesan recommends most people start by trying a retinol cream as these are usually gentler. If you have acne-prone or oily skin, you might like to progress to a retinol serum which is lighter and penetrates into the skin better.

What percentage of retinol should I choose?

While it may be tempting to go all in and choose a product with the highest retinol percentage possible, this isn’t necessary for results and can increase your chances of experiencing unwanted side effects such as sensitivity, peeling and redness.

If you’re starting out with retinol, try a low-strength option of around 0.2% retinol. If you don’t have sensitive skin and you find your complexion tolerates this well, you might like to progress to a higher strength.

Can any side effects occur when using retinol?

Although retinol is a highly effective active, it can cause some unwanted side effects including redness, flaking and itchy skin. As it also makes the skin more sensitive to sun exposure, it is important to wear SPF in the daytime while using retinol.

Dr Gunatheesan also cautions that over usage or continued skin irritation can impair your skin barrier. Therefore, it’s vital to select the appropriate retinol percentage for your skin, and tailor the application frequency to your individual needs. If you begin to notice any side effects, it’s time to back off and decrease your usage or try milder retinol.


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