Retinol creams are highly publicized for their positive skin benefits including cellular repair, damage control, and long term skin health. They are also one of the most researched ingredients and products when it comes to skin health and skin care.
Made from vitamin A derivatives, retinol is known for its powerful antioxidant and protective effects when it comes to the skin. It’s also known for cell growth and repair, which may aid in reducing skin damage and other skin issues. Vitamin A further stimulates the cells in charge of tissue production that maintains the skin’s firmness and health.
Benefits of using retinol cream products may include improvements in skin texture, roughness, pigmentation, photodamage, fine lines, and wrinkles. It may even contribute to reducing one’s risk of skin cancer.
1Retinol cream products improve skin texture and roughness. An older 1992 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology examined the use of the retinol, tretinoin, in reducing fine wrinkles and skin roughness caused by photodamage.
Researchers determined it was a useful entity to improve these skin characteristics and prevent future damage while being used in conjunction with sunscreen and other protective remedies. It was also found that participants retained the effects from the treatment for 12 months afterward but then regressed slowly with the continue discontinuation of treatment (1).
Another study exploring tretinoin divided participants into 4-month, 10-month, and 22-month durations. Wrinkling and skin texture improved. And researchers also reported thickening of the epidermis (2).
A 2006 study published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology evaluated the use of retinol on photodamaged skin. Factors observed included wrinkles and skin roughness. 29 Korean women, aged 31-54 years old, participated in the study.
They applied the retinol-containing lotion 2 times a day for 24 weeks. Researchers state that “the average roughness showed significant improvement (P<.0001). It was concluded that retinol was highly useful in aiding in reducing the effects of photodamage, and thus, improving skin texture and roughness (3).
2Retinol reduces photodamage caused by sun exposure. Various studies have shown the potential of retinol in reducing damage caused by sun exposure. A 1998 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology explored the tolerance and efficacy of 0.05% retinaldehyde cream with a 0.05% retinoic acid cream. 125 participants were in this specific study.
Participants skin was re-evaluated after 18 weeks. Researchers found wrinkles and roughness reduced significantly by this point. After 44 weeks, there wasn’t as significant of a change. It was determined by the researchers in this study that retinol was effective and well tolerated when it came to reducing photodamage (4).
Another 8-week 2009 study also examined the use of retinol in alleviating photodamaged skin. Researchers used a 0.1% retinol-containing moisturizer with 36 participants in the experimental group and 28 participants in the control group. It was concluded that this moisturizer improved wrinkles, elasticity, pigmentation, firmness, and photodamage; again, proving that retinol is effective at reducing damage caused by solar exposure (5).
A 2010 review put forth similar findings. The review stated that “Topical retinoids represent an important and powerful class of molecules in the dermatologist’s hands for the treatment of photodamaged skin.” It solidifies the claims made in the above studies and supports the anti-aging claims made by previous studies (6).
3Retinol cream products may improve overall skin pigmentation. A 2006 scientific article explained how this was possible via the use of retinol. The article stated that retinol stimulates the cell turn-over rate, as well as decreases melanins and transference of the pigment in the skin. Further, it goes onto explain that retinol may create changes in the stratum corneum and the permeability barrier. This allows for depigmentation of the skin. It may also react and play a role in melanin synthesis (7).
A 2006 study explored these effects. Researchers examined the use of retinol in reducing hyperpigmentation caused by photodamage. A topically applied 4% hydroquinone and 0.3% retinol was used in this study. After 16 weeks, participants showed significant improvements in wrinkles, roughness, and pigmentation. It was determined and concluded by the researchers that retinol was effective in reducing pigmentation caused by photodamage (8).
Another study examined the use of retinol in pigmentation disorders. 28 participants were involved in the 12-week study. The retinol-containing cream was topically applied twice a day. Statistically, disease severity and pigmentation showed significant improvements (9).
4Retinol cream products aid in improving water retention in the skin. It’s suggested that retinol cream products may help retain moisture and hydration in the skin (10).
When combined with lipid nanoparticles, Vitamin A, which retinol is a derivative of, showed to help improve skin hydration in a 2006 study (11).
Although shown in various studies as a byproduct of results, more studies would help solidify these claims – especially since one of the main side effects of retinol, although rare, may involve dryness and scaling effects.
