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Everything You Need to Know About Retinol | Weirdskin

If there is one skincare active that deserves to be called “the miracle” skincare ingredient, it is retinol. If you have not heard of this amazing skincare ingredient, by the end of this post you will want to try it out, as it is one of the most effective actives there is in the beauty industry.

Gentle Retinol Cream from skincare brand Good Molecules.

With years of scientific research to back it up, retinol is one of dermatologists’ favorite active ingredients, and that’s because it does it all! From acne, wrinkles, and fine lines to hyperpigmentation, retinol seems to be the solution to every skincare issue… or almost. So, dive deep into this incredible active and learn how it can benefit your skin.

What is Retinol?

Retinol belongs to a class of actives called “retinoids” which are derivative forms of vitamin A. Why derivatives? That’s because vitamin A in its active form is called retinoic acid, retinol is a subtype of retinoid that when applied to the skin goes through a conversion process to turn into retinoic acid and bind with retinoic acid receptors in our skin cells to trigger certain processes. 


Retinol works to even skin tone, treat mild to moderate forms of hyperpigmentation, improve skin texture, improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and help treat acne. It is milder than other retinoids and generals come with fewer side effects.

Difference Between Retinol and Retinoids

The main difference between retinol and other types of retinoids is that it is gentler on the skin and produces fewer side effects. Retinoids in general work by speeding up cell turnover which leads to the skin shedding faster. Retinoids due to their potency can be harsh on the skin and cause side effects like skin irritations, peeling, dryness, redness, etc. 


Depending on the steps it takes for a retinoid to convert to retinoic acid, it will be milder or harsher. In the case of retinol, it takes two conversions (retinol> retinal > retinoic acid) to get to retinoic acid. 


This means that retinol is weaker and more mild on the skin than retinal and retinoic acid. While retinol has fewer side effects than its stronger counterparts, this also means it may take more time to produce significant results. This does not however mean that it is best to jump straight into using higher-strength retinoids. 

Types of Retinol

While retinol is considered a mild retinoid, it may still be too harsh for people who have very sensitive skin. As such there exist retinol derivatives that are gentler on the skin however, keep in mind that the milder the retinol is the more time it will take for results to appear. Knowing which form of retinol a product contains will help you set realistic expectations in terms of results.


Synthetic retinol derivatives, also known as retinol esters, are modified forms of retinol. They are designed to be more stable and less irritating, making them suitable for sensitive skin and over-the-counter skin care products. Here are some common synthetic retinol derivatives:

Retinyl Palmitate: 

This is a milder form of retinol, combined with palmitic acid. It's commonly used in over-the-counter anti-aging and skin-renewing products. Retinyl palmitate is converted into retinol by skin enzymes, and then into retinoic acid, providing gentle, gradual effects in reducing fine lines, improving texture, and boosting radiance.

Retinyl Acetate: 

Another ester of retinol, retinyl acetate, is combined with acetic acid. It's less potent than pure retinol but still effective in rejuvenating skin and improving signs of aging. It's suitable for those with sensitive skin or those new to retinoids.

Retinyl Linoleate: 

This is a derivative formed by combining retinol with linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid. It offers the benefits of retinol, such as improving the appearance of fine lines and uneven skin tone, but with reduced potential for irritation.

Retinyl Propionate: 

This derivative is known for its anti-aging properties. Retinyl propionate is less irritating than pure retinol and is effective in improving skin texture, reducing the appearance of wrinkles, and promoting a more even skin tone.

Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate: 

A newer retinoid derivative, this compound is considered more effective and less irritating than traditional forms of retinol. It binds directly to retinoid receptors in the skin, offering anti-aging benefits like reduced wrinkles and improved skin texture without the usual irritation associated with retinoids.

Retinyl Retinoate: 

A hybrid molecule combining retinol and retinoic acid, retinyl retinoate is designed to offer the benefits of both ingredients. It's more stable and less irritating than pure retinol, making it effective for anti-aging purposes and suitable for sensitive skin.


These synthetic retinol derivatives are typically found in over-the-counter skin care products. They are often preferred for their stability, reduced potential for irritation, and gradual effectiveness, making them a popular choice for those with sensitive skin or those new to retinoid-based skincare. 

Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum

How do you Use Retinol?

Just like all skincare actives, how to use retinol will first and foremost depend on the type of product it comes in. It is most common to find retinol in leave-on products such as serums, spot treatments, creams, oils, and ointments. This is because you need the active to actually stay on your skin and get absorbed properly. 

  • Always apply your retinol serum or cream strictly at night. This is important as using retinol increases the risk of sun-induced hyperpigmentation if applied during the day. 

  • For newbies, start with using retinol once or twice a week and build your tolerance gently. Retinol will most likely cause you some purging, so make sure to start slow and increase the frequency once your skin is up for it. 

  • Never apply your retinol-based product on wet skin. This will increase the risk of irritation, as wet skin increases the skin’s absorption rate and may result in skin irritation. 

  • To prevent retinol from drying out your skin, you can apply it using the “sandwich method”. This entails applying your moisturizer first, then following your retinol treatment, and then a final layer of moisturizer. Your moisturizer will act as a buffer.

  • Apply only a pea-sized amount to your skin. Too much product may overstimulate your skin and irritate it.

