Retinol/Vitamin A – Is it really worth the hype?

Retinol is arguably the most researched and clinically proven anti-ageing skincare product on the market. Brands such as Obagi and Environ which are Retinol based have had huge success due to the effectiveness of the product, but is all Retinol the same?

Surprise, surprise…the answer is no! This blog is to help explain Retinol strengths, normal reactions and what to expect from this super anti-ageing ingredient!

How does Retinol work on the skin?

It basically wakes the skin up and gets it to work in a way that it did when it was younger! It stimulates cells turnover and encourages desquamation (the shedding of surface dead skin cells). This process slows down as we age and can lead to dull looking skin and premature ageing. By stimulating new cell formation, skin is strengthened and collagen formation is stimulated resulting in a more youthful complexion.


What will happen when I start using Retinol?

It will depend on the percentage you start on as to how severe your skin reacts. Typical responses to Retinol are skin peeling/flaking, redness and feeling sensitive. The skin will become tolerant to Retinol, but it takes some time. My advice to clients would be to start using it twice a week e.g. a Monday and a Thursday. Your skin will not start peeling the day after you start using it, don’t see this as a bad thing and use it more than recommended! Skin peeling normally starts 3-4 days after the first application. Carry on applying it in this way for a couple of weeks. You’ll start to find the reactions become less severe and then you can begin to increase using it 3 times a week and so on. A lot of people will assume that they are having a reaction when the peeling starts but it is completely normal and worth dealing with for the results.

My skin response after 5 days using 0.5% Retinol continuously

Is Retinol on the high street the same as in clinic?

No! As always, high street brands have caught wind of the fact that Retinol is now a buzz word, so it’s ‘added it to their products’. What you need to be aware of is that not everybody is suitable to use Retinol and it needs to be managed by a practitioner that can give you advice on how to use it.

On the high street anybody and everybody can pick up a product, buy it and start using it without direction! Given the normal reaction to Retinol, high street brands can not risk a big group of angry women with flaky skin shouting at them! I’ve said it before and I will say it until I am blue in the face…don’t waste your money on high street brands! Go to a clinic for cosmeceutical skincare that will actually make a difference to your skin.

Is all Retinol the same?

Retinol comes in many different strengths, typically 0.2% – 1% that can be used without prescription. 0.2% will not normally get a visible shedding effect on the skin. Some clients (especially people who have never used it before) will get some peeling with a 0.5% Retinol, this is a good place to start for someone who is a Retinol virgin.

1% will give a visible flaking reaction, if you’ve never used it before this should originally be used once a week in the evening just on its own or can be used twice a week initially combined with another product to reduce its reaction.

It will take quite a while for someone to become completely tolerant to a 1% Retinol (meaning that they can use it everyday with no visible skin shedding). At this stage you can look at moving up to Tretinoin which is a more potent form of vitamin A. This is typically used for acne scarring, pigmentation or for more mature clients who want faster results.

How long will it take to see results?

It will depend on the strength of the product, amount it is used and the way that it’s used, e.g. used on its own or combined with other products. The lower the strength the longer it will take to see results, probably several months. For 1% retinols or Tretinoin, results can be seen in as little as 6 weeks!

My top pick:

I am biased because of the products that I’ve worked with in clinic. There are a lot of good brands out there, but my absolute favourite would have to be the ZO range.

It’s potent but the results are incredible! They have a wide range of products to suit your lifestyle with lower level products if you can’t bare the thought of peeling and higher level for those of us that like to go hard core for faster results!

Click here for a link to their website and where to find a provider.

Top tips

-Don’t give up! If the flaking is getting too much, then reduce the frequency of usage or combine it with a small amount of another product to reduce the reaction

-Use a light exfoliator to aid in the shedding process and a hydrator such as B5 gel or hyaluronic acid to aid hydration 

-If you have an event, stop using the Retinol 4 days before and the flaking should subside, just make sure you get straight back on it afterwards!

-The more you use it, the faster you will become tolerant to it. If you keep stopping and starting your skin will never get tolerant

– This is about the closest thing you’ll ever get to a ‘magic cream’ just remember to go to a clinic where they will be able to advise you and track your progress!

If you have any questions or would like any suggestions on clinics in your area feel free to contact me.

Thank you for reading



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