Retinol 101

Three different retinol bottles lined up together

Whether you have an established skincare routine or you’re just getting started, there is one ingredient that works for just about any skin type: retinoids. Hailed as miracle workers for everything from wrinkles to acne, retinoids, which include retinol, should definitely have a permanent place in your skincare routine—and your bathroom counter. If you’ve never used retinol or other retinoids before, consider this your primer on one of our favorite skincare workhorses.

Retinol vs. Retinoids
Retinol is a retinoid. Retinoids are compounds derived from vitamin A. They include retinol, retinyl esters, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid. They work wonders on skin because they help visibly smooth the texture, improve the look of wrinkles and fine lines, and increase collagen production. The most powerful form, retinoic acid, is only available by prescription and can cause irritation, dermatitis, and other issues. Typically, retinol is less irritating, but it’s unstable and breaks down easily when exposed to light or air. Retinyl esters are milder, more stable retinoids and are often used in skin care.

Retinoids are best known for their anti-aging benefits, but they also help with dull, dry skin, and some users swear they’ve even helped clear up their acne or calm redness.

Do I Need a Prescription?
You’ll need a prescription to try retinoic acid. Don’t want to make an appointment? The lower concentrations found in over-the-counter retinoid products are effective for most skincare concerns and are typically easier on the skin.

What Strength Should I Use?
When choosing a retinoid, it’s all about the concentration. A higher concentration means more potent effects, but it can also mean more skin irritation.

If you’ve never used retinoids like retinol, it’s always best to start low and slow. Use a lower concentration (0.25 to 0.5 percent) and start by using the product every other day and then assess. If you’re loving your glow and not experiencing irritation, you can make retinoids part of your daily routine. Seeing red? Scale back to a lower concentration or skip another day in between applications to give your skin time to adjust.

If you have sensitive skin or have had trouble with retinoids in the past, look for a lower concentration or check out SuddenlySmooth Gentle RetinAll™. It contains a next-generation retinoid compound that offers hydrating benefits in addition to its anti-aging prowess. With a host of additional power-packed ingredients, the formula reduces the appearance of wrinkles, visibly lifts and brightens, and noticeably improves elasticity... all without harshness. Plus, it was developed with our Epidermal Cushioning Technology™, which allows for extra skin-comforting benefits.

How Should I Use It?
Think of retinoids as a staple in your skincare routine. They work well with other products and, when layered properly, give rapid results. Some people see a difference in their skin in the first week of using retinol or other retinoids. If you want the best results, however, your retinoid formula should become part of a skincare routine that revolves around healing and protection against future damage. Here are some of the products you should use with retinoids:

  • Sunscreen. Even if you prefer a minimal skincare routine, make sure you always pair retinoids with a daily sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, because they can make your skin more prone to sun damage.
  • Exfoliants. Exfoliation is key to revealing healthy skin. A gentle, chemical-based exfoliator, like glycolic or lactic acid, helps slough away dead skin cells, dirt, and oil. If you’re adding an exfoliant to your skincare routine with retinol or other retinoids, use it only once or twice weekly to start, while continuing to use your retinoid formula daily or every other day. If it’s a cleanser designed with gentleness in mind, start by using it once a day, then add a second use once your skin adjusts to your new routine. ComfortBead™ Cleanser includes dual-action exfoliants, and it’s gentle enough that you can use it twice a day.
  • Moisturizer. You may find you need more moisture when using a retinoid like retinol to help protect and hydrate your skin. Opt for a cream-based moisturizer and don’t hesitate to use a thicker night and eye cream. Look for products that contain hydrating ingredients like vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin.

When Should I Start?

In years past, retinol and other retinoids were utilized more for their anti-aging benefits. As such, it wasn’t always considered necessary until you were in your 30s or 40s. Of course, now we know that retinoids are a gold-standard ingredient for a wide range of skincare issues, so there’s no reason to wait. Instead, retinoids can actually help protect your skin from premature aging, so the best time to start is now. Whatever your age, you’ll see the benefits, and probably wonder why you didn’t start using retinoids sooner.

A series of RetinAll bottles on a grey background