  • Do not use retinol in the same routine as strong exfoliants. This will increase the risk of irritation.

  • Make sure to wear sunscreen religiously to protect freshly regenerated skin from UV-induced inflammation and hyperpigmentation.

Uses and Benefits of Retinol in Skincare

  • Acne Treatment

Retinol is an oil-based molecule that easily gets absorbed into the skin’s pores to speed up the skin renewal process. This helps unclog pores overloaded with excess sebum to clear acne. However, retinol being one of the weakest retinoids may be suitable mostly for mild acne. 

  • Hyperpigmentation or Melasma Treatment

If you struggle with dark spots, uneven skin tone, melasma, or other forms of hyperpigmentation, retinol should be in your routine. By speeding skin rejuvenation, retinol fades away hyperpigmentation and melasma, revealing a more even and radiant complexion. Retinol inhibits the production of tyrosine, an enzyme essential to the production of melanin, and equally facilitates the absorption of other depigmenting treatments like hydroquinone and azelaic acid for more effective results.

  • Wrinkles Treatment

Retinol is mostly known for its anti-aging benefits due to its capacity to stimulate collagen production in the skin. In a comparative study, retinol was found to be as effective as retinoic acid in improving wrinkles in participants after 12 weeks. In another one-year study, 0.1% retinol was found effective in improving photodamaged skin with improvements in the appearance of crow feet lines, mottled pigmentation, and increased collagen and hyaluronan levels in the skin. 

  • Stretch Marks Treatment

While stretch marks can be fully reversed, retinol has the benefit of improving their appearance on the skin. Stretch marks occur as a result of micro-tears when the skin is stretched, caused by the rupture of collagen and elastin. This means they are micro scars and like most scars, vitamin A stimulates collagen which plays a role in wound healing and firming the skin. Using retinol on your stretch marks will help fade the appearance of these micro tears, but will not make them go away completely. You will have to stick to looking at the glass as half full.

Side effects of Retinol

Here are the potential side effects (often referred to as purging) you are likely to experience when starting with retinol for the first time ;

  • Tingling or burning sensation

  • Irritation, tiny bumps of sensitive areas of the skin 

  • Redness

  • Flakiness or dryness

  • Huge acne break-outs

How to Handle the Side Effects of Retinol

Most of the side effects listed above will go away within the first 3–4 weeks of use, so you will need to be patient. Here are a few tips on how to handle the side effects; 

  • Make sure you have hydrating products in your routine to prevent any dryness that may occur. I added a very hydrating serum called THE SKIN HOUSE WRINKLE SUPREME SERUM and although it is meant to be an anti-aging serum, it contains hydrating and soothing ingredients that keep my skin plump and moisturized.

  • Include soothing skincare products to calm down and deal with any inflammation and redness that may occur when using retinol. I am a huge fan of Korean toners because these products are hydrating and soothing to the skin.  The Anua 77% Soothing Toner worked wonders on my skin. I experienced so much redness around my nose when I started, and this product did away with all of that. 

  • When starting with retinol, I recommend switching to a moisturizer that also contains barrier-supporting ingredients like ceramides, peptides, hyaluronic acid, urea, panthenol, etc…

Who Should Not Use Retinol?

Retinol and other retinoids are generally advised against during pregnancy and breastfeeding due to potential risks to the baby. Individuals with highly reactive, sensitive skin may experience excessive dryness, redness, and irritation. This includes people dealing with skin disorders like eczema and rosacea, conditions that can be worsened by retinol.


Also, people using prescription-strength retinoids or other potent skincare medications should consult a dermatologist before adding retinol to their regimen to avoid over-treatment or adverse reactions. Finally, if you've had allergic reactions to other vitamin A derivatives, got sunburned, or have freshly waxed skin, it's wise to avoid retinol.

Best Retinol Products Recommendations

This product was my intro product to retinol, and I will always recommend it to all newbies. It is gentle causes little to no purging, and can be used up to 5x a week after your skin has built tolerance. Not only that but it is formulated with 0.01% retinol, which is a great place to start. 

The Press Restart is another great option for beginners, a gentle serum that pairs bakuchiol (a natural extract with properties close to that of retinol) and encapsulated retinol that slowly gets released throughout the day.

This budget-friendly serum is formulated with a well-stabilized form of retinol dosed at 1%, granactive retinoid (a gentle derivative of tretinoin), and squalane for skin hydration. 

FAQs

Can You Combine Retinol with Other Skincare Products?

Because of its potency, it is not advisable to pair retinol with strong order strong acids like vitamin C, AHAs and BHAs, and benzyo; peroxide. It is best to space the usage of such actives in your routine to avoid any risk of irritation.

How Much Retinol Should Go On My Face?

It is very important to note that you do not need to apply too much of a retinol product to benefit from its effects. A pea-sized amount is more than enough. Using too much of a product will only worsen the side effects.

Are Retinol and Tretinoin the Same?

Retinol and Tretinoin are both vitamin A derivatives but are two distinct molecules. Retinol is one of the weaker retinoids while tretinoin is a prescription-strength retinoid with more severe side effects. While retinol is commonly found in OTC products, tretinoin is mostly available in prescription for severe forms of acne.

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