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What You Need to Know About Retinol?

If you’re into skincare, chances are you already know about retinol. Maybe you’ve even tried it or you’re considering using it. Either way, retinol is a potent form of vitamin A, which has gained huge traction in the skincare product industry.

Perhaps one reason for its popularity is its ability to address a variety of skin-related issues. Retinol is often seen in creams, gels, liquid serum, and emollients. Users can apply it topically to their skin to reap its anti-aging, anti-acne, and restorative benefits.

Despite the hype, there are still many people who don’t know what retinol does. Because of this, we’re going to break down everything you’ve ever wanted to know about retinol.

We will focus on different aspects of this active ingredient, including how it works, its benefits, how to use it, etc. But what about the expiry of Retinol. Does Retinol expire?

On that note, dive in and get all the details on this popular retinol product.

Table of Content

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for boosting cell turnover. However, our bodies cannot manufacture this nutrient. So, we have to derive it from different food like cassava, carrots, eggs, and sweet potatoes. Alternatively, you can find it in topical skincare products as retinoids.


According to studies, retinol and other retinoids can address a myriad of skin issues, including pigmentation, wrinkles, and even acne. When incorporated into an age-preventive skincare routine, retinoids prevent the breakdown of collagen, promote cell turnover and reduce the appearance of aging.

Type of Retinoids

Retinol is one of the many retinoids derived from vitamin A available in the market. Other retinoids in anti-aging creams and serums include:

  • Retinyl palmitate: The weakest retinoid.
  • Retinol: The next strongest and most tolerable retinoid.
  • Retinaldehyde: Stronger than Retinol.
  • Adapalene: The strongest OTC option specifically designed to treat acne.

Dermatologists can even prescribe tazarotene or tretinoin to patients. These retinoids work effectively and faster, but they can be very irritating.

So, when selecting a retinoid to use, it’s wise to consult a dermatologist first. Otherwise, choose an anti-aging product with mild forms of retinoids, such as retinyl palmitate or retinol. Only move to upper strengths once your skin has acclimated to the ingredient.

Nevertheless, research shows you’ll enjoy the long-term anti-aging benefits of retinoids in the long run, irrespective of the formula you select.

How Does Retinol Work?

Retinol does not remove dead skin cells, as many anti-aging products do. Rather, it penetrates to the stratum corneum layer and even to the dermis when applied. Once in these layers, the ingredient works to boost skin cell turnover, meaning new skin cells move to the epidermis layers faster than they would naturally do. As a result, your skin will look smoother. In a way, it tricks your body into thinking it’s younger once again.

Retinol works at a cellular level to get rid of free radicals. Thus, increasing the production of collagen and elastin. By doing so, it reduces the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and shrinks pores. Additionally, it exfoliates the skin surface to improve skin tone, texture, and fade dark spots and redness.

The ingredient also creates comedolytic agents. These agents prevent the development of blemishes and comedones which clog skin pores, leading to the formation of acne. In severe acne, a dermatologist might recommend you use an antibiotic with retinol to improve your breakouts. But the result might not be immediate. It might take up to six weeks.

Because retinol mildly exfoliates the skin, it can balance the skin hydration levels. Its exfoliation ability helps to get rid of dead cells that take up moisture. The ingredient can even benefit individuals with oily skin because it reduces sebum production in pores.

How Long Does Retinol Take to Work?

As we said earlier, retinol is one of the many retinoids derived from vitamin A. So, if you want to know how long does retinol takes to work, you need to identify the retinoids available in your serum or cream.

Before you can reap the maximum benefits of retinoids, they must first be converted to retinoic acid. Only in this form can it regenerate your skin cells and boost the production of collagen. It’s hard to find pure retinoic acid in non-prescription over-the-counter skincare products. But you can find it in prescription drugs like topical Treclin cream or oral Accutane drugs.

Retinoids found in non-prescription anti-aging products must undergo several processes to get converted into retinoic acid. That’s why retinol creams take longer to work. For example, if you select a cream with retinyl palmitate, this ingredient must be converted to retinol first, then to retinaldehyde, and finally, retinoic acid. The stronger the retinoids, the faster it gets converted to retinoic acid.

