What is Retinol? Breaking Down the Key Benefits

What is Retinol? Breaking Down the Key Benefits

There are many products available and a variety of ingredients used in skincare lines to help improve skin health or reduce the appearance of acne breakouts or fine lines and wrinkles. If you are looking for ways to improve your skin’s health and appearance, it is likely that you have explored the various products available and have run across frequently used ingredients. One ingredient commonly used in skincare products, anti-aging cream, is retinol. So what exactly is retinol? And how does it work with your skin? If you've ever asked yourself, “What does retinol do?”, you are not alone. There are many retinol benefits that are important to be aware of. The professionals at Kate Somerville have put together a foundational guide that delves into what retinol is, the top retinol skin benefits, and additional tips to help improve the appearance of your skin.


What is Retinol?

Retinol is a commonly used ingredient, but many people still do not know exactly what retinol is. At its base level, retinol is a form of Vitamin A. When placed on the skin's surface, it is converted into retinoic acid. This skincare ingredient is available in a wide variety of over-the-counter products. When looking at various products containing retinol, you may also run across the term retinoids. To understand which form and potency of retinoic acid are in the skincare product you are using and its associated potency, you must first understand the difference between retinol and retinoids.


The Difference Between Retinol and Retinoids

One nuance that can be confusing when looking at skincare products is the difference between retinol and retinoids. Are they the same thing? Are they different? In fact, retinol and its brand name productions like Retin-A are part of a family of drugs known as retinoids. This group of compounds consists of man-made derivatives of vitamin A which has a variety of benefits when used on the skin, which include helping to minimize the appearance of wrinkles and other signs of aging. 


The primary difference is that over-the-counter products contain a form of retinol in ester forms, which means that they are Vitamin A derivatives. Examples of retinol ester forms include retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, to name a few. When these forms of retinol are placed on the surface of the skin, they must be converted into retinoic acid by the skin in order for the skin to be able to utilize it. The strength of the retinol is based on how many conversions the ester form of retinol takes to get to the retinoic acid form. The more conversions the retinol takes to be converted into retinoic acid that the skin can use, the weaker it is. Prescription-based retinoids, such as RetinA or Tretinoin, have a much higher concentration of retinoic acid than over-thecounter retinol products. The primary difference between retinol and prescription-based retinoids is their potency and the amount of retinoic acid they contain. With continued use of either product, many individuals see an improvement in their skin, though there is an initial adjustment period in which the skin has to become tolerant to the effects of the retinol and/or retinoid products. With this understanding in mind, it is now possible to explore five of the key benefits of retinol.


The Top Benefits of Retinol

Retinol is a key ingredient in many skincare products because of the significant benefits it delivers the skin. Retinol is useful for many individuals to integrate into their regular skincare routine to help improve the appearance of their skin and their skin’s overall health. Below are the top benefits of using retinol as a part of your skincare routine.


Improves Skin Fullness

As we age, healthy skin loses some of its natural volume which contributes to the development of wrinkles and a face that looks hollower than it used to. This decline in volume typically begins in your early to mid-30s so the sooner you start to use retinol products, the more effective they will be. Fortunately, when you apply retinol topically, like with a retinol moisturizer, it helps to combat the appearance of wrinkles and hollowness by increasing the skin’s ability to retain moisture. As your skin becomes more hydrated, your face will appear fuller and the skin smoother.


Exfoliates the Skin

Retinol can also help to exfoliate healthy skin, unclogging pores and sloughing away dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Having clear pores allows other products to penetrate deeper into the skin, making them more effective. The benefits of exfoliation can also help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by buffing away the surface layers of skin, leaving fresher younger-looking skin exposed. Exposing these new layers of skin also aids in evening your complexion and minimizing the visibility of acne scarring.


Helps Soften Age Spots & Evens Skin Tone

Not only can retinol help to reduce the appearance of acne scars, but it can aid in visibly softening age spots while evening your skin tone and improving your complexion. Our Kate Somerville Skin Health Experts report that clinic clients with mild discoloration have seen a noticeable improvement after three to six months of regular use while more severe cases may require up to twelve months of use before you see significant results.


Tips for Using Retinol Products


As shown through the benefits above, retinol is one of the best anti-aging ingredients you can integrate into your skin routine. However, before doing so, it is important to be aware of some key tips for using retinol anti-aging products to ensure that they are as effective as possible and your skin experiences minimal irritation. Below are a few tips to keep in mind when using pure retinol products. 


Only use retinol products at night - Because retinol products trigger the skin to remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and replace them with newly regenerated skin cells, the skin can be more sensitive to sunlight. To prevent photosensitivity side effects, only use retinol products at night. If you must use retinol in the morning, be sure to apply sunscreen over the top of the product to avoid sun damage, although doing so should already be part of your daily routine skincare steps! 


Follow the usage rule of thumb - You may wonder how frequently you should be using retinol products for them to be effective.Regardless of your age, retinol can be an extremely beneficial addition to your skincare routine. +Retinol Vita C Power Cream 


Allow your skin type to adjust. Some skin is more sensitive to retinol than others, causing redness and other visible signs of irritation. Make sure you slowly ramp up your usage of retinol products so your skin can become accustomed to their presence. If your goal is to eventually use a retinol product 3 or 4 times per week, start with once or twice weekly usage before building up your frequency. This will minimize any irritation side effects



When using retinol, don’t be surprised if you don’t see immediate results after only a couple uses. Depending on your skin type, it could take weeks or even months to see any improvement on your skin. If you have moderate to severe acne, it could take up to 12 weeks or longer to see major results. However, once you do start seeing improvement then you’ll be thankful you kept up with your routine! 


In order to help your skin look its best while using retinol, it’s recommended to use vitamin C along with your retinoid. Vitamin C helps to hydrate your skin and protect it from any potential sun damage, so it’s best to incorporate it into your morning routine. Since retinol is a stronger formula that repairs the skin, it’s best to use it at night before you go to bed.  


Upgrade Your Skincare Routine


At Kate Somerville, we offer several anti-aging products like our DermalQuench Liquid Lift® +Retinol or our +Retinol Vita C Power Cream that contain retinol. Each skincare product contains varying strengths of retinol and, as a result, provides different benefits to your skin. We recommend discussing your skin goals with your esthetician and working with her to determine what products are best for you, your skin, and your lifestyle. If you want to try one of Kate Somerville’s products containing retinol, don’t be afraid to discuss it with your esthetician, she should be your partner in your journey to better skin. Overall, retinol has a number of benefits. Give it a try today and see for yourself!  


Looking for more advice to youthful-looking skin? Check out our top anti aging tips for skin! 



  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699641/

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