Here’s Why You Need To Start Using Retinol, According to Dermatologists

by | Mar 12, 2024 | Grooming

Cleanse and moisturise daily, wear SPF, eat well, and drink lots of water: there are plenty of straightforward lifestyle changes you can make to improve the health and appearance of your skin. And for truly age-defying, Pitt-esque looks, there’s no shortage of creams, lotions and serums, too.

From collagen balms to exfoliators to acid peels, walk into any Boots, Superdrug or department store and you could quickly become lost in a sea of grooming products promising to deliver virtually any skincare goal. But there’s one topical ingredient that experts agree has the potential to transform your skin like no other: Retinol.

What is Retinol?

Part of the vitamin A family, retinol is a popular topical anti-ageing ingredient hailed by skin care experts for its effectiveness at treating acne, reducing the appearance of wrinkles, and reversing the signs of sun damage. And the best part? It genuinely works.

‘Vitamin A products such as retinols increase cell production and turnover which has a wide range of benefits for skin health including: reducing hyperpigmentation, boosting collagen production, clearing blemishes and improving skin texture,’ says Dr Matthew Jarvie-Thomas, a cosmetic practitioner at The Cosmetic Skin Clinic.

It’s also been around a while (decades, in fact), so while retinol might feel like a new phenomenon, its efficacy has stood the test of time (and scientific scrutiny).

Countless studies have found that retinol helps to tackle non-inflammatory and inflammatory acne, stimulate cellular turnover, and limit sebum production which helps to prevent breakouts.

Is Retinol for Men?

Despite what the cosmetic industry’s female-centric branding might suggest, retinol doesn’t discriminate. ‘Retinol is a universally beneficial ingredient suitable for all genders,’ says Patrick Kidd, founder of men’s hair and skin care brand Patricks. ‘Its ability to enhance collagen production, smoothen fine lines, and refine skin texture makes it a versatile addition to any skincare regimen, including men.’

Male and female skin does differ, Jarvie-Thomas adds, but retinol’s potential benefits remain the same. ‘Typically, men have 25% thicker skin than women as well as more oily skin,’ he says. ‘It is also more resistant to ageing in many ways.’ But the bottom line is, male skin can ‘definitely’ benefit from using retinol as part of a routine.

READ MORE: lelive Review: A Luxurious Skin and Body Care Routine for Radiant Results

What Does Retinol Do?

The benefits of incorporating retinol into your skincare routine are ‘huge’, says Kidd. ‘Retinol is a powerhouse ingredient that promotes a youthful, radiant complexion.’ He also describes it as an ‘invaluable asset’ for achieving clear, healthy skin. Sounds promising. So how does it actually work?

‘Retinol increases collagen production, so it can help with reducing and preventing fine lines and wrinkles, which can make your skin look fresher and smoother – so it’s brilliant for anti-ageing,’ says Jarvie-Thomas.

And for clearing spot-prone skin? ‘Retinol is also very good for acne as it helps prevent clogged pores and limits sebum production,’ he continues. ‘While some may experience a period of “purging”, where acne symptoms are temporarily worsened, it will lead to clearer skin in the long run and can even help to reduce old acne scars.’

It can also remedy those few too many SPF-free summer days by tackling hyperpigmentation (dark patches on the skin caused by sun damage) and lightening sun spots.

The Best Retinol Products for Men

There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to shopping for retinol products. This, Jarvie-Thomas says, ‘can make it quite confusing to know which retinol to choose as there are so many with a variety of different strengths and formulations’.

Because choosing one depends on your skin’s reactivity and any previous experience with retinol, Jarvie-Thomas recommends to ‘start with a low concentration product from a brand you trust and build up gradually’.

Kidd similarly stresses the importance of considering potency and formulation when selecting your first retinol. ‘Retinol comes in various forms, including pure retinol, retinol esters, and retinol derivatives like retinyl palmitate,’ he says. ‘The concentration of retinol in a product dictates its efficacy and potential for irritation.’

If you’re new to retinol, or have sensitive skin, Kidd recommends trying lower concentrations at first and to gradually increase the potency in order to minimise the potential side effects.

Here’s a combination of our expert’s recommendations, plus a few products from brands our editors back.

The Ordinary Retinol 1% In Squalane

A high-strength retinol serum that targets general signs of skin aging.

