Emma Hoareau

Emma Hoareau
July 9, 2018



The first Sunday School to deserve it’s own blogpost…

Retinol is something I get asked about all the time. It’s a very strong ingredient so I wanted to have a written file (as well as my video Sunday School which you can watch here) of the answers I found when researching this for you. It’ll come as no surprise that I love using resurfacing products (I told you all about my favourite acids here) and Retinol has been an ingredients I’ve flirted with now and then, been told to use, then told to not use… long story short I’ve tried many but have never stuck one out. I decided to speak to Dr Murad of Murad skincare himself to help clear up a few retinol myths you guys wanted answered. After all, I am a total skincare geek but when it comes to a products like Retinol I felt it deserved a professional.

Dr Howard Murad is a pharmacist, dermatologist, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCLA and founder of Murad skincare.

In layman’s terms, what is Retinol?
Retinol is derivative of Vitamin A and an antioxidant, which means it helps to neutralise substances called free radicals that destroy healthy skin cells. It is one of the most effective anti-ageing ingredients for cell regeneration and collagen production.

 As a person ages, collagen and cell production slow down, but retinol helps to encourage cell regeneration and ensure that new collagen continues to form. As a result, it has been shown to reduce wrinkles and increase skin texture. As collagen is replenished and old skin cells are shed, any hyperpigmentation fades, fine lines recede and skin begins to reveal a brighter, smoother texture.

When it comes to ageing, retinol has three clear benefits: it helps to keep your cells compact, it aids in cell renewal and encourages the production of collagen.

 What is the difference between retinol and retinoid?
“Retinoid” Vitamin A otherwise known as retinol is the overarching term for all forms of Vitamin A. No matter what kind of Vitamin A it is, retinoids break down to retinoic acid in the skin. Think of it like candy — there are all different kinds of candy, but they all turn into to sugar in the body.

Retinoids include retinol, retinal, retinoic acid and are used in the treatment of many dermatological conditions such as inflammatory skin disorders, wrinkles, acne, and psoriasis. Retinyl Palmitate is also known as Vitamin A Palmitate, the ester of retinol and palmitic acid that converts to retinol after absorption. Prescription only retinol treatments are used topically and internally which may be used for acne treatments under the supervision of a medical practitioner. Examples: Retin A, Retinova, Roaccutane, Accutane.

 How often should you use it?
In recent years, there has been increased confusion surrounding the use of retinol and whether or not it should be incorporated into topical skincare products. Much of this uncertainty is because people are unfamiliar with retinol and how it should be applied.

 As it is a very active ingredient, people with sensitive skins should be careful when applying it as they may find they react. If you have sensitive skin I recommend using it in the evening as it can react to UV light. Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Range, overcomes these traditional drawbacks with its breakthrough Retinol Tri-Active Technology that optimises performance to quickly deliver visible results with minimised side effects and no irritation or downtime. This technology is a complex containing a fast-acting retinoid that speeds up the cellular turnover, time-released retinol that delivers retinol to the skin slowly over sustained periods of time and a retinol booster that acts like a magnet to enhance the efficacy of the retinol and its benefits. These three things help to deliver retinol to the skin without needing to formulate in high concentrations and the combination composition of the formulation allows us to deliver anti-ageing benefits to the skin and delicate eye area without creating dryness, peeling or irritation. It also means it can be used on all skin types, including sensitive skin and every day.

 Can you use it in summer?
A common myth is that you can’t use retinol in the summer time. The reason for this misunderstanding is that retinol breaks down in sunlight so is less effective, and it may also increase photo sensitivity, so you can use it in the summer, but it’s important to always use an SPF 30 or above when using retinol products to protect the action of the ingredients and your skin. Essentially, it’s always best to use retinol at night for this reason and use an SPF the following day regardless whether it’s sunny or not.

 Are there benefits of starting using it in your 20s? What age should start using it and at what strength?
The benefits go beyond anti-ageing, so if you are younger than it is about prevention. Retinol is more than targeting wrinkles, it visibly brightens dark circles, reduces dullness and even helps to fight acne. Studies have shown we lose 1% of collagen every year from the age of 20, therefore the best time to start is in your 20s, because retinol strengthens the skins barrier to defend against future signs of ageing. For more mature skin, it reduces visible signs of ageing helping keep skin vibrant and youthful-looking. Murad Tri-Active Retinol Technology is one of the formulas we’ve been most proud of, because our “Retinol at Any Age” belief is so much more than just a tag line. No matter what changes are happening to your skin, there’s going to be a significant benefit for your complexion whatever your age.

 Can you use a low percentage in pregnancy?
Murad skincare products are considered safe during pregnancy and lactation (breastfeeding). Exceptions would be Hydroquinone (USA only) and retinol based products which most doctors would recommend patients avoid during pregnancy. As with every single product on the market, because every patient is unique, and patients who are pregnant may be especially sensitive, we recommend that anyone who is under a doctor’s care consult with that doctor before using any new personal care products from any source, whether it be a Murad product or a product manufactured by any other company during their pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

How do you use it on sensitive skin?
The new formulation Retinol Tri-Active Technology is a potent, yet gentle, formula quickly and visibly minimises lines and deep wrinkles, firms, evens skin tone, and boosts radiance for more vibrant, youthful-looking skin. This technology is ideal to us eon sensitive skin due ot its delivery system as explained above. However, for sensitive skins always do a patch test on the crook of the arm before application. Start by applying every other day and increasing frequency as desired and always use an SPF in the day time regardless of the weather. If concerned then for very sensitive skins start with a moisturiser with retinol as a starting point which has a gentler delivery as opposed to a serum that penetrates deeper and faster into the skin. Try the Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream, an intensely nourishing formula that melts into skin for a supple, vibrant complexion, visibly minimising lines and wrinkles whilst improving firmness and elasticity. Using red algae extract to improve skin firmness, this is an ideal product to start with at night time due to its Tri-Active Technology delivery system.

