Retinol 101: The Skin Care Gift For Future You

Beauty influencers are touting retinol as one of the must-have beauty products for glowing skin. But, this trending skin care product has been kicking around since the 70s! Good news for us―this means the research is in, and the reviews are tried and true. Now, let’s figure out if its next stop is your bathroom vanity.

First, what exactly is retinol?

Retinoids are a derivative of Vitamin A, studied and used by the skincare and beauty industry for several decades. Retinol is part of this retinoid family, and while they act as a diluted counterpart, they’ve earned their good reputation. Interestingly, though a staple in active skin care, Vitamin A can’t be made by the body—instead, we get it through our food choices and by feeding our skin topically, on the surface!

What are the benefits?

You’re probably wondering ‘Why should I add another step to my nightly get-unready routine?’ And yes, this product has been tirelessly mislabeled as “anti-aging” and a cure-all wrinkle eraser. While these overused headlines make us roll our eyes, the benefits for our skin are real, and we’re all for a routine that will keep our skin healthy and keep us feeling confident. Interestingly, dermatologist Dr. Ellen Gendler recommends that everyone from their 20s and up can benefit from using a retinoid.

Long story short, retinoids work by increasing the production of collagen. The benefits? A brighter complexion, an increase in blood vessels (AKA improved skin color!), decreased sun damage and discoloration, and softer, smoother skin overall. Dreamy! And yes, retinol can decrease fine lines. BIG PICTURE, these benefits are the results of increased skin-cell turnover (read: rejuvenating and strengthening!). At the end of the day, what you see is a firmer look and fresher feel. The great newsit works for all skin types! More on that later.

“Yes, this product has been tirelessly mislabeled as “anti-aging” and a cure-all wrinkle eraser. While these trending headlines make us roll our eyes, the benefits are far more simple and far reaching.”

How do you use it?

In this lower potency format, retinols are sold over the counter and a great place to start as a first-time or long-game user! They come in a wide range of topical forms, from serums to creams to gels. You also may see some higher-potency retinoids as prescription drugs. Because retinols can lead to dryness or irritation of your skin, experts recommend using them every other day at first before gradually working up to nightly application.

As with many long-term beauty regimens, retinols in this diluted format must be used continually to reap the rewards (we’re talking at least 12 weeks!). Keep in mind that the best results can take 6-12 months. Retinol use requires a long-term commitment to really feel those benefits! If you’re still not sure it’s worth it, watch this quick message from Dr. Ellen Gendler on long-term commitment vs prom date skin care

Important tip: be stubborn about wearing your favorite sunscreen during the day alongside a retinol product! When you apply retinol, your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight is increased, so this extra step for protection is key, especially in summertime.

Your next steps!

So, what will work for your beautifully unique skin? Dermatologist Dr. Houshmand recommends that retinol creams and lotions might be the best bet for dryer skin types, especially because retinol can have a drying impact. Added hydrating elements commonly found in creams like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or ceramides will help boost your skin’s ability to retain moisture. Dr. Aanand N. Geria, the founder of Geria Dermatology in New Jersey, recommends that a retinol concentration of 0.5% or lower is a good starting point for our friends with dry skin.

If you have more oily skin, you might go for a lighter-weight retinol formula, such as a serum or gel, says Dr. Geria. For this skin type, he suggests starting out with a retinol with a concentration between 0.5 and 1%, recommending that anything higher that can be too irritating for the skin. When in doubt, start low and slow! 

Armed with all the info, are you ready to skim a few product recommendations? Here’s a list to get you started at any budget!

1. Best overall: LilyAna Naturals

$20. Vegan, easy to use moisturizing retinol cream for first-timers.

2. Value: The Ordinary Retinol

$12. Simple. lightweight serum with 1% retinol (and options as low as 0.2%!)

3. Cream: Drunk Elephant

$63.  Vegan cream with added vitamin F and 1% retinol.

4. Moisturizer: Olay Regenerist Retinol

$25. An easy-to-source nighttime moisturizer.

5. Serum: First Aid Beauty Retinol

$48. Low concentration 0.3% retinol serum.

6. Oil: COSRX Retinol

$13. A budget-friendly, 0.5% retinol oil with Vitamin E.

7. Convenience: Peter Thomas Roth Retinol

$52. Travel-friendly and easy to use, with 1.5% time-released retinol.

8. Eye treatment: Enaskin Retinol

$16. Under eye masks with added vitamin E, for all skin types.


Our Movement take:

Retinol is a gift for future youshake off any ideas of instant-cure, ‘anti-aging’ solutions. Start for the healthy benefits and stay for the confidence-boosting feel and freshness of your skin.

In the wise words of Diane Von Furstenburg, “In my older face, I see my life. Our wrinkles reflect the roads you have taken. My face carries all my memories. Why should I erase them?” 


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