If you want to achieve faster results, consider using a product with a stronger retinoid. But if you have dry or hypersensitive skin, find something with the weakest retinoid (retinyl palmitate).

Usually, it takes a few weeks to see results. But that’s if you use cream or serum with retinaldehyde. For non-prescription OTC options, you might need to apply for three months before you can see any results.

Benefits of Retinol

Retinol works by increasing cellular regeneration, resulting in the following benefits:

Reduce Common Sign of Accelerated Aging

Generally, cells turn over every 28 days in individuals who’re still in their 20s. That’s why they usually have pristine skin. But when you hit your 30s, the cells turnover increases to 50, 60, and sometimes 70 days. Slow cell regeneration rates mean you’ll have dry, wrinkled, and dull skin. External factors like UV light exposure, pollution, and smoking can also cause the skin to age.

When applied to the skin, retinol penetrates deep into your skin, increasing cell turnover. Therefore, creating a fresh layer, smoothing fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging. Also, it stimulates collagen production and prevents its breakdown.

Furthermore, it strengthens the epidermis and reduces the loss of moisture from the skin. As such, your skin will look plumper and younger.

Treats Acne

Teenagers with acne problems might find relief after using retinol. Acne is a chronic skin disease that occurs when hair follicles pores get blocked by dead skin cells and oils. When the pores get infected by bacteria, blackheads, pimples, cysts, and whiteheads can form.


Retinol can help address acne and breakouts by normalizing cell turnover and reducing abnormal skin peeling. Thanks to if exfoliating ability, it can stop the pores from clogging. Therefore, preventing the formation of blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. The vitamin a derivative can also reduce inflammation by eliminating bacteria that cause inflammation.

Improves Skin Appearance

Retinol exfoliates on a cellular level to improve the appearance of uneven skin texture and tone. Its effects on collagen production and cell turn help to even out your complexation, fading sun spots, hyperpigmentation, and dark spots.

A study carried out in 2020 showed that retinol serums with 0.3% and 0.5% concentration can help reduce skin unevenness and hyperpigmentation. Therefore, it improves the overall complexion of its users. But according to scientists, individuals with a dark skin tone should take caution when using this vitamin derivative. It can trigger hyperpigmentation and cause irritation.

Other Benefits of Retinol

  • Reduces scarring and pigmentation
  • Addresses active breakouts and inhibits the formation of new ones
  • Regulate oily skin and smooth out fine lines and wrinkles.

How to Use Retinol

Like with all skincare products, the application is the key to reaping the maximum benefits of retinol. Apply retinol cream or serum at night after your cleanser but before your night cream. If you’re using a quality anti-aging serum. The retinal will get absorbed by your skin immediately, and you might not need to apply a moisturizer.

If you’re applying multiple serums, it’s wise to begin with the thinnest. Allow each layer to get fully absorbed (about 30 seconds) before applying the next layer.

Although retinol is effective, it comes with reversing effects. The products can cause your skin to redden or dry out. So, if it’s your first time, it’s wise not to apply too much because it might cause irritation and flaking.

Start with products with low concentrations of retinol (0.25% or 0.3%) and see how your skin reacts and apply it once a week. If your skin acclimates well, slowly build increase the application rate to every other night. You can also move to higher concentrations.

Incorporating Retinol into Your Skin Care Routine

Start by washing your face and apply eye cream. The cream will shield the delicate skin around the eyes from the effects of retinol.

Let your skin dry for a few minutes, then apply retinol. If your skin has already acclimated to the ingredient, you can apply the serum when your face is still damp. This will allow it to penetrate deeper into the skin. But if you’re still a beginner, your skin is still sensitive. So deeper penetration of retinol will cause serious irritation. It’s wise to allow your face to dry for 30 minutes.


Take a small amount of retinol cream (pea-size), and apply it to your chin with your fingertips in upward and outward movements. Individuals with sensitive skin should start by applying a light layer of moisturizer first. From there, they can apply the retinol and then a final layer of moisturizer in areas where the skin gets dry.

Expect the result between three to six months, depending on the retinoid variant you’re using. Remember to wear a good broad-spectrum SPF (30 or above) in the morning after using retinal, since it makes your skin more photosensitive.