Retinol 1% in Squalane offers a water-free solution containing 1% retinol—an ingredient that improves the appearance of fine and dynamic lines that arise from a loss of collagen and elastin, while evening skin texture and tone. 

What’s more, this expert-level formula is supported with squalane, a moisturising agent naturally found in your skin that enhances surface-level hydration . 

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

For those with spot-prone or sensitive skin, CeraVe will be a brand that needs no introduction.

Formulated with those users in mind, this Resurfacing Retinol Serum is designed to reduce the appearance of marks and pores on acne prone skin.

It also utilises niacinamide to help to calm the skin and prevent redness and irritation, while the addition of ceramides helps to restore and maintain the skin’s natural barrier.

Skin Functional Retinol

A skin perfecting Retinol serum that improves skin’s surface as it treats signs of sun damage, rough texture, wrinkles, and surface imperfections. Retinol is an inherently unstable ingredient and is typically dissolved in oil to maintain it’s stability.

0.5% Retinol is a well tolerated, stable formulation which can be used by a wider range of skin types.

A powerful therapy without the inherent oiliness of conventional Retinol therapies.

Exuviance Retinol Serum

Exuviance Retinol Serum is a unique serum-like Retinol that reverses signs of ageing, revealing a smoother skin texture and tone together with a more youthful complexion. Suitable for early signs of ageing.

Key ingredients include 0.3% pure stabilised Retinol helps to build natural collagen, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, and helps plump and firm the skin. Hyaluronic Acid intensifies the skin’s hydrating matrix for a firmer look. 

Neutrogena Retinol Boost Serum

This lightweight, silky serum delivers Pure Retinol within skin’s surface to effectively fight multiple visible signs of ageing for visibly younger, healthy-looking skin.

Pure Retinol is a dermatologist-proven form of Vitamin A. This powerful ingredient is scientifically proven to increase collagen production & surface skin cells’ renewal to fight fine lines and dullness.

Yearn Skin Retinol Renew Serum

This Retinol Renew Serum is the ultimate solution for those seeking anti-ageing benefits, a reduction in the appearance of dark marks, and acne management. Whether you’re dealing with fine lines, hyperpigmentation and oil control.

Their fragrance-free formula harnesses the power of retinol, a proven ingredient in the fight against ageing. It helps minimise the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

How To Start Using Retinol

So now you’ve bought your retinol, how do you use it? ‘With patience and diligence,’ says Kidd. Sounds ominous…

‘Begin by using retinol products a few times a week, gradually increasing frequency as tolerated by your skin,’ he says. ‘It’s essential to apply retinol to clean, dry skin in the evening, followed by a moisturiser to lock in hydration and reduce dryness.’ That’s so you minimise the possibility of irritation and maximise the retinol’s effectiveness.

Jarvie-Thomas also recommends proceeding with caution at first and to gradually build up to more regular use. ‘It’s a good idea to introduce retinol slowly so your skin can get used to it,’ he says. ‘I recommend starting with using the product twice a week at night.’

Retinol can also increase your skin’s photosensitivity – leaving it more vulnerable to sun damage. Applying a sunscreen or SPF at the end of your skincare routine is something that both of our experts therefore advise. In fact, you should be applying SPF daily regardless.

You could also consider layering retinol with a hyaluronic acid, says Jarvie-Thomas. ‘They work well together because whilst retinol can cause dryness, hyaluronic acid is a potent hydrating ingredient.

READ MORE: How to Detox Your Skin After Overdoing the Alcohol, Sweets & Salt

Side Effects of Retinol

If you’ve followed the above tips, you should be on a clear path towards even clearer looking skin. But depending on how your body reacts to retinol, you may experience some side effects to negotiate along the way.

‘While retinol is celebrated for its transformative effects, it can also cause temporary side effects, especially during the initial stages of use,’ says Kidd. ‘Common side effects include dryness, flakiness, redness, and mild irritation, particularly in individuals with sensitive skin.’

The good news is that these side effects typically stop as your skin adjusts. ‘Some people’s skin doesn’t agree with it and sensitivity to vitamin A varies widely,’ says Jarvie-Thomas. ‘Common side effects are dryness, flaking and irritation, which will usually subside once your skin gets used to it. Some people also notice acne flare ups when first using it, but again, these should calm down as your skin gets used to it.’

Regardless, Kidd emphasises the importance of always starting slowly with retinol and incorporating moisturisers and sunscreen into your routine to minimise the likelihood of irritation and sun sensitivity.

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