5Retinol improves the look of fine lines and wrinkles. A 2004 study observed retinol in helping reduce dark circles and wrinkles around and under eyes. The topical gel included 2% phytonadione, 0.1% retinol and 0.1% vitamins C and E. 57 adults applied the gel under the eyes twice a day for 8 weeks. It was found that this type of topically applied cream was moderately effective at reducing wrinkles, as it worked for some participants but not all (12).
Another study conducted in 2010 saw researchers treat photodamaged skin with retinol solutions. 46 women over the age of 30 years old were included in the study. The retinol containing cream was applied twice daily by participants. No severe side effects were reports, and it was found to be an effective vehicle for reducing wrinkles. Skin roughness also decreased (13).
A 2009 study had similar results. A 0.075% retinol cream was used in this study, and 57 participants were involved. Out of the 57 participants, 3 withdrew part way through due to skin irritation. However, after 26 weeks, there was a 24% improvement in fine wrinkles and a 28% improvement in deep wrinkles. It was concluded by researchers that these creams were safe and effective for use in the general population in order to reduce wrinkles (14).
Another study demonstrated the protective effects of retinol against wrinkles. It was found that a retinol-based cream was better for photodamage than a Vitamin E based cream. It was also concluded that it reduced the development of shallow wrinkles (15).
A 2008 study again proved these beneficial claims, which gives way as to why retinol is a common ingredient in wrinkle creams. A retinol cream was applied to participants twice a day for 12 weeks. Researchers stated that wrinkle appearance vastly improved (16).
6Retinol creams may decrease the risk of skin cancer. One study found that retinol may decrease the risk of squamous cell carcinoma, but not basal cell carcinoma. However, this study explored these effects in conjunction with oral supplementation of retinol as opposed to a topical version, such as that in creams (17).
An older 1997 study also had similar findings, concluding that oral retinol supplementation taken daily was somewhat effective at reducing squamous cell cancer in moderately risk persons (18).
For more conclusive results on retinol and its link to cancer prevention, studies need to be implemented involving topically used retinol cream products. This would further create a better understanding of how retinol works to prevent cancer and also determine if retinol creams are beneficial for this use.
1A cutaneous retinoid reaction, also referred to as retinoid dermatitis, may occur, especially upon initial use of retinol. This includes dryness, scaling, pruritis, and erythema. In some, it may subside with continued use. However, if it continues and increases in severity, it’s recommended to discontinue use of the retinol cream product (19).
2Individuals may experience burning or prickling sensations when using retinol creams. If this happens, consult with your doctor and discontinue use of the product (20).
3Retinoic acid may cause more irritation than other types of retinol in retinol cream products (21).
4Retinol cream products may intensify skin disease severity, pigmentation, and lesions in some individuals (22).
5Retinol cream products may cause an allergic reaction. It’s important before trying any new product to test a small amount on your wrist or forearm before applying to the face or other areas of the body. It may also prove useful to check with your doctor to determine whether you are allergic to certain ingredients.
6Skin peeling may also occur in rare cases with the use of retinol cream products.
7If a person suffers from acne, retinol in some cases may increase acne symptoms and occurrences. It varies depending on skin type.
8Excessively dry skin may also result from retinol cream use. Make sure to use regular moisturizer in combination with retinol creams. If the dryness continues, consult with your dermatologist or discontinue use of the retinol cream.
9Tretinoin and tazarotene retinol types may cause more irritation than other variations. Make sure to always read the labels of the products you purchase and do your research beforehand.
10During the first 2-4 weeks of use, burning, itching, redness, may occur. If this is the case, check with your dermatologist to determine if this is normal and if you should continue using the retinol cream.
11Immediately after application, a mild burning, warmth, or stinging may happen. It should subside within a few minutes.
12In some cases, an individual may experience increased sensitivity to the sun after retinol cream use.
There is no recommended dosage for over the counter retinol products. However for the FDA approved treatment Tretinoin, apply a thin layer to the entire affected area once a day at bedtime.
Is retinol good for your skin? Retinol is a weaker, over the counter version of tretinoin, a prescription vitamin A derivative that is highly effective in reversing sun damage and signs of aging. Tretinoin decreases fine lines, evens skin color, improves texture, tightens pores, and stimulates blood flow and collagen production.
When should you start using retinol? There’s some debate about when to begin using retinol. Many sources of beauty tips and information recommend getting started with it as early as 20 or so, while many others suggest waiting until the mid-30s to start using it.
Can I put moisturizer over retinol? If you must apply it during the day, put on an SPF 30 sunscreen after your moisturizer before going outdoors. You should see results after six to 12 weeks of Retin-A treatment. Purchase moisturizers that contain lower-strength forms of retinol at drugstores.
