If you’ve been around the skincare scene for a bit then you’ll probably have heard of retinol, supposed miracle anti-aging component to many skincare products. Yet what exactly is retinol? And why does it work so well?
Retinol or retinyl palmitate are often found at low concentrations in skincare products (0.1%-1%) and both have the same biological features as vitamin A. Vitamin A and its derivatives, particularly retinol, have been shown to be substances slowing the aging process most effectively . Thus, from its nature, retinol can enter the skin safely and deliver powerful effects to the skin. [Unsplash Image]
So what does it do? Firstly, retinol increases collagen production, an essential component in maintaining the healthy, young look of our skin. In fact, signs of aging such as wrinkles come primarily from the loss of collagen. However, retinol not only boosts collagen but also another important component of our skin: elastin. As you can most likely conclude from the name, elastin has to do with the elasticity of the skin and is also a big component in keeping the healthy and bouncy texture of our skin. On top of this, it has many other functions such as exfoliation, hydration, and treating acne/acne scarring.  Retinol has been shown effective in all of these as, in a study conducted by Rong Kong et. al, skin hyperpigmentation, unevenness, and wrinkles gradually decreased over the course of treatment with retinol, both on the left and right parts of the face .
More specifically, retinol is quite different from other anti-aging products in its mode of action. Instead of shedding away dead skin cells, like many other exfoliating products, retinol penetrates the skin. It passes through the epidermis, the most superficial layer, and goes deeper into the second layer of the skin called the dermis. By penetrating in this second layer, it acts directly on the proliferation of new skin cells and can create a “plumping” effect to the skin by boosting collagen and elastin production. Furthermore, after testing, retinol in liquid crystal formulation is proven to be safe, thus making it an ideal and easy product to use. 
Although this may sound like a miracle product, and in many ways it is, as with anything, it must be used with caution. Retinol can cause some undesirable effects as any cosmetic product. Some people experience temporary redness, flakiness, peeling and sensitivity because their skin lacks enough “retinoid receptors.”  These retinoid receptors are proteins that shuttle and release retinol into the skin to be converted to retinoic acid. This conversion can cause inflammation. That’s why it’s recommended to do a patch test on a small part of the skin to test whether retinol products work for your specific skin type. Additionally, many employ the “sandwich” method, which consists of layering the retinol product between two layers of moisturizer to give extra protection of the skin without impairing retinol’s ability to penetrate it. After the skin has become acclimated to the new product, it becomes safe to use without this method.
To recapitulate, in general, use of retinol is safe on skin and can dramatically reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, leading to its anti-aging property. Though it may have some side effects, as it can take time to acclimate to retinol, patch tests and different methods can be used to determine whether it is the right fit for your skin.
 Zasada, M., Budzisz, E., & Erkiert-Polguj, A. (2020, May 19). A clinical anti-ageing comparative study of 0.3 and 0.5% retinol serums: A clinically controlled trial. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/508168
 Kong, R., Cui, Y., Fisher, G. J., Wang, X., Chen, Y., Schneider, L. M., & Majmudar, G. (2015, November 18). A comparative study of the effects of retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skin. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jocd.12193
 Zasada M, Budzisz E. Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2019;36(4):392-397. doi:10.5114/ada.2019.87443 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6791161/ (accessed Jan 4)
Do retinoids really reduce wrinkles? Harvard Health. (2019, October 22). Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/do-retinoids-really-reduce-wrinkles
Cherney, K. (2022, January 4). How does retinol work? facts, side effects, and more. Healthline. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/how-does-retinol-work#what-it-treats
 Korakkottil, A. (2020, July 21). What is retinol? Dermalogica. Retrieved January 9, 2022, from https://www.dermalogica.com/blogs/living-skin/what-is-retinol