What is Retinol and How Can It Help Your Skin?

by Sylvia

What is Retinol and How Can It Help Your Skin? | 40plusstyle.com

We can’t stop the aging process but we can use products that keep our skin looking great for longer. I have been using Retinol for quite a while (in combination with other products). Let’s look at what Retinol is and how it can help your skin. 

Retinol is just an alternative name for Vitamin A. It is a retinoid. Retinoids are available commercially in two forms, namely:

(a) powerful, prescription-grade formulas based on Tretinoin (a more powerful form of Vitamin A than Retinol) sold under such names as Retin-A, Tretinoin, Avage, Differin, Tazorac, Retin-A Micro, and Renova, and;

(b) over-the-counter formulas called Retinol that you can buy at the drugstore without a prescription.

Originally developed to fight acne, remove dead skin cells, and clear out pores, scientists soon realized that retinoids were extremely effective at fighting the signs of ageing.

Advantages and disadvantages of retinol


  • Retinoids such as Retinol are super effective at reducing lines, smoothing out skin texture, and regularizing skin tone.
  • RX-Retinoids (i.e., prescription grade retinoids) have had FDA approval for 40 years now, which means that clinical studies have been carried out that prove that they do reduce wrinkles (no other skincare ingredient can claim this).
  • Retinol is a skin-communicating ingredient, i.e., it “tells” skin to make younger, healthier skin cells.
  • Retinols fade brown sun and age spots.


  • You need a doctor’s prescription to get a hold of the most powerful forms of retinoids, such as Retin-A, Trentinoin, Tazorac, Retin-A Micro, and Renova.
  • Initial use and over-use (more than a pea-sized amount at first) can result in red, itching, flaking skin.
  • Retinoids such as Retinol are not suitable for people with sensitive skin or rosacea.
  • Retinols must be used in conjunction with sunscreen protection because prolonged retinol use results in a lower UV barrier.

How can Retinol help your skin?

Retinols work by promoting rapid skin cell turnover and revealing new skin beneath. They also thicken the skin over long periods of use and slow the breakdown of collagen in our skin, the protein in our skin responsible for elasticity (and the first thing to break down when ageing). Thick, unwrinkled skin equals younger-looking skin. The great news is that it’s never too late to start a Retinol regime!

As Dr. Ranella Hirsch, M.D., said in an interview, “We have beautiful, profound data that shows if you use [retinoids] for 20 years, you’re going to look a lot better than someone who doesn’t.”

Keep in mind the following:

  • Prescription-grade retinoids (Tretinoin) are 100 times more powerful than drugstore Retinol creams – but you need a doctor’s prescription to get them.
  • It takes 6-8 weeks to see a difference in your skin using RX-retinoids, and 6-8 months using over-the-counter Retinols – but over time, they have the same effect.
  • Seek out the most powerful and pure form of Retinol you can find in your drugstore products (rather than the far less powerful derivatives known as pro-retinols – these may be called retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate on the back of the box).
  • Build up your tolerance to retinoids gradually and work through any initial flaking or redness – a Retinol regime is a long-term commitment rather than a short-term fix.
  • Use sunscreen and SPF creams (minimum 25 SPF) while using Retinols or retinoids.

Best over-the-counter Retinols

Budget options

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum, $20.99

Sonia Kashuk Radiant Boost Restorative Facial Oil, $14.99

RoC Retinol Correxion Max Wrinkle Resurfacing System, $25.99

Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream, $14.49

Mid-priced options

Philosophy Help Me Retinol Night Treatment, $44.10

SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5, $57

SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream, $70 – This is the Retinol cream I have been using.

La Roche-Posay Redermic [R] 0.1% Pure Retinol Retinol Booster Complex, $57

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment, $55

High-priced options

Murad Time Release Retinol Concentrate For Deep Wrinkles, $65

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Hydra-Pure Firming Serum, $95

StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Day Treatment SPF 30, $99

ReVive Intensite Creme Luster, $385

Shop these products in the boutique below!

Are you using Retinol? Has it been effective for your skin?


1 Elizabeth Anne Ross

I lived in FL in my 20’s. Every commercial I saw was plastic surgery. I did need surgery. My chin looked like a witch – I mean it was no symetrical to my face and the fat in my chin made it stand out further than my nose! My genes… let’s just say I was born and raised in WV and had horrible skin. This in addition to, I looked at my mother and sister and KNEW I was starting the double chin. Hmmm. My mother had about 5 chins then. This is not exaggerated. So.. I had neck and chin lipo. What a difference it made. I also had a Co2 laser (back then the laser was so new – you HAD to have a Nurse come to your house for about 2 weeks to clean your face because it was so painful). Took off about 5 layers of skin. I am so glad I started in my 20’s. Throughout the years, I do get BOtox, Juvederm, and other lasers like Clear and Brilliant and Titian. I am 44 years old and there is not a wrinkle on my face. I do use (at home), my own remedies that DO make a difference. For example, Microcurrent. I use it to lift my eyes and make my jawline look more defined. In my 30’s I used Obagi and Retina. Worked so well.. I now use Retina every night with SkinMedica 1% Retinol. I should tell everyone I have LARGE pores. My pores are not anywhere near what they would look like if I didn’t do the lasers and Retina and Skin Medica. I am still astounded about how far “at home” medical grade products have come since my 20’s. The same procedures I used in my 30’s, I can now buy the laser over the counter. Same with the topical creams. Would like to see an article of all the products that are now over the counter (blue and red lights, Clarisonic, and Microcurrent, etc.). There are other products that have not cleared the FDA for home use that are being sold in the UK now. I am patiently waiting… Great article!

