Active Ingredients: Retinol

Tiffany Ong Beauty Expert
Active Ingredients: Retinol

Everything you need to know about Retinol. How it works, what it does and who should use it!

Skincare has seen a giant increase and attention these past 2-3 years. More and more people are delving into the skincare realm and from the skincare buzzwords and majorly talked about ingredients, retinol definitely ranks top. Many skincare enthusiasts and dermatologists are constantly recommending retinol to those looking to treat mature or compromised skin but why is that?

Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A and the mechanisms behind retinol can be slightly confusing. When retinol is applied and absorbed into the skin, it is converted to its active form called retinoic acid. Then, the magic of retinol happens with our skin cells’ receptors merges itself with the retinoic acid. When it comes to retinol, there is a huge confusion because retinol is a type of retinoid. Retinoids is a term referring to ALL types of vitamin A derivative, yes there isn’t just one. Some retinoids are prescription-grade, meaning they are only available at pharmacies or at the recommendation of a dermatologists.

To read about the difference between Retinol & Retinoid, click here!



Boost overall skin health

  • Retinol is like a superfood for the skin, it does and have practically everything. It is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and possesses antioxidants properties.

Protects the skin

  • The antioxidants in retinol helps fight against free radicals and environmental stressors and prevent them from causing oxidative stress damage which commonly speeds up premature aging and harming the skin barrier.

Better cell turnover

  • Retinol is best known to help stimulate cell turnover, meaning getting rid of old/dead skin cells and newer, healthier skin cells appearing. This can result in less pigmentation, discoloration and overall clearer looking skin.

Stimulates collagen production

  • Retinol also boosts the skin’s production of collagen, contributing to plumper, firmer skin appearance 

Smoothens the skin

  • Retinol is well-known to improve the skin’s texture by reducing the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, scars or any rough texture on the skin.

Tackles acne

  • Use of retinol can tackle acne as speeding up the cell turnover rate prevents clogging up of pores and decrease the appearance of acne aftermath like scarring.


What to note?

  • Retinol is a form of exfoliant; hence, it is very important to start small and slowly work your way up. Retinol can be found at 0.01% to a maximum of 1%. We also recommend applying retinol 2-3 times/week at the start to let your skin build a tolerance.
  • When it comes to retinol, patience is a virtue. The results don’t appear immediately after one application, for some formulation/products results will only appear after 2-3 months, or more. So, be patient!
  • Retinol is known to cause side-effects which is why those with sensitive skin (eczema, psoriasis, rosacea) tend to stray away. Side effects include dryness, redness, peeling, a burning/stinging sensation and sun sensitivity. This is because at the start retinol causes thinning of the skin but over time and after consistent use, retinol can help to thicken the epidermis. Always start at a lower percentage, don’t underestimate the power of retinol!
  • Retinol is one of those ingredients that can’t be easily paired with any ingredient. Please refrain from using retinol in conjunction with AHA/BHAS/PHAS, benzoyl peroxide and any exfoliators.
  • If you would want to use retinol with vitamin C, we recommend using them at different times of the day. Vitamin C = AM. Retinol = PM.
  • Pregnant women should steer clear of retinol or any other retinoids, if you would want to include them in your skincare routine, please consult a doctor.
  • We advise people to conduct a patch test 24-48 hours prior to application, either at the inner forearm or behind the ear.


Products we recommend and where to find them

The Ordinary

the ordinary retinol

We already know the The Ordinary has a wide range of retinol products, so we’ve done a small summary of each product as a little introduction. 

  • Retinol 0.2% in Squalane: Start here for beginners or sensitive skin. Lowest strength, moderate irritation.
  • Retinol 0.5% in Squalane: Moderate strength, high irritation.
  • Retinol 1% in Squalane: High strength, very high chances of irritation.
  • Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane: Granactive Retinoid is a newer generation of retinoid active complex that targets signs of aging while having less drawbacks than retinol. Same with retinol, start here for beginners or sensitive skin. Moderate strength, No irritation.
  • Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane: High strength, no to low irritation.
  • Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion: This emulsion formulation comes in a creamy like consistency rather than a clear serum-like texture. Also great for first timers. Moderate strength, No irritation.


The INKEY List

the inkey list retinol serum

1% Retinol Serum: This product by The INKEY List is a perfect introduction for those looking to treat aging skin concerns. Although the concentration is quite high (1%), it utilizes a slow-release technology to lessen the risk of irritation. It also contains 0.5% granactive retinoid and squalane for added hydration.

the inkey list retinol eye serum

Retinol Eye Cream: A night-time eye cream that works to reduce fine lines and wrinkles by supporting the skin’s natural collagen production. It is formulated with 3% retinol that is developed to slowly release itself into the skin, preventing irritation.


Pixi Retinol Tonic

pixi retinol tonic

This toner by Pixi contains retinol that reduces fine lines and smooths out any uneven complexion. It also has peptides, jasmine flower and evening primrose extract.



Resurfacing Retinol Serum: Formulated to smooth and improve skin texture by reducing the appearance of post-acne marks and minimizing enlarged pores. It contains encapsulated retinol and licorice root extract that brightens the skin.

Skin Renewing Retinol Serum: Suitable for all skin types and daily use. This gentle retinol serum delivers a range of anti-aging benefits like reducing fine lines, wrinkles and improving the skin’s overall texture and complexion.

Skin Renewing Day Cream: An anti-aging AM moisturizer with anti-aging benefits and an added SPF30 protection to prevent sun-damage and sun-induced aging.


Retinol can be quite confusing to understand and I hope this blog, plus the "Retinoid & Retinol" blog can help you better understand how retinol works and whether or not you should add it into your skincare regime. Sometimes, there is no need to overload your face with crazy amounts of active ingredients. If you have any questions, leave a comment down below!

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