What is Retinol (vitamin A): Detailed Analysis

Amber Bermudez

Amber Bermudez


August 21st 2020

It may be that you are getting older, and your skin care needs are mainly focused on functional products and not just to see whether the product feels comfortable on the skin and whether the packaging is good-looking. That is why every time I write a product review; I try to focus on the ingredients and efficacy.

When it comes to functional ingredients, vitamin C always has been uninterrupted king in skin care products however, in the past two years it has been vitamin A (retinol) making a lot of buzz.

I have written a lot about the efficacy of vitamin C and product recommendation. However, I have not written a lot about vitamin A. Vitamin A is one of the most potent ingredient fighting anti aging. In this article I will discuss about how our skin get old and what is vitamin A(retinol). after that, I will recommend some good vitamin A products. I hope after reading this article, readers will have more understanding. So here we go.

Why Our Skin Age

Aging is a natural process. We can look at someone and say he or she is old or young by looking at the skin.  Younger people have firm and elastic skin. On the other hand older people have loose and wrinkly skin. You might think what is the reason behind it? Well its happens because of collagen.

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Collagen is the principal structural protein in the extracellular matrix in the body's various connective tissues. As the main component of connective tissue, it is the most abundant protein in mammals, which accounts for 25 to 35 percent of the protein content of the whole body. Collagen creates skin structure and traps moisture in the skin. Sad news is after the age of 20 we start to produce less and less collagen. Resulting dehydration, wrinkle, loss of firmness and elasticity. There are other external factors too like smoking, air pollution and eating habit however; collagen loss is the main culprit.

Vitamin A (retenol)

Vitamin A is not a single compound, but a series including retinol, retinene, retinoic acid, retinyl AcetAte and retinol palm Derivatives of retinol including esters (retinyl βAlmitAte).

Retinol is an ingredient in skin care products. Any cosmetic company can add it to its products without a doctor's prescription. It can be broken down into thousands of smaller components, including Retinoic Acid (also known as Tretinoin, which is the active ingredient in Renova and Retin-A). It belongs to a family called retinoids, and is one of the most important small molecular structure vitamins in skin beauty.

Several other skincare grades available vitamin A include: retinol acetate, retinol palmitate, and retinal. You can see these terms from the ingredient list of skin care products.

Regardless of whether it is aldehydes, ketones, or alcohols, the three of them need to enter the skin to be converted into tretinoin before they can work.

In mild terms, A ester>A alcohol>A aldehyde;

In terms of skin care effect, A ester<A alcohol<A aldehyde.

Alcohol A has many functions, basically it is almost a panacea. Anti-acne, oil control, light spot, anti-aging, repairing photo-aging...Every item is very effective.

The Universal Effect Of Tretinoin

In 1986, a report on the effectiveness of vitamin A acid in treating skin photoaging was first published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. They can prevent cells from clogging pores to prevent acne, increase the rate of cell turnover, stimulate the production of new collagen, and improve or even reverse signs of aging such as wrinkles, age spots and dull skin.

Vitamin A itself does not directly affect the skin. It is only effective when vitamin A is converted into tretinoin by special enzymes in skin cells. Tretinoin promotes the communication between cells, promotes the continuous renewal of aging cells, regenerates collagen and elastin to prevent the appearance of aging.

So in the original state, whether we use A alcohol, A aldehyde or A ester, we cannot communicate with cells until it is decomposed into tretinoin. Once this breakdown occurs, communication begins, the rate of cell renewal increases, and the rate of collagen production increases. Tretinoin is like holding a key to the door of our skin. As soon as Tretinoin comes, the skin feels like it receives a signal and automatically opens the door.

Our skin cells can be imagined as a big family protected by a wall, inside which various activities of production and life are carried out in an orderly manner. A variety of small doors were opened on the wall, and the doors were not open at all for things that were not needed by the cells. In this way, our cells can avoid being invaded by some harmful substances.

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The active substances of the Retinol series can reach the basal layer of the skin directly. Thicken the skin, which can reduce fine lines caused by natural aging;

It can directly act on the biochemical reaction of skin cells (especially the stratum corneum, which is the basis of the entire stratum corneum). If used properly, it can greatly stimulate the production of keratinocytes, thereby increasing the thickness of the epidermis. After getting older, the first problem to face is the thinning of the skin, so Retinol naturally becomes a favorite of anti-aging products.

