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retinol for skin

What is Retinol? Benefits, Uses & Products

Skin-renewing and anti-ageing, retinol for skin benefits virtually every skin type. To answer some of your most commonly asked questions we spoke to Dr Michelle Henry – a dermatologist from New York. Learn what is retinol, it's many skin benefits and how you can incorporate this powerful ingredient into your skincare routine with our tell-all guide.

What is retinol?

Renowned by dermatologists worldwide, retinol is a potent and efficacious skincare ingredient. Retinol for face remains one of the most celebrated components of the skincare world, due to its powerful ability to help improve skin across a wide range of concerns.

Retinol skincare is sourced from the vitamin A nutrient. Different derivatives – like tretinoin, retinaldehyde and retinol ester each have varying levels of potency. Using retinol for skin provides a gentler way to receive Vitamin A benefits.

What Does Retinol Do?

You've most likely heard of its ability to improve skin – but what does retinol do exactly? Retinol superpower is due in part to its structural composition, which bonds with skin in a unique and effective way. “Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that is involved with skin turnover and skin regulation”, says Dr Henry. Put simply, retinol works by accelerating the rate of cell turnover in the skin, allowing new skin cells to reach the skin's surface faster then they would naturally. As an antioxidant, retinol for skin dissolves in natural oils and binds to the receptors in skin cells. These receptors then trigger various processes, to improve the appearance and texture of dry to oily skin types and everything in-between.


Both ingredients are derivatives of vitamin A – but the major difference between retinol and retinoid is their potency. “When retinol encounters a cell, there are other enzymes required to get it to its most active state, which limits its potency”, explains Dr Henry.

Retinoids such as tretinoin meanwhile, are “closer to their active state,” Dr. Henry explains, and therefore more potent. In other words, retinoids don't need to change into a different form to work properly the way natural vitamin A does. They're effective all on their own.

Retinol Benefits for Skin

Vitamin A works at a cellular level to promote fast skin turnover. With this function in mind, what is retinol good for? The inclusion of retinol skincare at different ages and on different skin types can improve skin’s texture and visibly reduce dark spots, large pores and signs of ageing like fine lines and wrinkles. Don't let the Retinol Uglies fool you!

retinol prevents wrinkles

Prevents Wrinkles

Ageing skin symptoms are the combined result of natural changes and cumulative stress. Retinol for skin is highly effective in any anti-ageing routine. With so much hype around the benefits, what does retinol do for your skin as it ages? As we grow older our collagen production slows down. Retinoids like retinol encourage collagen production and help to neutralise free radicals (unstable molecules), which can cause collagen damage to the skin. This helps to ‘fill in’ the appearance of wrinkles and firm skin texture.

retinol reduces blemishes and breakouts

Reduces blemishes & breakouts

Those who experience excess oil flow, clogged pores and blemishes can use retinol benefits to see substantial improvement in skin. Vitamin A benefits for this skin type don’t just include the reduction of breakouts and imperfections, but also help to fade acne scarring from previous blemishes. Retinol skincare achieves this by decreasing oil gland function, minimising the appearance of pores along the way.

retinol brightens skin

Brightens skin

Those with dry skin commonly experience dullness, due to build-ups of dead skin cells and roughened skin texture. A retinol serum exfoliates skin on a molecular level, increasing skin cell turnover and revealing fresher complexions. This can result in beautifully renewed skin for dry skin types, both in appearance and feel.

evens skin tone

Evens Skin Tone

One of the many benefits of Retinol worth noting is its ability to promote an even skin tone through stimulating skin cell turnover and t's 'exfoliating' effect. New skin cells are brought to the surface helping you achieve a brighter, more even skin tone with increased collagen and elasticity. Use in conjunction with a Vitamin C Serum for the ultimate routine to help diminish dark spots & pigmentation.


Though the benefits are endless, who can benefit from retinol is limited. The potency of this ingredient can cause negative results is some skin types. As everyone’s skin type is unique, if you do implement it, consider how often to use retinol to begin with. Starting slow can alleviate discomfort down the line.


