Best used:

PM. Start alternate nights, titrate dose


Caution:Sensitive skin, rosacea, potential interactions with other topicalsBest for:Acne, anti-aging, pigmentation
Comments:The number one ingredient Mode of action:

Chemical exfoliant, pigment suppressor, modulates genes

Science Score:


What is the science behind retinol?

Retinol belongs to the powerful family of molecules known as retinoids. These are vitamin A derivatives with multiple functions in the skin including reduction of pigmentation, improved cellular turnover, stimulation of collagen synthesis, & reduction of oil production.

What are the benefits of retinol?

Improved skin texture & quality. Retinol has antioxidant, anti-acne, anti-inflammatory, as well as antibacterial properties, hence its use in acne prone skin. 

Anti-aging. Retinol decreases pigmentation but increases collagen production. This results in clearer skin texture with less wrinkles & smaller pores.

Retinol can be purchased without a prescription. Used night for 6 weeks, it can reduce mild case of acne. The next step up?
Prescription retinoids.

Anti-Pigmentation. Retinol reduces the activity of tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for producing pigmentation, hence its role in the maintenance of melasma & skin pigmentation. 

How & when to start?

Any age is a good time to start retinol, with the caveat that it should not be used in pregnancy. Most dermatologists advise starting at a lower concentration, namely between 0.3% to 0.5%. It is important to see how your skin reacts before moving to higher concentrations.

Here’s how to incorporate retinol into your skin care regime. The best time to use retinol is in the evening as this molecule is sun sensitive. Start every second night for the first fortnight, & increase as tolerated.

Retinoids can reduce outbreaks of acne. It can take 3 months to work.

Step 1: Wash your face with a bland formulation. Do not use skin care acids such as glycolic, lactic or salicylic acids prior to using retinol, as interactions can occur.  

Step 2: Wait a few minutes until your skin is completely dry. This is important, because if your skin is still damp, the retinol will be able to absorb more deeply into your skin and might cause irritation. 

Step 3: Take a pea-size amount of your retinol and apply with your fingertips in upward and outward motions. If you are unsure how your skin will react, conduct a test patch. This means to try application of  a small amount of retinol to the front or the back of your ear. 

Step 4: Finish with your moisturizer 30 minutes after application of your ‘actives.’

Step 5: Remember to rise & clean your face in the morning. You should apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen the morning after, as retinol makes skin more sensitive to the sun.

Davin’s view point on retinol

This still ranks as part of my Top 3 best ingredients ever invented for skin. The other two are sunscreen & injectable (not topical) hyaluronic acid. Retinoids, in the context of prescription retinoids, are not easy to titrate. Side effects are universally seen, it is just a matter at what concentration & how sensitive you are, namely your skin’s threshold. 

The absolute majority of people would dive head first, buying super potent retinol from companies such as The Ordinary. Look, I don’t have anything against them, in fact I do believe they give great value for money as nothing is cheaper and stronger. It is just that most patients can not use it as directed. This results in skin irritation, dry skin, redness, flaky skin & blotches. I suggest starting at a lower concentration (whatever you are thinking, half it !!). Once you master this & understand your skin’s threshold, slowly increase. 

Formulations matter. This is especially so with retinol. Cheap is not the best, conversely expensive is not the best, nor are prescription retinoids the answer. Be guided by your skin care specialist.    

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