 Retinol series of active substances can completely remove waste cutin, repeatedly promote skin cell shedding and force the skin to generate new cells. Speed ​​up the metabolism, so that the keratinocytes of the epidermis can be produced and put into battle more quickly (and then consumed...), so that the skin appears more delicate and smooth.

As the cell renewal of the entire epidermis is accelerated, the effect of metabolism will revitalize the cells that were originally weakened by the entire epidermis, which makes the final product of epidermal cell differentiation—the stratum corneum on the outermost surface of the skin. More firm and orderly, the skin becomes smoother and shiny.

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 Increase the content of GAG mucopolysaccharide (hyaluronic acid is a representative GAG) in the epidermis, increase the water retention capacity in the epidermis, and provide natural water and action and nutrition for the epidermis, reducing the skin’s exposure to moisturizers rely.

 It has the effect of removing skin keratin, does not block pores, and can effectively treat and prevent acne.

 Reduce wrinkles caused by photo-aging;

 Inhibit the production of melanin-by reducing [tyrosinase], which is the construction of a production plant for [melanin] in the skin.

Therefore, tretinoin products have been proved by research to calm and reduce inflammation, promote the regeneration of collagen, promote cell growth, resist photoaging, and inhibit melanin.

Of course, there is a Hayflick Limit (the number of times a cell can regenerate before reaching the limit), not to say that vitamin acid can continuously and infinitely stimulate cell regeneration.

Disadvantages Of Tretinoin

Disadvantage 1: Whether it is skin care product grade or medical grade vitamin A, it will irritate the skin. But modern skin care products have found product forms that can reduce irritation.

Generally, the most severe irritation is caused by the use of medical grade vitamin A (retinoids). For example, Divi Retinoic Acid Cream is a doctor's prescription drug. Only when the doctor thinks you need to apply Tretinoin directly, can you directly use medical-grade products.

However, the products sold by various skin care brands generally only add milder A alcohol, A aldehyde and A fat. The concentration is controlled and the effect is relatively gentle and safer.

For example, there are reports showing that retinoic acid with a concentration as low as 0.025 – 0.1% has obvious effects, but there are often many adverse reactions, such as skin peeling, tingling, redness, etc., and bad The response rate can account for 67-97% of volunteers participating in clinical trials. Therefore, retinoic acid is more often used as a prescription drug (common name is Tretinoin).

Fortunately, scientists have discovered that 0.05% retinal can be as effective as 0.05% retinoic acid, and the number of subjects with adverse reactions can be reduced to about 20%.

In another report, the researchers were also pleasantly surprised to find that the effect of 0.025% retinoic acid is similar to the effect of 1.6% retinol on the proliferation of epidermal cells, and under this dosage, retinol has almost no skin. Redness.

Disadvantage 2: Retinol has a strong "character", not gentle enough, "temper" is strange and unstable, easily oxidized, and the texture is a bit greasy.

Retinol is very unstable and easily deteriorates and loses activity when exposed to sunlight and air. Therefore, the technical requirements of retinol cosmetics manufacturers are particularly high. If a little-known manufacturer suddenly launches retinol products, please make sure that you believe that the brand has sufficient storage and formulation capabilities.

The retinol reagent purchased in the laboratory is generally stored in an inert gas, stored in an environment below minus 20 degrees, and needs to be protected with dry ice during the logistics.

At the same time, the raw material of retinol is also more expensive. The same weight is more than 3000 times more expensive than another net celebrity ingredient "niacinamide". Therefore, in many cases, manufacturers use retinoids that are more stable and cheaper, but less effective, instead of retinol. Therefore, most of the products we see have added retinoids.

 If the original bottle of retinol product has been opened and used, the remaining part needs to be kept. It must be filled and sealed with inert gas and stored below 20℃, otherwise it must be used up immediately to prevent deterioration. Therefore, when we choose retinol products, we must pay attention to the preservation technology of its brand.

In this year's upgraded version of Neutrogena Vitamin A Anti-Wrinkle Repair Night Cream, the iron tube used for many years was discarded, and the rotating extrusion head + argon protection technology was used to better preserve the activity of A alcohol.

 When exposed to the sun, retinol will decompose. Due to the weakening of the top layer of the skin, skin sensitivity and fragility will increase. This degradation from the sun may have mild to extreme adverse reactions, from mild skin irritation to increased risk of lesions and melanoma.

