Retinol for facial skin


Doctors and cosmetologists call this substance the vitamin of youth and beauty. And how exactly does retinol work on the skin and what can be dangerous for its excessive use – we deal with an expert

Everyone knows about the benefits of vitamin A, probably from childhood. It is almost always included in the composition of multivitamins, it is sold separately and in combination with vitamin E, manufacturers write about it on the packaging of their products.

But for external use, one of its forms is used, namely, retinol or retinoic acid (isotretinoin). The latter is considered a medicine, and therefore it is not used in cosmetics. But retinol – very even.

Why has he gained such popularity? When can it be used, and is it dangerous? How does retinol work on the skin? An expert cosmetologist will help us answer these and other questions.

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What is retinol

Retinol is the most common and, at the same time, inactive form of vitamin A. In fact, it is a kind of “semi-finished product” for the body. Once in the target cells, retinol is converted to retinal, which is transformed into retinoic acid.

It would seem that it is possible to include retinoic acid directly in serums and creams – but in our country it is forbidden to use it as part of cosmetics, only in medicines. Too unpredictable effect, it can be dangerous¹.

Vitamin A and related substances are called retinoids – this term can also be found when choosing beauty products.

Interesting facts about retinol

Vitamin A has been studied by scientists, as they say, up and down. But in cosmetology, retinol began to be widely used only a few years ago. Here is what you need to know about this miracle substance to make it easier to understand further:

Substance groupRetinoids
In what cosmetics can you findEmulsions, serums, chemical peels, creams, lotions, lipsticks, lip glosses, nail care products
Concentration in cosmeticsTypically 0,15-1%
EffectRenewal, sebum regulation, firming, moisturizing
What is “friends” withHyaluronic acid, glycerin, panthenol, aloe extract, vitamin B3 (niacinamide), collagen, amino acids, peptides, probiotics

How retinol works on the skin

Vitamin A is involved in various reactions associated with maintaining the normal state of the skin and mucous membranes: the synthesis of hormones and secretions, components of the intercellular space, cell surface renewal, an increase in glycosaminoglycans responsible for skin elasticity, and so on.

The substance is indispensable in the process of formation of the epithelium – this is the tissue that lines all the cavities in the body and forms the skin. Retinol is also necessary to maintain the structure and moisture of the cells. With a lack of the vitamin, the dermis loses its elasticity, becomes pale, flaky, and the risk of acne and pustular diseases increases¹.

In addition, retinol acts on the skin of the face from the inside. Vitamin A is involved in the synthesis of progesterone, prevents the aging process, and is also known for its antioxidant properties.

Benefits of retinol for skin

Vitamin A is invariably present in many cosmetic products. These are anti-age and sunscreens, serums and peels, preparations for the treatment of acne and pimples, and even lip glosses. Retinol for facial skin is a truly multifunctional substance.

What is its use:

  • participates in the synthesis and renewal of skin cells,
  • stimulates collagen production and helps reduce wrinkles²,
  • contributes to the preservation of moisture in the skin, softens it,
  • normalizes the production of sebum (sebum),
  • regulates skin pigmentation,
  • helps in the treatment of inflammatory processes (including acne), has a healing effect³.

Application of retinol on the face

Vitamin A is one of the most important nutrients for the human body. Therefore, it is not surprising that retinol in cosmetology is used for different skin types and, accordingly, allows you to solve various problems in a vector way.

For oily and problem skin

In the case of excessive work of the sebaceous glands, a person is faced with a bunch of unpleasant cosmetic nuances: the skin is shiny, the pores are enlarged, comedones (black dots) appear, inflammation often occurs due to the multiplication of microflora.

To help people with oily and problem skin, many different drugs have been invented. Some of them include retinol – for what?

The use of retinoids helps to remove plugs from the skin pores, prevents the appearance of new comedones, reduces the number of harmful bacteria, and has an anti-inflammatory effect⁴. Lotions and serums work best, while gels and creams are slightly less effective.

For dry skin

It would seem, how can a product that is used in drying cosmetics be related to dry skin type. But remember – vitamin A has many options for effective use.

According to some reports, it increases the skin’s ability to retain moisture⁵. But at the same time, other factors must be taken into account. Therefore, in cosmetics with retinol for dry skin, as a rule, moisturizing ingredients are used. For example, hyaluronic acid or glycerin.

For sensitive skin

With this type of skin in general, you always need to be on the lookout: any new ingredient or excessive use of a substance can cause an unwanted reaction, itching or inflammation.

Retinol is often used in cosmetic preparations to cleanse and renew the skin, and with prolonged use, it can cause local reactions in the form of irritation. And this is not necessary at all for already sensitive skin!

Give up vitamin A? Not necessary. Supplements help out again. For example, niacinamide, known for its anti-inflammatory effects, is often added to retinol emulsions and serums.

And yet: it is better to test for hypersensitivity on a small area of ​​​​skin before using a new remedy (optimally, on the inner surface of the forearm).

For aging skin

Here, several important functions of vitamin A will come to the rescue at once. It reduces keratinization (coarseness) of the epithelium, helps to renew the epidermis (weakens the bonds between the horny scales and accelerates their exfoliation), brightens the skin tone, and increases its elasticity⁵.