[ed note] It can also be great to use a bio-retinoid such as the ones from REN and Sunday Riley as these don’t irritate the skin. REN Global Brand Ambassador, David Delport told me that ‘Bio-retinoids are a great choice for clients who want the proven anti-ageing benefits of retinols but who might have a more sensitive/sensitized skin type. Bio-retinoids target the same receptors that retinols do but bypass the associated release of inflammation.  In fact bio-retinoids can lower inflammation release so are a perfect option for a client who needs anti-ageing but has sensitive skin and will also work on lowering the release of excessive pigmentation.’

Does it help with acne / hormonal breakouts?
Retinol is a powerful ingredient when it comes to acne, helping to reduce outbreaks by preventing dead cells from clogging pores. It does this by normalising the stratum corneum and reducing the overproduction of sebum.

Since Retinoids work from the bottom layer up, they aren’t your typical exfoliants. Instead of sloughing away the build-up on your skin’s surface (like some of our other beloved scrubs and chemical peels), retinol increases cell production within the stratum basale layer of the skin, which in turn stimulates the cell turnover cycle on the upper layers. As a result, it renews our skin and keeps impurities at bay as well as improving the appearance of the skin after blemishes have dissipated by improving skin cell turnover and preventing pores form clogging.

  Will the effectiveness wear off over time?
The effects of retinol are seen at any age and will help optimise your skins health, so think of retinol as being not only a treatment but also as a maintenance product to keep your skin at its optimum best due to it improving skin cell turnover.

 Can you use bio retinoids with AHAs?
Yes, AHAs enhance the benefits of retinoids and are a great complement regardless of the source. A common misconception is that you can’t use both, but in fact both bio retinoids and AHAs complement each other well, enhancing the benefits to the skin from pore clogging to resurfacing and reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles.

 How can you tell it’s working if you’ve got young skin?
No one should be experiencing redness or peeling unless they are using a formula that is not suited to their skin. It’s important to always check with your beauty therapist or skin care expert to ensure the retinol you have been recommended is right for you. Traditional formulas would often cause dryness and redness but newer modern formulations combine calming ingredients to enhance efficacy without irritation like Murad’s Tri-Active Technology. While some clients may experience mild redness initially, the results you can expect to see are a smoother skin, less lines and wrinkles and improvement in blemishes-that’s the true sign that the formula is working.

 Is it better as a serum or a cream?
Serums will always offer faster and more concentrated benefits due to their light formula and ability to penetrate the skin quickly. However, creams can be useful for more sensitive dry skins who may wish for a gentler action coupled with hydration.

 Is there such a thing as a purging stage where it gets worse before it gets better, especially for breakout skin? Quote attributed to Tracey Wilmot, Education Director at Murad
This is not a usual response for retinol, but any exfoliating products may cause a temporary purge as pores are unclogged, this is more the response after clay masks or hydroxy acids though.

Where does it fit into your skincare routine, and how long after are you okay to apply the next product? ) 
Retinol serums should be applied after cleansing and toning and before moisturiser.

Some formulations may be thicker and stickier, which is why absorption time may be different for different brands. Serums are better since they absorb quickly. Always apply at night time and use an SPF the following day.

 Can you use it alongside acids / vitamin C / niacinamide / other actives?
Yes, retinol works with other actives effectively although for professional treatments one would recommend alternating Vitamin C facials with retinol to improve results. It is best to use retinol at night and Vitamin C formulas in the day-not both together at the same time. Niacinamide is an excellent antioxidant to complement the action of anti-ageing formulas as it helps brighten the skin, improves hydration and the appearance of lines and wrinkles.  

What percentage is best for what skin issues? Is it good to build up the strength or stick to one
It’s important to remember that it is not just about the percentage of the retinol formula but also about other ingredients that can boost the action of retinol. Simply using free retinol A at a high percentage is not the solution (most countries laws restrict over the counter formulas to 2% in any case) What is better is to use modern day complexes that use faster delivery systems combined with calming soothing ingredients to help protect the skin and enhance receptivity without irritation like Murad’s Tri-Active Technology as previously mentioned. Traditional retinol formulas used to use high percentages without hydrating ingredients which caused redness and inflammation and even flaking, nowadays modern serums combine other actives to protect the moisture barrier and improve the skins condition such as in the case of Murad’s Retinol Youth Renewal Serum.

 What are the benefits for hyperpigmentation
Retinol improves signs of hyperpigmentation and acne scarring by enhancing skin cell turnover, which in turn helps to brighten the skin gradually. The skins radiance and even complexion will be much improved particularly when combined with a sunscreen in the daytime to protect from the environment.


I hope after reading through that you feel a lot more informed about retinol and know whether you’d like to start using one. I’ve linked some of the trustiest retinols for you below. For full product breakdowns watch my sunday school in highlights under RETINOL here.