how retinol works skincare

May 10, 2021

How Retinol Works for Skin Care

There are many skin care products on the market that claim to turn back the hands of time, but retinol is the key ingredient in many anti-aging products because of its proven track record for effectiveness. Used in products since the 1970’s, retinol for skin offers a host of benefits to fight the signs of aging. Retinol can be found in several different kinds of skin care products, including moisturizers, eye creams, oil, and serums, as well as some peels.

What is Retinol?

Retinol is an alcohol formulation of vitamin A and assists in the functions that are associated with the vitamin and its benefits to the skin. This metabolite turns into the active form, retinoic acid, when it is absorbed into the skin. Our skin cells have receptors for retinoic acid and once they bind together, they increase the effectiveness of this vitamin. The result is faster skin cell turnover, support of collagen production, and a reduction in hyperpigmentation. Retinol for skin care is usually found in concentrations between 0.1% and 1%.

Retinol is one of several types of retinoids, a general name that includes all vitamin A derivatives. Retinoic acid does not need to go through any conversions to be effective, however, so it is acts faster than other retinoids.

How Does Retinol Work?

The alcohol group in the retinol molecule is oxidated to form aldehyde which is further oxidized to form retinoic acid. The retinoic acid, or byproduct of vitamin A or retinol is used by the body. Since the body is unable to produce vitamin A on its own, it must be absorbed through diet.  The body uses retinol for several processes including growth, inflammation, and cell regulation.

When applied topically, retinol improves the appearance of the skin in several ways. As we get older, collagen production decreases. Retinol for skin inhibits the production of collagenase, which is an enzyme that breaks down collagen. By preventing collagen from degrading, skin appears firmer, and lines and wrinkles are lessened. Topical retinoic acid can increase collagen in photoaged skin by as much as 80% and thicken skin which makes fine lines lessened.

Retinol for skin care can also support quicker skin growth. The skin cycle usually takes about 28 days from the formation of a cell to when the cell sheds off.  As we age, this process slows down which can lead to dry, dull-looking skin with poor texture and tone. Retinol can speed up the process, so skin is fuller and more youthful in appearance. And because it acts as an exfoliator, retinol gets rid of dead skin cells and forms a protective barrier to prevent moisture loss. Since the cells regenerate more rapidly with its regular use, this can improve aging skin and decrease dark spots and blemishes.

What Does Retinol Do for Your Skin?

Retinoids are known to be one of the most powerful ingredients for topical applications. Instead of simply removing dead cells on the surface like other anti-aging products, the small molecules of retinol go beneath the epidermis to the dermis. Once in the dermis, the retinol goes to work boosting the production of elastin and collagen to create a plumper look.

It is a powerful skin care ingredient because it has a host of benefits that is backed by scientific research.  Studies indicate that vitamin A can help to reduce fine lines, pigmentation issues, and can improve skin cell turnover.  Retinol for skin care benefits the user in the following ways:

  • Gives Skin a Fuller Appearance: Retinol thickens the deeper layers of skin and allows the skin to retain more water. This improves the look of fine lines and wrinkles and gives the skin a fuller look.
  • Supports the Treatment of Acne: It can assist the functions of oil glands which helps control acne. And it gets rid of the dead skin cells that might be clogging pores.
  • Limits Damage Done by Free Radicals: The damage done by environmental factors like the sun can be reversed with the consistent use of retinol.
  • Reduces Signs of Aging: Retinol binds to the retinoid receptors of the skin which increases collagen and elastin production. Fine lines and wrinkles are diminished to reflect youthful skin.
  • Improves Skin Texture: Dead skin cells do not shed as rapidly the older we get.  The accumulation of dead cells on the surface of the skin causes rough texture and uneven skin tone. Retinol thins the topmost layer of the skin which improves both the tone and the texture.
  • Boosts Cell Regeneration and Elastin Production: This antioxidant increases cell turnover which promotes younger looking skin. It also strengthens elastin leading to firmer skin.

Although the aging process of the skin depends on genetic and environmental factors, retinol has been shown to reduce these signs in most people for younger looking skin.

Types of Retinol in Skin Care Products

Some skin care products use encapsulated retinol as an ingredient, which is delivered to the skin in a different way. It is protected at a microscopic level, so the delivery of the retinol is measured. This can help minimize skin irritation when using this ingredient. Another form of retinol is vegan or natural retinol. These are considered ‘plant-based’ sources and also may be less irritating to the skin.

Whatever type of retinol ingredient is in the skin care product, it is important to look at the strength of the concentration. While 1%-1.5% is the highest concentration allowed in the ingredient, the guidelines for the encapsulation form of retinol allows for higher percentages (2.5%) in formulas. If the percentage of retinol in the product is not on the packaging, the higher it falls on the list of ingredients the more of it is in the product.  Those with sensitive skin should look for skin care products that have retinol levels between .025% and 1%.

Who Can Use Retinol?

Retinol can be used for all skin types, although it can cause irritation and sensitivity for some users. Therefore, for it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Those with sensitive skin should add retinol into their skincare routine slowly and look for products with a lower concentration of the ingredient to start. People who have sensitive skin conditions like rosacea are not candidates for retinols because their skin does not tolerate it well.

Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use retinols as the effects are not entirely known on this cohort. Users who are planning to get pregnant or are pregnant should discuss the use of retinol with their doctor depending on their medical history.

How to Use Retinol?

While retinol is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for topical use, it does have a few side effects such as redness, itchiness, and peeling skin. The side effects are often temporary and will resolve in a few weeks as the skin adjusts to the ingredient.

Because retinol can be irritating, it is important to start slowly so there is minimal redness or flaking. The product should be applied once or twice a week on clean, dry skin and then can be increased as the skin adjusts to it. Retinol should be used at night because it can break down with sun exposure.

Retinol works most effectively when used sparingly. If skin is sensitive to the retinol, the frequency of use can be decreased, or it can be left on the skin for a shorter period of time and washed off. The skin will still benefit from the retinol and the time left on the skin can be increased gradually. Using a moisturizer can help combat any sensitivity to the ingredient. Some users alternate between a night where retinol skin care products are used and a night where a moisturizer with hydration or an oil-based serum is used.

When adding retinol products to a skin care routine, sunscreen must be used daily. This is particularly important when using retinoids for hyperpigmentation because the sun will make the condition worse. It can also increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV rays, which makes the skin more prone to burning.

What are the Expected Results of Retinol for Skin Care?

Results from retinol do not happen overnight.  Rather, it can take between three to six months of consistent use before improvements are seen. Skin texture and toning starts to improve at about two months and continues to get better. It usually takes six to 12 months for peak results.  Users should be patient to see the results from this powerful ingredient but consistent use of retinol at night and sunscreen during the day will help keep skin looking younger longer.

With the many benefits that retinol for skin provides, it is a powerful skin care ingredient. An experienced skin care manufacturer will ensure the levels of retinol are appropriate for the type of product. Please contact Evora today if you are interested in adding a product with retinol to your skin care line.

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