Retinol for facial skin can help with the first signs of aging: keratosis (locally excessively roughened skin), first wrinkles, sagging, pigmentation.

From wrinkles

Retinol in cosmetics slows down the “age-related” enzyme reactions and increases the synthesis of pro-collagen fibers². Due to these two mechanisms, vitamin A helps fight wrinkles. Also, remember that retinol helps the skin retain moisture and promotes its renewal, which also has a beneficial effect in terms of combating the signs of photoaging.

Of course, neither retinol nor any other substance will smooth out deep folds and pronounced wrinkles – in this case, other methods of cosmetology can help.

The effect of using retinol on the skin of the face

Different types of cosmetics with vitamin A in the composition will give different effects. So, never expect the same results from a cream as from a chemical peel. In addition, each remedy has its own tasks: some are designed to relieve inflammation, others to exfoliate and renew the skin, and others to increase elasticity and a healthy tone of the face. It is also important to consider other ingredients in a particular cosmetics with retinol.

Therefore, always select products in accordance with your skin type, with its needs, and act strictly according to the instructions. Remember: more is not better.

With proper use of products with retinol, you will get elastic and smooth skin with an even tone, without acne and wrinkles. But an excess of retinol will have the opposite effect: irritation, increased photosensitivity, and even a chemical burn.

Reviews of cosmetologists about retinol

For the most part, experts speak positively about preparations with vitamin A in the composition. Cosmetologists love it for its pronounced anti-age effect, for the normalization of the sebaceous glands, and the increase in skin elasticity.

However, experts warn that overuse can be harmful. Many cosmetologists do not recommend the use of cosmetics with retinol in the summer, as well as pregnant women and people with sensitive skin.

It is believed that retinol cosmetics, which are sold in pharmacies and stores, contain a low concentration of the substance, which means that it is unlikely to get significant skin irritation. At the same time, the effect will not be as significant as when using professional products with vitamin A in the composition.

In general, if you need a guaranteed result with minimal risks, you should contact a specialist. At least for advice.

Popular questions and answers

Today, cosmetics are akin to medicines, even the term was coined – cosmeceuticals. Many products are not recommended for home use because they require precision and accuracy. Without special knowledge, you can harm yourself.

So, cosmetics with retinol, if used excessively or incorrectly, can cause irritation, itching and burning, inflammatory reactions, and allergies. To prevent this, you need to study the “pitfalls”. Our expert Natalia Zhovtan will answer the most popular questions. As they say, forewarned is forearmed.

How to use retinol-based cosmetics correctly?

– Means with retinol can be used both independently – to solve certain problems, and as a preparation before cosmetic, hardware procedures. It is better to use such cosmetics in evening care or use products with SPF factors with a high degree of protection – even in winter. Gently apply retinol around the eyes, nose and lips. Serums are applied in a thin layer. It is also necessary to observe the dosing regimen. The principle “the more the better” does not work here.

How often can retinol be used?

– The frequency depends on the task. For the purpose of anti-aging therapy, this is at least 46 weeks. It is better to start in the fall and finish in the spring. Therefore, we talk about the course once a year.

How can retinol be harmful or dangerous?

“Like any other substance, retinol can be both friend and foe. There may be an increased sensitivity to the vitamin, and an allergic reaction, and even pigmentation (if the rules of care are not followed). Known teratogenic factor in the effects of retinol and its compounds on the fetus. Women of childbearing age or planning a pregnancy should be excluded.

Can retinol be used on skin during pregnancy?

– Absolutely not!

What should I do if my skin develops irritation or an allergic reaction after using retinol?

Everyone’s skin sensitivity is different. And reactions to the use of products with retinol can also differ. If a specialist recommended this or that cosmetic product to you, he will indicate that you need to start with two times a week, then increase to 3 times a week, then up to 4, gradually bringing to daily use in order to prevent reactions from the skin. A retinoid reaction is not an allergy! This is the expected response. And if a similar situation arises, namely: redness, peeling, burning sensation in foci or in the areas of application, then the easiest and most effective way is to cancel the remedy. For the next 5-7 days, use only panthenol, moisturizers (hyaluronic acid), niacinamide, and be sure to use SPF factors. If dermatitis persists for more than 7 days, you should consult a dermatologist.
  1. Samuylova L.V., Puchkova T.V. Cosmetic chemistry. Educational edition in 2 parts. 2005. M.: School of cosmetic chemists. 336 p.
  2. Bae-Hwan Kim. Safety Evaluation and Anti-wrinkle Effects of Retinoids on Skin // Toxicological research. 2010. 26 (1). С. 61-66. URL:
  3. D.V. Prokhorov, co-authors. Modern methods of complex treatment and prevention of skin scars // Crimean Therapeutic Journal. 2021. №1. pp. 26-31. URL:
  4. K.I. Grigoriev. Acne disease. Skin care and the basics of medical care // Nurse. 2016. No. 8. pp. 3-9. URL:
  5. DI. Yanchevskaya, N.V. Stepychev. Evaluation of the effectiveness of cosmetics with vitamin A // Innovative science. 2021. No. 12-1. pp. 13-17. URL:

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