Retinol Side Effects

Most anti-aging skincare products contain inert quantities of retinol, which have no impact on the skin’s health. Other retinol-based products have punchy quantities with risks that outweigh the benefits. Therefore, it’s wise to choose a retinol-based formulation, with the right concentration.

Like many skincare products, retinoids formulas come with side effects. This is true, especially when used for extended periods and in higher concentrations. Common mild side effects include:

  • Flushed skin
  • Dry skin
  • Scaling of the skin
  • Moderated irritation

Other side effects of retinol include:

  • Blistering of the skin
  • Discoloration of skin
  • Increased sensitivity to ultraviolet light
  • Flare-up of acne

Retinol penetrates deep into the skin, increasing the skin’s sensitivity to UV lights. Doctors recommend that you should apply sunscreen to your face after using retinol.

Who Can Use Retinol?

Despite having so many benefits, not everyone can use retinol.

If you have skin conditions like eczema or rosacea, shy away from using retinol. The ingredient can aggravate these conditions. Also, if you’re getting in-office skin treatment like micro-needling or micro-dermabrasion, stay away from retinol. It can increase skin irritation, skin flaking, and sensitivity to sunlight.

Doctors don’t recommend it for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Before you can use or continue to use retinol, consult your obstetrician first. Retinol, especially those taken orally like Isotretinoin that’s used to treat acne, can have some harmful side effects on pregnant women. It can cause miscarriage and birth defects.

Storage of Retinol

Retinol is an effective anti-aging ingredient, but it’s not the most stable. When exposed to air, heat, or light, it can fail to do its job. Here are ways it fresh to enjoy maximum benefits.

Tips to Store and Get the Most from Your Retinol

Refrigerate retinol cream or serum

Exposure to light, heat and air alters retinol chemical structure, rendering it useless or less effective. If you want to keep your product potent for long, store it in the fridge or even bedside table in your air-conditioned room.

Ensure it remains covered

After using your retinol-based serum, tightly screw the lid back. If you leave it exposed, you’ll make it less active. This explains why most retinoids come packed in dark glasses, sealed tubes, or opaque plastics. These packages effectively protect the formula inside clear-glass bottles.

Know when to throw it away

Most skincare products packages often have a number and the letter M. For example, if a bottle has 6M, it means that the product will stay active for 6 months. If you buy retinol over-the-counter or a dermatologist prescribes it, check the expiration date on its packaging.

Does Retinol Expire?

Yes! Retinol expires, but there’s no easy way to know for sure. It produces no odor and doesn’t change color. There are many cases where people have continued to use the retinol, even past their expiration date. However, dermatologists don’t recommend this. Furthermore, it will not work.


If you’ve used retinol for over five or six months and you can’t see any changes on your face, chances are the product has expired. Stop using it and consult your dermatologist to get a more potent solution.


Retinol derived from Vitamin A is a powerful anti-aging ingredient that will bring back your youthful shine. The ingredient also helps to combat acne.

You can purchase it over-the-counter as a gel, cream, or serum, but these products usually have lower concentrations of retinol. Prescription retinol is more potent because of the higher concentration.

When using OTC retinol products, patience is the key. It can take between three to six months to see the results you desire. Before using the product, consult a dermatologist first, especially if you have sensitive skin type or a skin condition.


Does Retinol Need a Prescription?

No! You don’t need a prescription to use retinol. However, if you have sensitive skin or a severe case of acne, you should consult your dermatologist first. Also, prescription retinol has more potency and concentration than non-prescription.

Does Retinol cause cancer?

There are some concerns that retinoic acid, in combination with UV light, can increase the risk of skin cancer. But this information is based on studies carried out on rats. There’s need for more human studies to confirm these risks. It’s wise to consult your doctor before using this product.

Does Retinol lighten the skin?

No! Retinol improves the uneven skin tone and texture, making it look lighter. But it has no effect on pigment-producing cells(melanocytes). The ingredient normalizes your skin, eliminating blemishes, and makes your skin look finer.

Does Retinol smell bad?

Retinoid is a type of antioxidant that helps protect the skin from environmental damage. If it changes color, then it might have lost some antioxidants. Therefore you will get bad smells.

What happens if you don’t refrigerate Retinol?

Even though retinol is stable at room temperature, you should store it in the fridge if possible to avoid any negative impact on its efficacy.

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