What is Retinol and How Do You Use it?

What is Retinol and How Do You Use it?

What is Retinol and How Do You Use it?

First things first, what is retinol? We hear this term a lot and we are advised to use it as part of our skincare routine. And yet, the term itself is not as simple as “overnight cream” or “cucumber face mask”. It’s important to understand what you are applying to your skin instead of following skincare trends that you see on social media. So that being said, let’s understand what retinol is.


The term “retinol” comes from a synthesized product known as “retinoid”. Retinoids are a family of compounds derived from Vitamin A.1 In other words, retinoids are not extracted from one source and are not a natural product. While retinoids are usually prescribed due to their strong components, over the counter retinal is an option as it is less concentrated than retinoids.


Even if retinol is less concentrated than retinoid, you shouldn’t underestimate its potential. Its chemical properties are still strong enough to harm your skin if you don’t take the proper precautions. For instance, if you are new to using retinol, it’s advised to use it once or twice a week in order to build your skin’s tolerance for it. “If you’re overusing your retinol, or if you’re using a retinol that’s too strong for you, it can lead to peeling, irritation, and excessive dryness, which may have led to retinol’s association with skin thinning,” says Dr. Icreamwala of Icreamwala Dermatology in Berkely California.2

Once retinol is applied, it will submerge under the surface of your skin and begin to neutralize unstable molecules that damage skin cells. This is a complicated process, so let’s try to simplify it.


  • Oxidation
  • When oxygen atoms lose an electron, they become “free radicals”
  • This process is called oxidation
  • Oxidation occurs daily and can be amplified due to external factors such as your environment and pollutants


  • Free Radicals
  • Free radicals will steal electrons from healthy atoms in order to neutralize themselves
  • Causing harm to healthy atoms breaks down the DNA of the skin3
  • Damage to the skin occurs as wrinkles, sagging, pigmentation, and other skin concerns3


  • Antioxidants
  • Free radicals can be neutralized by binding with antioxidants
  • Antioxidants deliver the missing electrons to damaged atoms
  • Vitamins A, C, and E are well known antioxidants
  • Retinols include a high dose of Vitamin A



Now that you have a clear understanding of how retinols work, it’s time to know how to use them.  After applying retinol to a clean face, you should apply a moisturizer to keep your skin from drying. Because retinol balances out “free radicals” in the skin, it causes new skin cells to develop and get’s rid of old skin layers. Thus, it’s not only important to keep your skin moisturized, but also necessary to use sunscreen daily. New skin cells are more sensitive to UV rays and are more prone to sun damage. Improperly using retinol can cause more damage to the skin than when you started using it. However, with proper use and care, you will be delighted to see healthy, glowing skin.





1 The Ultimate Guide to Natural Retinol

2 Does Retinol Have a Dark Side

3 The Breakdown of Free Radicals On Your Skin.