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What does Retinol do for Skin?

To understand what is retinol good for, it's important to know its direct benefits. Learn about this powerhouse ingredient from our Kiehl's experts. Read here.


As retinol benefits the major concerns of virtually every skin type, it’s likely that you’ve heard of the efficacious ingredient. Searching for a retinol before and after can provide impressive and awe-inspiring results – with those who’ve committed to a retinol-rich routine able to gain visibly youthful, bright and blemish-free complexions.

Results-driven skincare routines may seem simple, but understanding how and when to use retinol can often prove complex. While the potency of this ingredient is what makes potential vitamin A benefits so powerful, it also affects how other skincare formulas and external stressors interact with skin. 

So, what is retinol good for? And how does it fit into your routine? To see how it can help in anti-ageing, brightening and plumping, we’ve compiled expert-informed guides specific to every type. Ahead, find out how best to implement this hero ingredient into your routine.

What is retinol for skin?

The starting point of any retinol formula for skincare is vitamin A. As New York dermatologist Dr Michelle Henry explains, “retinol is a vitamin A derivative that is involved with skin turnover and skin regulation.” Vitamin A has a unique ability to permeate the dermis, where collagen and elastin sit.

Retinol isn’t the only derivative used topically – retinoids such as tretinoin are also address concerns like skin ageing and acne-prone concerns. The clearest difference between these two skin-boosting compounds is the strength with which they affect skin. “When retinol encounters a cell, there are other enzymes required to get it to its most active state, which limits its potency” says Dr Henry. Conversely, retinoids are “closer to their active state”, making them incredibly potent but also sensitising skin and limiting which other ingredients (like vitamin C) can be used.

What does retinol do for your skin?

Retinol benefits so many skin concerns because of the relationship it has to our dermis. As an antioxidant it accelerates new cell growth – and is actually able to change how cells function. This renewed cell division can help to thicken the skin in the dermis, alongside the stimulation of collagen and elastin production.

Because of this multi-layered function, when asking ‘what does retinol serum do?’, the answer, as Dr Henry puts it, is “the holy grail of dermatological medications”. Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum – our efficacious renewal serum, refines and firms skin’s texture, visibly reduces wrinkles and helps to unclog pores. 


Retinol benefits for each skin type

Multi-step routines can be confusing, and considering which ingredients deserve their place is an important aspect of skincare. Different skin types are benefited most by different ingredients – but knowing how yours interact with each other helps to ensure you attain bright, healthy skin. In regard to retinol, Dr Henry says that “it has a multitude of uses. It attacks most of our concerns regarding skincare.”

To ensure your retinol before and after use achieves radiance, see how to apply it for your skin below.


Retinol benefits for sensitive skin

Those with sensitive skin should be cautious of vitamin A usage, as its potency may cause a rise in sensitivity. If you’re seeking to improve the appearance of skin pigmentation, fine lines or increase plumpness, opt for the less obtrusive derivative, retinol. The good news here is that it can be used alongside key sensitive skincare ingredients found in Centella Sensitive Facial Cleanser and Calendula Herbal Extract Toner.

How to apply retinol to sensitive skin: patience is key here. Dr henry suggests starting off “once or twice a week, especially if you are super sensitive”, and allowing your skin to become accustomed to it before increasing. If sensitivity continues to occur, this product may not be for you. 


Retinol benefits for dry skin

Because it exfoliates skin on a molecular level, retinol can be a game-changer for dry skin types. It’s encouragement of increased cell renewal means that you can address dullness and dead skin build ups, and achieve a brighter complexion both in look and feel. Because of its compound structure, best practice for when to use retinol excludes products that contain vitamin C or AHA/BHAs.   

How to apply retinol for dry skin: retinol is a drying ingredient, so it’s important to lift your moisture use alongside it. Dr Henry suggests using ‘the sandwich method’. This involves “putting your moisturiser on, then putting on your retinol and then moisturiser on top of that”. An intensely hydrating formula like Ultra Facial Moisturiser is best suited for this.


Retinol benefits for acne-prone skin

An excess of oiliness can be mitigated by retinol use, which helps to reduce breakouts and blemishes. More than that, retinol benefits acne-scarring by increasing cell renewal and thickening skin. Oily skin types can generally use their favourite products alongside retinol – just avoid overly exfoliative ingredients.

How to apply retinol for acne-prone skin:  As this ingredient dries skin, it’s important to maintain healthy hydration levels. To ensure oil-flow doesn’t reoccur, use an oil-free moisturiser alongside retinol like Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream.  


Loved this article? Read our complete guide to retinol for skin next.


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