While no magic ingredient can give you timeless, radiant skin, retinol– a vitamin A derivative– comes close. 

A secret weapon held closely by skin enthusiasts and professionals alike, retinol is a must-have transformative ingredient that can tackle everything from acne to wrinkles, revealing a fresher, younger-looking complexion. 

What Is Retinol?

Once applied, your skin’s enzymes convert retinol into retinoic acid, the active form of vitamin A. This transformation enables it to penetrate deeply into your skin and rev up your cell turnover rate, meaning it helps your skin shed old, dull cells and replace them with fresh, vibrant ones.

It also amplifies the production of collagen – the protein responsible for your skin’s elasticity and firmness, thus reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. Additionally, retinol can regulate oily skin and minimize breakouts, making it a versatile ally against common skin concerns.

This two-fold approach – enhancing cell renewal and boosting collagen – is why retinol can dramatically improve your skin’s texture, tone, and overall glow. 

The Forms of Retinol

Numerous forms of retinol are available, each varying in strength and efficacy. 

Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate is the mildest form of retinol. It’s a combination of pure retinol and palmitic acid, a fatty acid that helps to make the retinol less irritating and more stable. Because it’s so gentle, it can take longer to see results, but it’s a good option if you have sensitive skin or are new to retinol. 


Retinol is the over-the-counter version of retinoic acid. It’s stronger and more effective than retinyl palmitate, but it needs to be converted into retinoic acid by your skin before it can be used, leading to a delay in seeing results. This form is the most common retinol in skin care products and balances effectiveness and potential irritation well. 


This form of retinol is one step closer to retinoic acid in the metabolic pathway, meaning it’s more effective than retinol but less likely to irritate than retinoic acid. It’s ideal for those who have tried retinol but need a bit more punch without going for a prescription treatment.

Retinoic Acid

Retinoic acid is the active form of vitamin A that your skin cells can use immediately. It’s the most effective and potent form of retinol, typically only available with a prescription (known as tretinoin, Retin-A, Renova, etc.). It can provide dramatic improvements but also cause more significant skin irritation. 

Don’t be quick to jump on the most potent form. Your skin needs time to adapt to retinol, and starting with a less intense form could be more beneficial in the long run.

What to Expect With Retinol

In the first few weeks of introducing retinol into your routine, you might notice some mild skin irritation, including redness, dryness, or peeling, a common phenomenon known as “retinization.” It’s just your skin’s way of adjusting to the new regimen. 

You can mitigate some of these early side effects by following these tips:

  • Begin with lower-strength retinol and use it once or twice a week to see how your skin reacts. Gradually increase the frequency as your skin builds tolerance.
  • Retinol breaks down in sunlight, which can reduce its effectiveness. It’s best to apply it as part of your nighttime skincare routine.
  • To minimize irritation, apply a moisturizer after using retinol. This helps keep your skin hydrated and supports its natural barrier function.
  • You only need a pea-sized amount of retinol for your entire face. Applying more won’t make it work faster or better and could increase irritation.
  • If your skin responds poorly or the irritation doesn’t subside after a few weeks, consider dialing back on your retinol usage or trying a milder form.

By the 4th to 6th-week mark, the initial irritation should start to subside, and you’ll begin to see some benefits. Your skin texture may improve, you might notice a reduction in fine lines, and your complexion may start to look brighter and healthier.

The full effects of retinol can take up to 3-6 months to manifest. At this point, you’ll see more noticeable improvements in skin tone, pigmentation and a significant reduction in deep wrinkles. 

Retinol and Sunscreen

While retinol works hard to revitalize your skin, it can make your skin more susceptible to the sun’s harmful UV rays. The rapid skin cell turnover induced by retinol can leave new skin cells more vulnerable to sun damage.

Therefore, it’s crucial to protect your skin with a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 daily when using retinol, even on cloudy or rainy days.”

Not only does this protective measure prevent potential sunburn and skin damage, but it also ensures you’re not undoing the fantastic work retinol does for your skin.

When selecting a sunscreen to pair with your retinol regimen, remember the following. 

  • Choose a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection. This means it shields your skin from UVA and UVB rays, which can lead to skin damage.
  • Dermatologists recommend sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks about 97% of UVB rays. While higher SPFs block slightly more, no sunscreen can stop 100% of the sun’s UV rays.
  • Opt for a sunscreen formulation that complements your skin type. For instance, a moisturizing sunscreen could be beneficial if you have dry skin. On the other hand, people with oily or acne-prone skin might prefer oil-free or non-comedogenic formulations.
  • Remember to reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

Some popular choices among retinol users include Neostrata Sheer Hydration SPF 40Obagi Nu-Derm Sun Shield Matte SPF 50EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47, and CeraVe Hydrating Mineral SPF 30. These sunscreens offer broad-spectrum protection, are non-greasy, and sit well under makeup.

Final Thoughts

Like any powerful skincare ingredient, the secret to making retinol work for you is working with a board-certified dermatologist to find the customized formula and routine that fits best with your skin.

Not only will the skincare experts at ADCI help you choose the form of retinol that best matches your skin type and concerns, but they will also help you adapt your regimen as your skin’s tolerance and needs change.