Retinol Serum: The Holy Grail of Skincare Products

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One of the most important ingredients in skincare treatment is retinol. Touted as the golden ingredient for anti-aging and smoothening products, it’s a powerful component that makes topical treatments effective.

If you desire clear, glowing skin, you just have to look for a skincare product that contains the ingredient. While most products swear that their formula is the new holy grail of skincare, retinol has proved that it is worth it and more.

Retinol is very effective and can decrease wrinkles, which is why many anti-aging products can’t do without adding it to their formula. It also comes highly recommended by dermatologists. At least two out of four have it on their display shelf, ready for use.

Retinol is highly essential in a skincare product, which is why we are going to discuss everything there is to know about retinol. This article will help to break down the major points you need to know before buying a retinol-enhanced product.

Shopping Guide

retinol products

To know more about retinol, we have to first understand what retinoids are. Retinoids are derived from vitamin A and are used to enhance skin health and vitality. There are different types of retinoids and retinol is one of them. Each type varies by concentration and retinol is one of the least. It is an OTC (over-the-counter) version of retinoid.

What is a retinol?

Retinol has been in the cosmetic industry since 1984 and it works to erase wrinkles and fine lines by boosting collagen production in the body and straight to the skin. It improves the skin tone and color, working to reduce patches on the skin caused by acne or sunburn. It’s so effective, that dermatologists recommend it as the #1 ingredient for cosmetic skincare.

Retinol-based products are used topically on the skin and are transformative products that improve skin pigmentation significantly. When retinol is added to the skin, specialized enzymes found in the skin convert it to retinoic acid that boosts the skin’s health by clearing out spots and hyperpigmentation.

Retinol works differently because it speeds up skin renewal and minimizes skin-aging. Before our 30s, the cells in the skin turn over every 28 days and create a fresh layer of untouched, smooth, and clear skin. But by the mid-30s, the cell regeneration is slowed down and the turnover days keep increasing as we age.

Retinol and other vitamin A derivatives work to stimulate the metabolism of cells, making them work as normal young cells again. It is the perfect skin multi-tasker that not only clears wrinkles and fine lines, it also helps to clear cystic acne and blemishes. We can call it the holy grail of cosmetic skincare products.

There are many benefits you get by adding the retinol serum to your skincare routine. You can relieve yourself of signs of aging, keep your skin refreshed, hydrated, and stay skin-healthy with the serum.

What is the difference between retinol and other vitamin A derivatives?

As mentioned earlier, retinol is part of different types of retinoids, the umbrella term for vitamin A derivatives. These derivatives are classified based on their concentration strength and most of them cannot be sold without a prescription (retinol is an OTC serum).

The derivatives include:

Tretinoin: It is a medication mostly used for treating acne and acute promyelocytic leukemia. When used for acne, it is applied to the skin topically as an ointment or cream. For leukemia, it is taken orally by the mouth for up to three months straight. It is the strongest by concentration of all retinoids and is usually prescribed.

Isotretinoin: This derivative is used for severe acne-like treatment. It has uncomfortable side effects but the potency is very high. It also needs to be prescribed and monitored by a licensed medical professional.

Tazarotene: This is a topical retinoid that is sold as a cream, foam, or gel. It is highly potent with equally severe side effects. It is sold under prescription too. This retinoid is used for the treatment of acne, sun-damaged skin, and psoriasis.

Retinol: The potency is moderate but it is the strongest over-the-counter retinoid. The type of brand that manufactures it affects the price of the brand. Its side effects are mild and they include scaling and redness. It is used to improve skin pigmentation, clear spots, and scars.

Retinyl palmitate: This is the weakest of the retinoids and is more affordable than the rest. It is used mostly for moisturizing purposes. Retinyl also clears blemishes, wrinkles, and acne but not as well as the others. It rarely causes skin irritation, which makes it the best choice for those with sensitive skin.

Thinking of using aftershave? Get your questions answered here.

Who does retinol best suit?

good skin

Dermatologists have advised that adding retinol serums or cream to skincare routines from age 30 upwards will help the skin greatly. This is because at this age the depletion of collagen synthesis and skin cell turnover has begun. Retinols will help you keep your skin looking young and fresh for longer when you start using it early.

Retinol is used mostly to cure:

  • Sunspots,
  • Acne, blemishes, and blackheads,
  • Marks and scars from acne
  • Wrinkles and fine lines,
  • And irregular skin texture.

Who should refrain from using retinol?

If the skin is damaged as we age, especially in our later years, it becomes a feat to undo the damages, instead, the damages get complicated and harder. That is why it is recommended you start using retinol when collagen synthesis begins to deplete, which is the 30s, mostly the mid-30s. Or get an early start by using retinol from your late 20s to begin to work before then.

Since retinol is a concentrated ingredient, there will likely be side effects, especially if you have sensitive skin. If you fall into that category, you should use products with the least percentage of retinol concentration. This can start as a test or trial. If you don’t have reactions or side effects, you can gradually increase the potency of the product.

