Literally every question you've ever had about retinol, answered.

Retinol is one of those skincare ingredients that sounds 11/10 scary, which might be why you've put off using it in your skincare routine. But guys, it's not actually all that bad. It's actually very very good. And we don't want to jinx it - but we reckon you could be great mates.

To help you become acquainted with one another, we're going to give you a rundown on everything you need to know about this powerhouse anti-aging ingredient.

Let's go!

Listen to Mamamia's podcast for your face, You Beauty, where host Leigh Campbell reveals the product that makes eye bags disappear. Post continues below. 

What is retinol?

*Puts on lab coat*. Retinol is a form of vitamin A and is a powerful anti-aging ingredient that works to promote skin cell regeneration and increase collagen production - the side effects of this rude thing called 'ageing'. 

In the words of an *actual* skin professional, "Retinol is the gold-standard of all skin care ingredients."

"It improves the luminosity of the skin by accelerating the skin-renewal process and enhancing the collagen production (which starts to decline in your 30s)," explained skin practitioner Sarah Hudson from Skin By Sarah Hudson.

So, how does it work? Well, according to Dr Giulia D'Anna from Dermal Distinction, "When applied to the skin retinol helps to break up the dead skin cells sitting on the surface, gently breaking apart the 'glue' or bonds that hold the skin together."


Okay, that's pretty neat! What kind of benefits will I see?

Retinol is a freak. It's crazy effective (which is why you see it in SO many different products) and it works wonders at unclogging pores, reducing fine lines, promoting cell turnover, evening out skin tone and texture, *breathes*, softening your skin and just generally making you look like a newborn baby. Swoon!

"The main benefit of retinol is that it speeds up the skin cell cycle. When skin cells come off the top of the skin, chemical messengers are sent to the bottom skin-producing layer to speed up production. This pushes skin from the bottom up through to the top at a quicker pace," said Dr D'Anna.

Basically, retinol helps shed off old skin cells and encourage newer, fancier skin to come through. "The skin looks less pigmented as the old dark cells are lost. The skin is brighter, more luminous and also holds more moisture." This means all of your moisturisers and serums can actually get in and do their job!

And if you suffer from acne or regular flare-ups, Dr D'Anna says you're in for a good time. "The bacteria and skin cells holding the sebum (oil) in are shed more frequently, meaning less breakouts." Hooray!

What's the go with the different strengths?

"Retinol comes in different strengths depending on the formulation, which may be a serum or a cream," said Hudson. "Prescription retinol will be prescribed by your doctor."

"Other retinol derivatives that don’t require a prescription such as retinyl palmitate, retinal acetate are more gentle (but weaker, too). There are also some excellent mimicking retinol ingredients such as Bakuchiol, which helps to improve skin firmness and elasticity and repair signs of ageing."


If you are a beginner, Hudson says to start with a lower percentage product. "Each time you need to purchase a new retinol, slowly increase the strength. This will ensure you don’t see a reaction in your skin."

How do I incorporate it into my routine?

Let us just stare at you uncomfortably for a whole minute to remind you that retinol is NOT a case of more is more. Like, at all. You should NOT be slapping this stuff on your face willy nilly, cause it'll make your skin flip out. We're talking redness, flakiness, itchiness and all of those other fun things we don't want for your cute face.

This is a powerful ingredient and should be used with care. Dr D'Anna said, "Retinol or vitamin A is best used at night. This is because when we lose some skin cells, our skin is a little more sensitive to the sun."

"I usually recommend that clients use the mildest form of vitamin every third night, and then move to every second, and finally every night (if their skin shows no irritation). It is all based around letting the skin catch up to the removal of dead skin cells." 

A hot tip? "When applying retinol, wait five minutes before applying other skincare to ensure your retinol product has absorbed into the skin effectively," said Hudson.

Where can I find it?

There are SO many great products out there in this category. But when there's around 7,674930 creams with 'retinol' slapped on the front, it can be hella confusing to know which ones are good. If you want help with deciding what's what, here's a little peek at our fave savey and spendy options:


Olay Retinol24 Night Serum, $35.99

This anti-ageing serum is the perfect option for those who don't want to drop of heap of money (read: all of us). It's formulated with a bio-available retinoid complex and niaciniamide (also known as vitamin B3) and works to visibly improve fine lines and wrinkles, reduce the appearance of pores and dark spots. bottle is sold every three minutes in Australia! #nobiggie.

Olay Retinol Serum. 


Medik8 Retinol 3TR Intense, $82

For a bougie option, Medik8 Retinol 3TR Intense is where it's all at. Containing a cute 0.3 percent retinol, it's great for those new to the retinol game. It’s also formulated with squalene – a super hydrating ingredient that helps keep the skin’s natural defence barrier in good nick. 

Medik8 Intense Retinol


Feature image: Getty

Have you tried retinol before? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comment section below.

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