Even though some types of artificial light emit a small amount of ultraviolet light, it will increase the possibility of adverse reactions, so if you use retinol at night, you should avoid direct contact with fluorescent or halogen lamps.

Important: Regardless of the light source, just remember the basic rule: Retinol is only suitable for night work. And in the daytime, you need sunscreen products with SPF15+ or higher and added UVA protectors, and avoid the sun as much as possible. ! At the same time increase moisturizing!

Disadvantage 3: Although there is no evidence to prove that external use of tretinoin on the skin causes teratogenesis, pregnant women are best not to use any internal and external products with retinols.

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Based on risk considerations, do not use any retinol products if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

How to use retinol products correctly and reduce allergy rate?

External use of this product may cause skin irritation, such as burning sensation, erythema and scaling, which may make the skin lesions more obvious, but at the same time it indicates that the drug is working, not aggravating the condition. Most of the skin can adapt and tolerate, and the irritation can gradually disappear.

As long as the correct method is used to apply retinol products, this problem can be solved.

1. Start with low-concentration products and slowly build skin tolerance.

Don't come to a king as soon as you get started, but start using it from beginners. In many current brands, there are some low-concentration retinol products, although the amount is very small, it can also play a role in cell renewal.

For example, the upgraded version of Neutrogena Vitamin A Anti-Wrinkle Repair Night Cream, which comes from the Neutrogena brand of Johnson & Johnson in the United States, is the most classic product of Vitamin A alcohol. It is also the first choice for entry-level vitamin A alcohol. The anti-wrinkle repair night cream is an upgraded version of the classic.

2. Apply moisturizing cream before using retinol products.

Of course, you can also use retinol products immediately after cleaning-but the chances of negative effects are greatly increased. In the evening, applying moisturizer first and then using tretinoin can create a good buffer between the skin and the active ingredients. Studies have shown that doing so can still receive good results but the risk of skin irritation is greatly reduced.

3. Use a pea-sized amount to apply to the entire face.

It's easier said than done, and you need to be careful. First apply a pea-sized retinol product on the forehead, cheeks and chin to make it evenly distributed, and then quickly apply a thin layer on the entire face with your fingers. Avoid areas around the eyes, as the skin here is too thin and sensitive to use retinol. If you are sensitive skin, you can reduce the amount as appropriate. Yes, even sensitive skin can use retinol! If your skin is prone to peeling and redness, you can reduce the amount of use and use retinol every one, three, and five nights. Extremely sensitive skin can reduce the frequency of use, once a week, long-term adherence to use can be effective.

4. To use retinol at night, you need to wipe SPF15 or more and sunscreen with PA value during the day.

UV rays can break down retinol, so they are best used at night. Because retinol promotes cell renewal, the skin is very sensitive to sunlight at this time. Therefore, you should use a sunscreen with a sun protection value of at least SPF 30 every day. If you go out, you need to reapply sunscreen. If you spend more than 15 minutes in the sun, you need to wear a hat and sunglasses to cover your face.

5. Be patient.

If you are fishing for three days and drying the net for two days, and only use lotion when you remember, then don't waste time using retinol. Regardless of whether you use it daily or once a week, the key to this cellular-level treatment to produce visible results is persistence. Remember, don’t expect huge changes overnight;

It takes some time for retinol to work. It takes several weeks to see beautiful skin, but the wait is worth it!

Now Lets talk about some retenol products you can use.

Neutrogena Retinol Eye Cream

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Speaking of retinol, it is natural to talk about the old brands of Neutrogena and La Roche-Posay. Neutrogena's A alcohol eye cream should be the entry product for most people. Use 0.1% retinol to compound ascorbic acid to help antioxidant. In addition, adding hyaluronic acid to strengthen moisturizing can also relieve the skin irritation of retinol.

In terms of efficacy: on the basis of moisturizing, it can do daily anti-oxidation and improve the formed fine lines. The texture is also very pleasing, white emulsion texture, just press lightly around the eyes, even if the oily skin is used, there is no burden.

When I use it, I bring it directly around my eyes, my apple muscles and nasolabial folds. The heat sensation of thorns at first use, and then gradually disappears. 