Is retinol good for aging skin? Topical vitamin A–based drugs called retinoids—the most used and most studied anti-aging compounds— may reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Retinoids reduce fine lines and wrinkles by increasing the production of collagen. They also stimulate the production of new blood vessels in the skin, which improves skin color.
Can you use too much retinol? As effective as retinol is when it comes to reversing damage, the application plays a big part. Applying too much or too often can have the opposite effect and actually cause more damage.
Does retinol dry out your skin? Yes, prescription retinoids, like Retin-A or tretinoin, is strong stuff, so your skin is likely to get sensitive and irritated as it gets used to their mechanisms of action.
Will retinol make me break out? No, in fact, retinal does the opposite. Retinoids (the umbrella term for all vitamin-A derivatives, like retinol) sink into your skin and trigger faster cell turnover and collagen production, creating newer, smoother, skin. And all of that means pores stay clear, breakouts diminish, fine lines soften, and acne scars fade.
How long does it take to see results from retinol? Many over-the-counter formulas claim you’ll see results within weeks however most evidence showed it takes an average of 12 weeks for retinoic acid to produce noticeable changes in the skin. So stick with it for at least that long to see the benefits.
Can you exfoliate while using retinol? You can exfoliate your skin (manually or chemically) while using retinoids, but it’s generally not a good idea. Retinoids already provide a good amount of exfoliation for both the inside and outside your skin. Adding a washcloth, scrub, AHA, or other chemical/physical exfoliant will only increase irritation.
Is it safe to use retinol every day? Retinol can be and should be used every day because it is a powerful antioxidant. It’s important to start with a lighter dose of around 0.05 percent and working your way up as your skin becomes adjusted.
Is retinaldehyde better than retinol? Retinol and retinal are both convertible forms of Vitamin A, and while retinol has been a huge hit in the beauty industry due to its powerful rep as an anti-aging ingredient in moisturizers, retinaldehyde is now said to do the same, only better. Retinaldehyde has been clinically proven to work up to 11 times faster than retinol.
Does retinol lighten skin? One of the best-known uses of retinol is for battling hyperpigmentation. Retinol is wonderful for evening out your skin tone and lightening up dark spots.
Is retinol safe while nursing? Topical retinoids such as Retin-A (tretinoin), tazarotene, and adapalene should not be used while pregnant or breastfeeding. Non-prescription retinoids such as retinol should be avoided as well. As for other topical acne medications, benzoyl peroxide is a safe way to kill bacteria on the skin while breastfeeding.
Retinol cream products have become more and more popular as individuals seek out ways to combat aging and age-related skin effects. In addition, it is thought that these creams may have protective properties to reduce future skin damage.
Retinol creams have a variety of benefits such as improving skin texture and roughness. Numerous studies have shown these results. It’s also thought that in addition to improve skin texture, these creams may also increase the thickness of the skin. This may prevent future damage from occurring.
Retinol cream may alleviate photodamage from the sun to a certain extent. It may also prevent future risk of photodamage. Factors, such as skin wrinkles, elasticity, pigmentation, and firmness, all showed improvements in different studies.
Retinol may further decrease hyperpigmentation in the skin frequently caused by photodamage. It may also aid in reducing symptoms caused by certain pigmentation disorders. It’s best to discuss your options in regards to disorders or conditions with your doctor or dermatologist prior to use.
It’s also been suggested that retinol creams may help improve skin moisturization and hydration. Yet, this needs to be further studied and solidified. Problems with this include the high degree of side effects involving skin dryness and scaling.
Retinol-containing creams are highly popular for improving wrinkles and fine lines. Fortunately, many studies support these claims. Although it does seem that the effects taper off over time with use. However, they may also have protective effects preventing future wrinkles or fine lines or damage.
In fact, retinol may even prevent skin cancer. Yet, these studies were done using oral supplementation with no evidence found for retinol cream application. Further studies in this area may also help understand this mechanism better and solidify these beneficial claims.
Retinol cream products are useful in reducing anti-aging and sun damaging effects. It’s no surprise as to why they are a highly purchased product in today’s society. Side effects that may occur include dryness, scaling, irritation, redness, an increase in disease severity or symptoms, and possibly allergic reactions.
Before the use of any new skin product, apply a small amount to your forearm or wrist before continuing the application on other parts of the body. It may also be beneficial to check with your doctor or dermatologist before introducing a new skin care product into your regular routine.