Science has confirmed exactly who should be using retinol... and who shouldn't.

Retinol is a fan favourite in the skincare realm. So many of us use it too... but should we be? And do we actually know what we're putting on our face?

We asked science and skincare experts about all things retinol, including which specific groups of people should avoid products with this vitamin A derivative in them.

Wait rewind... what is retinol again?

Professor Murray Cairns is a Professor at the University of Newcastle, and the head of Hunter Medical Research Institute's Precision Medicine research program. He has a new paper published in relation to retinol and its relationship to human health.

"Retinol is a form of vitamin A, and this is an incredibly important vitamin that comes in several forms," he explains to Mamamia

"It goes deep into your cells and can have a big impact on the development of humans, whether it's the eyes, bones, brain health or immune system. And then one additional area of impact obviously is the skin."

Retinoids have been used in dermatology since the 1940s, so it's nothing new when it comes to skincare. But collectively as consumers, our fascination with this ingredient has drastically risen.

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Video via Mamamia.

What can retinol do for our skin when used correctly?

Retinol is a type of retinoid used in over-the-counter products instead of prescription tretinoin. Over the counter retinol products are less intense than prescription products and 'work more gradually,' but they still deliver on results with consistent use, says Dr Prasanthi Purusothaman, a General Practitioner and Cosmetic Doctor.

She says the benefits of retinol when used correctly are great.

They include an increase in skin cell turnover, an anti-comedogenic effect, the thickening of the epidermis and a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles. Two extra fun benefits are an increase in blood supply (therefore a subsequent glow to the skin) and also the fading of hyperpigmentation. 

What can be the negative effects of retinol?

"There is definitely such a thing as too much retinol for our bodies," says Professor Cairns.

Sensitivity can occur when the body is overwhelmed by too much vitamin A or too strong a level of it.

Skin-related symptoms can be peeling, stinging, burning, redness and dryness. Graded introduction and a stepwise approach can help mitigate this as well as techniques like sandwiching the retinol with moisturiser to buffer the active amount getting through to the skin, notes Dr Purusothaman.

"People with a history of sensitive skin should approach retinol use cautiously, steadily and systematically. The most important thing is consistency over potency, if you are not able to use a stronger percentage of retinol you are better off on a milder percentage and using it more frequently than irritating the skin."

Who should be avoiding using retinol?

Interestingly, retinol is great for anyone to introduce into their skincare regime from their late 20s to early 30s onwards. By this point in our lives we are losing collagen at a rate of one to two per cent a year.


It can also be really beneficial for those younger dealing with acne prone skin. But there are conditions to this.

"There are appropriate contexts where individuals may start retinoids at a younger age, such as teens suffering with acne (usually starting with prescription options) or hyperpigmentation related conditions like melasma. However, increasing skin cell turnover prematurely in tween and teen skin may increase susceptibility to sun damage from UV radiation," explains Dr Purusothaman. 

"Normal skin when young already does a fantastic job at cycling and collagen levels are robust, so retinols are not really conferring much benefit."

Lots of parents lately have been speaking on their frustrations over their kids' obsessions with skincare.

Go into any beauty retailer at the moment and chances are you'll find a tween of some description in the store, wishing to buy a very fancy (and very potent) skincare cream or potion. Aged 13 and younger, these tweens have acquired a taste for high-end beauty. Brands like Drunk Elephant, Summer Fridays, Rare Beauty, Charlotte Tilbury, Glow Recipe and more, the young skincare users showcasing their shopping hauls via TikTok.

"The best thing parents can do for children is encourage simple non complicated routines that prioritise moisturising, cleansing and sunscreen use and a less is more approach," Dr Purusothaman tells Mamamia


"It is hard with social media, many teens following creators older than them and very impressionable, wanting to use and try the products they discuss and promote as they aspire to these creators, and I don't blame them. Even I have purchased fancy fluffy skincare and been 'influenced' only to have to bring things back to basics."

For effective and inexpensive drug store brands that are safer for tween and teen skin, Dr Purusothaman recommends CeraVe, Cetaphil, La Roche Posay, Avene and The Ordinary. If acne is a concern and a teen wishes to try a retinoid-based product, then it's best to speak to a doctor so not to further irritate their delicate skin.

Professor Cairns notes another group that should avoid retinol products all together — pregnant women.

"When you think about the first trimester of a pregnancy, if you have too much vitamin A in your system that can have an impact on the baby. It can change the way in which the fetus' brain develops. It is something that should only be used under the medical supervision, especially pregnant women."

Ultimately, it's great that many of us are seeking out information when it comes to retinol.

But the experts say the interpretation of that information often requires nuance. 

So if anyone under 25 is thinking of trying a retinol-based product... it could do your skin more harm than good.

Feature Image: Getty.

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