Neutrogena Retinol Night Cream

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The newly upgraded face cream replaces the previous toothpaste tube design, and the retinol concentration is improved. Using Johnson & Johnson's unique A-alcohol patent processing technology, retinol is compounded with hydrolyzed myrtle leaf extract and sodium hyaluronate. It has a good effect on anti-aging, anti-oxidation, anti-inflammatory and moisturizing. At the same time, a slow-release package is used to enhance penetration while reducing the irritation of retinol.

In terms of texture: In fact, the ones from big factories are not too bad. Although a night cream is relatively refreshing, moisturizing but not sticky, it may not be enough for dry skin, but oily skin is more suitable.

La Roche-Posay Retinol Eye Cream

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This one is in use now. The retinol concentration is 0.2%. After using Neutrogena, it is still very irritating. But it was only fever and slight tingling sensation. The intolerance disappeared after about 1 week of continuous use.

Retinol is compounded with retinol linoleate, adenosine and hyaluronic acid. The texture is as shown in the picture above, very light and thin, and it is quite moisturizing when applied. I use it directly as an eye serum at night, and then add Estée Lauder Platinum Eye Cream. Used alone as an eye cream during the day, it just won't affect the concealer under the eyes.

The price will be slightly higher than that of Neutrogena.

Murad Retinol Facial Serum

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Murad's is a 0.2% retinol compound retinol acetate. Compared with the old version, the new version is more gentle due to the process improvement. At the same time, the active ingredients are compounded with betaine, urea, wild soybean extract, tocopherol acetate, sodium hyaluronate, etc. It has a good effect in moisturizing and anti-oxidation.In addition, increasing squalane and ceramide can also promote skin barrier repair. The disadvantage is the addition of colorants such as mica. But the flaws are still not concealed.

Elizabeth Arden: Retinol Ceramide

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This is also 0.2% retinol. It's Arden's consistent oil-free formula. Arden's characteristic ceramide compound lecithin. Retinol is anti-wrinkle, anti-inflammatory, oil control and anti-seborrhoea. Polypeptides help improve dynamic fine lines, improve skin support, and help skin swell. In fact, in terms of concentration, this is an entry-level retinol product, but there are still many users who report that it is is sensitive and stinging. So tolerating this thing really makes a big difference, you still have to try it yourself.

In terms of skin feel: I feel that the silicon feel is quite obvious after using it. But it is not difficult to use. 

Darphin retinol capsules

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This is also the latest product of Darphin. The concentration of 0.3% retinol is compounded with Darphins unique plant extracts, and jojoba seed oil is used as a base with macadamia nut oil, plus tocopherols, vitamin C derivatives, and carrot extracts to help antioxidants. It has 0.3% concentration of retinol.

In terms of texture: the typical essence oil texture, I think it is more suitable for dry skin, not as refreshing as many bloggers say. Now I use it as my evening skin care procedure. It is enough to add this essence directly behind a lotion in the evening, no cream is needed. 

Estee Lauder Perfectionist Pro

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According to the ingredient list, this may be 0.3% retinol, which is actually not very high. But 0.1% of skin intolerance is a pit. In terms of absorbing, Estee Lauder's encapsulated slow-release whic is used to reduce the irritation of retinol, and at the same time, it is compounded with acetyl hexapeptide-8 to improve facial dynamic lines.

At the same time, use vegetable oils such as jojoba and shea butter to prevent dryness caused by retinol on the one hand, and help maintain stability on the other hand. Skin feel: Highly moisturizing, with obvious silicon feeling, but it is not annoying.

Drunk Elephant Retinol Essence

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Drunk Elephant is 1% retinol, compounded with nicotinamide, ceramide, cholesterol, linoleic acid, etc. to help stabilize anti-inflammatory, stabilize the barrier, and increase peptides to improve dynamic fine lines.


Finally, we must face up to the advantages and disadvantages of retinol, which is a scientifically proven effective ingredient for skin care, far more withstanding verification than the so-called DNA technology and stem cell technology.

Don't chase it blindly, and don't resist it blindly!

Why is skin care of modern people becoming more and more rational and scientific, because we now have a strong knowledge system, clinically verified data, and consumers have a higher and clearer cognition!

Although retinol has many benefits for the skin, there is no single ingredient that can meet the complex needs of the skin.

Although retinol is a star ingredient, it can’t meet the skin’s need for sunscreens. It can’t help the skin metabolize keratin gently like fruit acid and salicylic acid. It can’t cleanse the skin. It can’t replace the antioxidant and cell communication factor. Essence and moisturizing cream similar to skin.

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