Those who experience excess oil flow, clogged pores and blemishes are included in skin types that benefit from retinol the most. Not only can retinol reduce breakouts and imperfections, but it can also be used to address and reduce acne scarring. We recommend starting gently and building up strength. Moisturising products can sometimes seem antithetical to those with already shiny skin, but it’s important to maintain hydration when using retinol. Opt for an oil-free moisturiser like the Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Face Cream.


Retinol for face is a potentially sensitising ingredient meaning those with highly sensitive skin may experience uncomfortable side effects when using the ingredient (especially in its more potent forms). If you notice heightened sensitivity after starting retinol, reduce your usage and only increase at a slow rate. The Retinol Micro-Dose Serum uses a low-dose of Retinol making it a great retinol product for beginners of Retinol for sensitive skin.


Those with dry skin commonly experience dullness, due to a build-up of dead skin cells and roughened skin texture. Retinol exfoliates skin on a molecular level, increasing skin cell turnover and revealing a fresher complexion. This can result in beautifully renewed skin for dry skin types, both in appearance and feel. However, retinol can potentially dry skin, so it’s important to counter this with a deeply hydrating moisturiser. When using retinol, follow with the restorative Ultra Facial Cream.

Explore retinol skincare

See how to introduce retinol into skincare routines with potent formulas.

Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum

Our gentle yet efficacious daily retinol serum helps to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and sagging skin, whilst refining skin texture. Pure retinol and peptides promote new skin alongside skin integrity, and the inclusion of ceramides helps to strengthen the moisture barrier for gentler absorption.

Explore Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum.

Retinol Fast Release Wrinkle-Reducing Night Serum

Our potent nightly retinol serum contains 0.3% pure retinol, to ensure optimum efficacy. Permeating up to 15 surface layers of skin, this retinol anti-ageing formula targets signs of ageing like fine lines and wrinkles – visibly reducing their appearance and accelerating cell renewal for new, youthful skin in just 5 days.

Explore Retinol Fast Release Wrinkle-Reducing Night Serum.

How to apply retinol in your skincare routine

Because this ingredient makes skin more sensitive to UV radiation, the order of when to use retinol is fairly specific. You can use retinol for face in either morning or nighttime skin routines – but how to use retinol in skincare routines will shift depending on your application time. Alongside this, how much retinol to use will depend on your skin type and skin concerns. We recommend starting off with a low dose, once per week, and building up from there.

Step 1: Cleanse your skin

Step 1: Cleanse your skin

Whether at morning or night, always begin with a cleanser for your skin type. We recommend a gentle cleanser like Ultra Facial Cleanser. The inclusion of olive-derived squalane and avocado oil in this cleanser helps to purify skin without stripping natural moisture, supporting the skin barrier.

Step 2: Moisturise

Step 2: Moisturise

For those with sensitive skin especially, applying a thin layer of moisturiser before retinol will help to prevent skin drying out. Opt for a lightweight formula like Ultra Facial Cream With Squalane for this initial moisture layer. This helps skin maintain optimum levels of hydration throughout your application.

Step 3: Apply retinol

Step 3: Apply retinol

A big part of how to use retinol in routines is the status of skin you apply it to. Skin should be clean and dry before application. A high potency retinol serum increases sensitivity to UV radiation – which can cause stress to skin. If using a daytime formula, your SPF usage will need to work hand-in-hand.

Step 4: Moisturise again

Step 4: Moisturise again

Sealing a layer of moisture on top of retinol skincare will help to protect skin from redness or dryness. Skin is more permeative at night, which provides opportunity for it to absorb more moisture. How to apply retinol at night time involves thicker-textured evening creams. Once your retinol serum has absorbed apply a thick layer of a night moisturiser like Midnight Recovery Omega Rich Cloud Cream, to help skin stay plump and hydrated by morning. If applying retinol skincare in the morning, follow with your day cream.

Step 5: Protect with SPF

Step 5: Protect with SPF

In a daytime routine, SPF should always be the last step in a retinol skincare routine. To ensure your skin receives vitamin A benefits in a supportive way, SPF should be high level and be reapplied throughout the day (and as directed by the individual product).

When do you see retinol results?

How long before retinol results appear will depend on how consistent your use is. With the appropriate application and alongside supportive moisturising and SPF formulas, retinol benefits can be seen between 3-6 months.

Frequently Asked Questions About Retinol for Skin

Answers to Your Frequently Asked Retinol Questions

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