How can I benefit from retinol serums?

Retinol has several benefits to the skin and body in general. Some of them are:

  • It works to stimulate collagen production and enhance skin turnover.
  • Retinol smoothen fine lines and wrinkles.
  • It clears acne marks, scars, and other blemishes.
  • Restores elasticity to the skin.
  • It hydrates the skin.
  • It brightens dull skin by exfoliating at the cellular level.

What is the price range of retinol products?

The price range of retinol will vary based on the brand you are buying. The normal cost of retinol products ranges from $5 to over $200. For high-quality products, it is usually the main component. For some products, retinol has a lower concentration, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Test it out on your skin first and see how it reacts before moving to higher concentrated products. You should know that just because a retinol product is pricy doesn’t mean it is good for your skin nor is it the best product. The ingredients and composition are what matters. That is why you have to test out the products.

How should I apply the retinol serum?

apply retinol

How you apply your serum can determine how well it works on reversing the damage done to the skin. You have to be moderate when you apply retinol because too much can cause adverse effects rather than heal. The best time to apply the serum or cream is at night on clean and dry skin.

When you use retinol during the day, the sunlight will quickly deteriorate all retinoids and their acids, leading to a futile effort. You have to also make sure your skin is very dry before applying your treatment.

The parts of the body to apply your retinol serum are your face, neck, and cleavage.  A small quantity is enough for the gel or cream serums. For products in oil, four drops are good enough. You can also follow the instructions of the brand you are buying.

Should I use sunscreen with my retinol?

If you are applying it in the day, yes, you should. The sun is a major agent that dries up retinol on the skin when it is exposed to it. The sun is also responsible for skin aging, so make sure to use a sunscreen with sun protection of at least 30.

Sunscreen should be used not only on days you are going hiking or to the beach, use it every day. Also note that retinol can increase the sensitivity to UV light, which makes our skin susceptible to burning. Applying a moderate amount of sunscreen every morning will help to keep our skin from burning.

What are the side effects of using retinol?

There are some side effects of using retinol on your skin. First, you’ll likely experience flakiness, dryness, irritation, or even breakouts for a few weeks, until your skin is well adjusted.

Though the effects can be uncomfortable, they are quite harmless and will reduce over time. But if you experience pain, allergic reaction, swelling, or continuous irritation, you should stop the product to avoid damaging your skin further.

When using retinol for the first time, it is recommended that you start with low concentration, using it one night a week for one month. Depending on how your skin reacts and tolerates the product, you can increase your concentration dose.  

For quick tips to help you prevent some side effects, add moisturizer ten minutes before you apply your serum if you have sensitive skin. Also, make sure you wash your face 30 minutes before you apply retinol to reduce skin irritation.

Essential oils are another products that work wonders. Find out the 4 ways to effectively use essential oils.

Shopping Criteria

product shopping

Before buying your retinol product, you have to check some criteria off your list to get you the best product choice. These factors need to be analyzed based on the information you have gained.

Desired effect

Your desired effect will decide what you are getting. If you want to improve your skin’s appearance, a low concentration product is more than enough to do just that. Meanwhile, if you wish to clear your acne and wrinkles, you need high concentrated retinol products.

The sad part of all these is that you might not know the level of retinol in a product because manufacturers are not obligated to reveal the exact amount of retinol present in serums. Some products might promote their products as high concentration while offering a diluted solution with oils and moisturizers. It is best to go for a product that uses retinol as its main ingredient.

Skin type

All skin types can benefit from the use of retinol. Whether you have oily, dry, or combination skin types there is a way to use the retinol to your benefit. For instance, oily skin type can opt for lighter serums. And dry skins can go for thicker textures that will also hydrate their skin.


If you are worried about the effects of this skincare product on the environment, you will find some serums free of parabens and silicones in the market. Also, more cosmetic companies are refusing to test their products on animal subjects. You will find a disclaimer or display on the bottle as proof that the manufacturers did not use animals as test subjects.


As mentioned before, retinol deteriorates when it comes in contact with air and the sun. To prevent this, you should opt for products with opaque containers, and store the bottle away from direct sunlight. Products in tubes will better preserve the serum because only the amount you need each time comes into contact with air.

Value for money

Retinols can be moderate-priced to high-high priced. Some products offer less than what you require. So you have to opt for products that have composition focusing on retinol with fewer additional ingredients.

smooth face


Retinol is considered the holy grail of skincare products because it heals the skin and clears acne and wrinkles. It also enhances collagen synthesis and skin cell renewal. You cannot find a dermatologist who won’t recommend retinol for the skin. It is the best vitamin A derivative that is sold over-the-counter.

When buying your product, make sure the formula’s main ingredient is retinol. But you have to be careful when using it because it is highly concentrated and can cause side effects if you don’t take precautions. But don’t let this scare you, they are temporary until your skin adjusts to the product. So go ahead and get your skincare product.

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