2 Sylvia

Thanks for your feedback Elizabeth and letting us know what is working for you! Will keep your ideas in mind for future articles.

3 Chicatanyage

I have used the skinceuticals retinol for about 2 years now and it has made a huge difference to my skin.

4 Sylvia

Great to see it’s working for you. Yes I can see a difference too!

5 Suzanne

I have used retinol for over 35 years. When I first started using it you had to keep it in the refrigerator. I am now 68 years old and I use it faithfully every nite. My skin care routine is simple. I wash my face in the am with BASIS soap,use an anti aging serum and then a moisturizing lotion with an spf of 30. At nite BASIS soap again and retinol A. Make up is simple…a face primer and a tinted moisturizer. For special occasions eye make up, shadow,mascara and blush. ALWAYS ALWAYS lip conditioner and lipstick. At my age less is better in both skin care and make up !

6 Sylvia

This sounds like a great routine Suzanne!

7 Justine

Hi Sylvia and other readers. I started Differin in my early 20s for acne, and now, in my mid 40s, use an Australian prescription Tretinoin cream called Retrieve, which I think is the same as Retin-A. Because of the Differin use, I also have used sunscreens for around 20 years daily, but wish I’d known to use them earlier, living in a very sunny place as I do. I have mostly unlined, fine, skin with no brown spots. I do use the Retrieve nightly, all over my face though only discovered using it around my mouth more recently, as I’d always thought I had to avoid that area. Of course I wouldn’t put it on or too near my lips, but wow! What an improvement it has made to some upper lip lines that were forming. I also put on a little bit of Paula’s Choice skin oil over the top of the cream in that area, but another moisturiser would be fine I’m sure, as otherwise skin can get flaky there. To get rid of morning dry/flaky bits, which can occur with Tretinoin use, I recommend a gentle washer used with cleanser.

8 Sylvia

Thanks for your tips and feedback Justine. It’s great to read about the regimens of others and what works for them.

9 Terri

I still have VERY oily skin & occasional breakouts at age 60 – it’s slowed down but not stopped, but I have now developed wrinkles above my lip and from the corners of my mouth down to my chin – marionette lines, I think they’re called?. I tried using SkinCeuticals 0.5 & then 1.0 for the better part of a year last year, but it kept making my skin VERY oily & break out a LOT, so I finally gave up. Any ideas? Every cream I try for my wrinkles just makes the rest of my face oilier and break out.

10 Sylvia

I hope that others can give more feedback on this. I have the opposite issue which is a very dry skin and I find that the retinol makes it even dryer. So I have to supplement with oils or night cream.

11 Justine

Dear Terri, yes I do find the Retrieve/Retin-A cream base can be heavy. To tell the truth I still use Differin 0.1% gel on my t-zone, and the Retrieve everywhere else as that seems okay for me. The Differin is a light gel and the active ingredient is called adapalene. It does come in another presentation I think, but have always used this one. The thing about using Differin where I am still oily, is I can also use a benzoyl peroxide product to kill any back bacteria, and I think the 2 products work together well and reduce oiliness. You could experiment and see what works. Definitely I like the Retrieve for the liplines and around my eyes etc. I have found loads of great skin care information from Paula’s Choice. There are other products I haven’t tried that might be more suitable too, depending on your own skin. A good doctor who is into skin should be able to assist. Ps I just checked and the Retrieve cream is 0.05% Tretinoin.

12 Terri

Yes, I need to still use Bezoyl Perozide on my forehead, chin & inner cheeks before I apply makeup, or it slides right off. I tried switching to salicyclic acid, but it didn’t work very well. I have no wrinkles to speak of around my eyes, probably because I have worn eyeglasses every waking moment since age 9 and prescription sunglasses when outside. I will look into Differin, thanks.

13 Jessica

I’m 42 and have been using a Retin A my dermatologist prescribed. I’m wondering, do you have to continue to use it to keep the results? Will my skin revert if I were to quit using it? Or do I need to prepare to make this a part of my routine for the long haul? Thanks for the article!

14 Sylvia

I would say you need to make it part of your routine as most people I know that see great benefits use it on an ongoing basis.

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